You stood in the checkout line of the grocery store listening to the conversation between bagger and cashier as they talked about the customer who had just left.
The bagger said, “I love customers like that,” and she snorted. “Who gives back extra change?”
The cashier replied, “I know, right? Like, it’s free money. Who gives back free money?”
You bit your tongue. You surmised the customer must have given back miscounted change. Perhaps the cashier felt foolish for making the mistake and maybe the bagger was trying to make her feel better.
But then the bagger opened her mouth again. “It’s like when you don’t know the price of something and you make it up and the customer corrects you even though the real price is more money.” She twisted her face and let her tongue hang out of her mouth. “Like, der, are they mental? Who wants to pay more when they don’t have to?”
You couldn’t help yourself. At that point, you had to say something. “I believe people call that honesty.”
The girls rolled their eyes at each other and snorted some more. You wanted to offer them a tissue to make the point they sounded ridiculous, but decided not to give them the satisfaction. As you left, you heard them burst out laughing and one of them say, “Duh, it’s honesty.”
You left with dire thoughts of the future of our country, but realized that was a broad generalization based on two check out girls at the grocery store. However, it did bring to mind an incident you had with your boys a few months ago.
Your sons participate in Boy Scouts. When you signed them up, the leader stood as an excellent role model, and your boys enjoyed participating. About six months after the leader’s youngest son earned Eagle Scout, it was time for a new leader. Well, this leader wasn’t anything like the old leader.
For the first few weeks, you hoped the differences only indicated the bumpy road of change. It soon became apparent the difference had nothing to do with change and everything to do with the new leader’s personality. He often exaggerated stories about the scouts which portrayed them in a poor light. During meetings, he would call out a boy and embarrass him in front of the troop for no apparent reason other than he thought it funny. A clique soon developed and if a boy wasn’t in the clique, the leader spoke to him derisively. This organization, designed to foster independence and leadership, was tearing the boys down. Worse, some of the boys were adopting the leader’s mannerisms and tactics, and the troop lost its sense of inclusion.
Your boys no longer looked forward to going to meetings. They didn’t feel comfortable with the new leader, nor were they willing to ask any questions since mocking was also part of the new leader’s manner of communication. Your youngest didn’t make his first rank because the leader didn’t have time to test him, three weeks in a row. When you finally pushed the issue, your son missed one of the twelve characteristics of the Boy Scout Law and the leader made a loud buzzer sound, told him better luck next time, and walked away after dropping your son’s scouting book on the table.
Many of the other parents were unhappy with the new guy. Many made comments and complained to the head offices. Many spoke to him personally. However, scout leadership is a volunteer position and no one else wanted to take on the responsibilities. While you and your husband understood that reality first hand, you were not comfortable sending your boys the message it’s okay to stay someplace where people are being treated unfairly. You also kept wondering when he would turn on them and how you would deal with that knowing you could have prevented it.
Your sons wanted to advance in rank, but they did not want to continue with the current leader. Your husband did some research, found another troop across town, and transferred your boys. You caught some guff for having the temerity to leave. Their attitude floored you. These parents could not stand the new leader’s condescension or the manner in which he dealt with their boys, but they were upset with you because you left.
You’ve had a few other incidents where you’ve spoken up because your personal integrity demanded you not take part in what was happening. Each time you did, you became the bad guy, the party pooper, the uncool one. Sometimes people would side with you and voice their thoughts, but most often you encountered people mocking you or justifying their behavior. It finally hit you. Each time you acted from a place of integrity, others viewed it as a judgment about their own morals and values.
Did you make a judgment about them because they didn’t act or feel the same way you did? You like to think you’re a live-and-let-live kind of person, but you do know as soon as you felt a reprisal for your actions, you judged. When deciding to leave the group, you understood that many of those boys had been together for years and many were close to earning the coveted rank. It would have made no sense for them to switch. Yet, when the moms avoided you in the grocery store afterward, you judged. Sometimes you wonder if you should have toughed it out, but you would have sent the message to your kids it’s okay to stay in an environment where people treat others poorly. You also know you didn’t have to say a word to the cashier and bagger, but then you would have felt duplicitous and condoned their message that honesty and integrity don’t matter.
The problem with integrity is it’s not a group sport. Integrity is personal and relies on past experiences as well as an inner confidence. It’s hard to stand up for what you believe, especially in the face of a crowd, but at the end of the day, you want to be able to look in the mirror and not cringe at your reflection. You want to know you lived your day true to yourself and your code of ethics, even if you walked alone. “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.” That is the problem with integrity. When one takes a stand, it implies everyone else is sitting.
To read more of Elaina’s letters, click on Elaina!