Padre’s Corner: The Integrity Test
By Padre Lt(N) Stephen Cogswell,
Chaplain, 12 Wing Shearwater
Ask yourself this question: what’s your integrity worth? And by “integrity,” I mean your values, your principles, your honesty, and your commitment to actually live by those things. So, how much is that worth for you?
Recently, I had to ask myself that very question, and it literally came with a price tag; $500. But there’s a story that goes with it.
Early one morning I was doing the school drop-offs, traffic was heavy and even the side streets were plugged with parked cars on either side. Essentially the traffic on those streets was relegated to one-at-a-time through the narrow openings, with drivers from either direction hesitant as to who goes first. Not far from the school I caught a break in the traffic and seized my opportunity to make it to the next block. So, I went for it. Bang! In an instant my passenger side mirror practically exploded. It seems I was a bit too close to that parked car after all.
So, I finished the school-run and begrudgingly circled back to leave a note under the wiper blade of the damaged car. As cruel luck would have it, this particular morning was the one time that I had neither a pen nor anything to write on anywhere in my vehicle. So, I drove back home where my fuming over the whole situation began in earnest. Before long, I was completely engulfed in my own frustration & irritation at what had happened. I called an auto-body shop and it wasn’t going to be a cheap fix for either vehicle, but if I didn’t pay the repair bill out of pocket, it would affect my insurance. More frustration and more justification for feeling so. Why was this even my issue in the first place? Wasn’t it their fault that they parked their vehicle on an already-too-narrow, busy street, and didn’t even bother to flip the side-view mirror in? What were they expecting to happen? In fact, it’s really their fault more than mine. Not. My. Problem. At least that’s what I was trying to convince myself to believe.
And then, a moment of clarity. To do nothing would betray my integrity. And that moment came when I was confronted with a question: what is my integrity actually worth, and, (as a person of faith) could I be at peace with my decision before my Creator? In no time, I had my answer.
Still none too pleased, I saddled-up and drove back to the scene of the crime (this time armed with a ¾ dried out Crayola marker and a gnarly piece of scrap paper), quickly parked nearby, wrote my confession note and discreetly secured it under the driver’s side wiper blade.
I hastily returned to my car and drove off. And a funny – not unexpected – thing happened. A peaceful contentment settled over me. And it was good. I knew that I had passed the test; I knew that my integrity was worth far more than a $500 insurance deductible; I knew that my wife and kids had witnessed honesty and integrity lived-out in real time; and I knew that God, not to mention the owner of a smashed car, was honoured through it.
Some ancient words from the Christian scriptures serve to guide my thinking and behaviour, “Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and a fool. (Proverbs 19:1)”
Because at the end of the day, at the end of the posting or deployment, at the end of our career, yes, even at the end of our lives, all that we really have is our integrity. Did the people around us actually trust us? Were we reliable and honest and faithful? Because most of us, religious or not, would agree that it would be preferable to be poor & honest than to be a dishonest fool.
And I fully expected the story would end there. Happily so. I would take my proverbial medicine, pay the deductible and ensure that the parked car was properly repaired. But then an interesting thing happened. Later that evening, I had a phone call from the owner of the parked car. His response? “Hey buddy, it’s all good, I just really appreciate you being honest. Don’t worry about it, these things happen. Let’s just call it even.”
Who knows, maybe there’s something about this integrity thing that’s a bit contagious?