On saying yes to no
I think of integrity as the internal place from where we find our own footing in this world. It is how we learn to stand up for who we are. It is how we learn to love ourselves. It is essential for confidence, conviction, and character, not in the sense of thinly drawn personal motifs and habitual euphemisms, but character in the sense of the impression that we leave on others and on the world. Our presence. Our self-worth. Our ability to love. Our footprint.
Figuring out what we want is difficult. Declaring what we want is often frightening; once we declare what we want, we can choose to follow through, or abandon, on our wants. How, then, do we find the courage to step? How do we move with our integrity? How do we say yes to what we want? From my perspective, I see integrity emerging in those loud moments of youth.
Most parents love it when their child doesn’t cry, doesn’t put up a fuss, does as told, is seen and not heard, and is therefore a “good kid”. A screaming and crying child is difficult to be around, because so often the reflex of “good parents” is to quiet and seemingly soothe their child. I don’t believe it is healthy for parents to call children “good” when they are silent, for a person’s inability to feel their feelings, to find their footing, begins when their feelings are silenced. Oftentimes our building or losing of integrity begins in childhood.
When parents silence their child’s anger, frustration, or any small or loud feeling, and quiet it, as if to say “you shouldn’t feel this way,” they teach their child to stand outside of their integrity and bend to someone else’s will. This commonly happens when well meaning parents tell their children silencing phrases. “You don’t hate your sister.” “Say it nicely.” “Don’t talk back to me.” “Don’t be disrespectful.” In these small ways, a child’s emotional response is compromised; their integrity is compromised. Yes, it is very hard to be with an unquiet child, much less an unquiet parent, friend, or lover.
I do not blame parents for wanting to silence a loud child, as if a parent is bad for using distractions or ignoring a crying child. I would only like parents to realize the consequences therein, and to remember what it is like to feel silenced, to lose one’s footing, to be told no, and to also remember the beauty of integrity. It is a beautiful thing to witness a person stand up for what they want, for a parent to witness their child become an adult, for a lover to hold onto their wants while holding onto their partner. It is also beautiful to witness a person walk away from a hurtful situation, for a child to grow more independently despite parental pressures to conform, or for a lover to end an unsatisfying relationship. Our parents can loosen our footing and be the greatest under-miners of our integrity; they can also be our greatest supporters in our first few steps.
If you know what it is you want, stand up for your wants, declare them to yourself and to the world around you, then sometimes you can step forward to meet them. However, we cannot always move and frequently don’t get what we purely want. Your ability, though, as a person to not discard your wants because of what the world offers, is an acknowledgement of the limits of the world. It is a saying “yes” to the “no” rather than saying, “no, are right, I should say no and I shouldn’t want what I want.” Your integrity is your full ability to say, “yes,” to yourself.
Deeply accepting that we can’t always get what we want, while not abandoning our wants for inadequate substitutions, is the sandy footing of our self-worth, our own integrity, and our capacity to love each other and ourselves.