Every year I pick a word to serve as a mantra, a guidepost to point me in the right direction. Little did I know when I chose the word brave for my 2020 word just how much courage the year would require.

For the past few months, I was pretty settled on intentional for my 2021 word. It’s a little overused these days, but only because we as a collective humanity are learning just how important it is to be mindful of our motives and priorities as we navigate life.

Though I remain committed to living with intention, just a few days before the end of the year my 2021 mantra took a monumental shift.

In the waning days of 2020, I found myself in two significant conversations about my core beliefs, my basic foundational philosophy. And I realized, as important as intentionality is, today and every day, what I need right now – what we all need – is a serious inventory of our character.

If I were to list the traits of a person of character 20 years ago, I’d have gone through the usual touch points: honesty, compassion, charity, kindness. Certainly these things are important. But my worldview has expanded considerably over the past two decades.

It all comes down to Integrity.

Google defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” That’s a nice, tidy definition. But when I use Integrity as a mantra, I’m talking about more than “strong moral principles.”

There is a self-righteousness in the idea of integrity as “moral uprightness” that I find abrasive and incomplete. Moral uprightness, without serious internal accounting, is simply judgement. I would argue that moral uprightness is exactly what got us into many of the messes in which we found ourselves in 2020.

Deadly virus aside, 2020 would have been a tough year anyway. Hostile politics and racial confrontations turned our world upside down. Our nation, and the world, is divided, and nobody seems willing to budge.

The theme of 2020 is summed up simply as: I’m right. You’re wrong. The end.

Initiate angry screaming, gun pointing, rock throwing, yard-sign planting, police car burning, smug smirking, internet trolling, and toilet paper hoarding.

I believe I stayed relatively true to my 2020 word, brave. I held my ground. I spoke up in areas I hadn’t previously had the courage. I stepped way outside my comfort zone in order to grow my writing business.

Yay for me!

And I’m not even being sarcastic about that. Seriously, yay! It felt really good and stretched me into new realms of growth and maturity.

I also fell into some old habits that I’d worked really hard to escape.

Self-righteousness has always been one of my fatal flaws. It’s such a safe place to hide behind. You can build yourself a tall wall made up entirely of “moral uprightness.”

Calling another person an idiot, whether out loud or only inside your own head, is an oversimplistic analysis of a complex being. It’s shallow, petty, and lazy. And I honestly don’t think I know a single person who did not jump on the “They’re all idiots” bandwagon at some point in 2020. I know I did.

And don’t go fooling yourself into thinking there’s two bandwagons.

There aren’t two separate wagons, one labeled Conservative and one labeled Liberal. I’m not either of those things. I’m just me, a mixed bag, and variety blend of miscellaneous whatnots. Yet there I was, on the bandwagon with everyone else.

Once we climb up onto that high horse, the fundamentals of our “strong moral principles” cease to matter. Whether you are clinging to Jesus, science, Dr. Phil, or Alf from the 1980s sitcom, anyone staking a claim to the moral high ground is lumped in with all the other self-righteous jerks spitting insults and pointing guns.

So there I was, bouncing along the rough road of 2020, sweating it out on the bandwagon with everyone else hopped up on “moral uprightness.”

I’m right. You’re wrong. The end.

More than once, I got into petty debates on Facebook with people I haven’t spoken to in years, if ever. More than once, I rolled my eyes when the opponent of my chosen presidential candidate so much as breathed sideways.

More than once, I muttered the phrase, “they’re all idiots” while watching the news. You know, as opposed to me, with my “strong moral principles.”

Maybe I wasn’t so brave after all.

All things considered, I accomplished quite a bit in 2020. I loved my family fiercely. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and built some meaningful professional relationships. I tried new things.

Yet, in 2021, I want to do more.

I’m not talking about professional success. I’m not talking about personal achievement. I’m not even talking about spiritual growth or interpersonal connection.

I’m talking about Integrity. And not just the dictionary definition of the word, but my definition of the word.

Yes, integrity is honest adherence to moral principles. But Integrity, with a capital I and in italics, requires more.

Integrity is when your inside self and your outside self match.

Integrity is when you are the same person inside the walls of your house, and inside the confines of your own heart, that you are to every single person that you meet.

Integrity is when the person reflected back in the mirror is the same as the person standing in front of it.

It is quite possible to be a person of “strong moral principles,” but not a person of Integrity.

How many of us, myself included, were so sure we were right in 2020, but if our private thoughts, fears, and vulnerabilities were laid bare, we’d look a whole lot different than the righteous person on display in our social media accounts?

How many of us took the opportunity in 2020 to hunker down with others who looked like us, thought like us, prayed liked us, voted like us, shutting out the rest of the “idiots” who disagreed?

In all fairness, what other choice did we have?

We were literally living in lockdown. How could we balance our internal life with our external life when there was no external life to speak of?

Well, we couldn’t. We were stuck with our private selves and those who looked like us, thought like us, prayed like us, voted like us.

So, we get a free 2020 pass through the Pandemic Tunnel of Self-Righteousness.

But, sorry folks, the ride is over. It’s time to get that character in check. It’s time to set your pride aside, grab some grace, and dig in for the hard work of compromise. No more hiding behind your “strong moral principles.”

The days of shallow, basic “integrity” are over.

Enter Integrity, with a capital I.

As we dip our toes tentatively back into the big wide world, it’s time to bring your internal self back in sync with your external self. Nobody likes – or trusts – the person who smiles cheerfully but secretly thinks others are idiots.

It’s time to get real. Get vulnerable. Get down to the messy business of cleaning up the disaster that is our divisive, nasty, uncompromising collective character.

It’s time to live with Integrity. Myself very much included.

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Published January 1, 2021

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