“Integrity is never painless.” M. Scott Peck
At the moment we are being bombarded with adverts made by luvvies encouraging us to go and see the inevitable-soon-to-be-on-DVD film about Malala Yousafzai.
(Wow – no MSWord spellcheck: that’s how famous she must be).
(I’ll admit I am jaded by the ads: not because of the subject matter but by the luvvies, where I’m not sure of the balance between their genuine admiration for her, and their need to feel associated with her for publicity purposes. Cynical, yes, I know.)
But her story does illustrate Peck’s quote as topically as I can think of at the moment. Those of us in the personal development field are well versed in telling the stories of Ghandi and Mandela, Lincoln and Joan of Arc. But Malala is a modern – and arguably more ‘real’ example of integrity being shown while under real danger of intense pain. I say more real because the other stories are historic and based on what we know after these people became acknowledged greats. They achieved magnificence and then we found out how great they were. They had causes which affected millions, but that affect came later, as did their celebrity.
But Malala was ‘just’ a schoolgirl. She wasn’t planning to overthrow an unjust government. She didn’t plan to free a country. She wasn’t going to do any of those things.
She only thing she was going to – was school.
I might propose the hypothesis that integrity is easy when you have money and power to support and fund it. That would be trite but there would also be an element of reality infused in such a statement. I would find it easier to be ‘fit and healthy’ if I could afford gym membership, a personal trainer and large helpings of salmon as the mainstay of my diet. I’d find it easier to serve charities if I didn’t feel the need to keep the money I have, and to earn some more just to have a decent holiday now and then.
But – and this sounds a bit conceited – I could be more like Malala in one way, because what Malala did we can all do. It didn’t take money, it didn’t need intellect, and while it took courage it didn’t necessarily require ‘bravery’.
She believed in her right to be educated. So she went to school. She knew it was trouble but I am willing to bet that she never once thought she’d be killed for doing it. That kind of thing happens to other people, right? Like smokers who won’t get cancer, drinkers who won’t be alcoholics, and 17-year-old binge eaters who presumably won’t ever be 40 with a slower metabolism, it wasn’t her who’d be ‘the one’.
But that doesn’t alter the fact that she wanted to be educated, and so she went out and got educated even though it would have been easier not to run that risk at all.
Integrity sometimes sucks. But what a hole of a world it would be if some of us, indeed most of us, didn’t demonstrate some sense of personal integrity now and then. When we are called upon to tell the truth because not doing so would be a surrender to convention or corrupt influence, or cowardice, for example. When going for a long run when it’s raining. When challenging a divisive culture in the face of that culture, and the cowards that allow it to thrive.
It might feel like we’re risking everything, but unlike Malala we’re often only really risking inconvenience. We can at least have that much courage, can’t we?