16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Living a Life of Integrity
Presenter:Rev. Amy Russell
Sermon Date:Sun, 05/21/2006
Many of us were like Bryce, a young man who saw a job opportunity coming toward him that looked like an answer to his dream. He had been working in Austin as a roustabout on the oil drill rigs and going to school to get his degree in geology. He loved being out of doors working with his hands but then the opportunity to actually use his intelligence to help find where to drill for oil sounded even more exciting. He completed his degree and was waiting for that well paying job to be offered to him when something happened that he couldn’t have predicted. The oil exploration industry in Texas went dead. Completely dead. Bryce ended up selling used cars regretting that he had bothered to get his degree.
Then in 1989, there was the fateful incident of the Exxon Valdez, with eleven million gallons of crude oil being spilled into the Alaskan sound. New legislation was formed to control the behavior of the oil companies which created the opportunity for many small independent consulting firms to monitor and help oversee the cleanup of the oil companies. Bryce could see that here was a golden opportunity for someone with his background. Getting paid to help clean up the environment seemed like a dream too good to be true.
And as most dreams that are too good to be true, this one was as well. When Bryce started working for one of these small companies, it become quite apparent that his job was to wine and dine the oil companies executives to get their business, and once they were asked to monitor their sites, the “independent” consulting firm was paid to keep their eyes shut and the government inspectors away from them. As a consultant, Bryce’s bonus plan was inversely proportional to the amount of cleanup the oil companies had to do. Bryce fell into a life that involved a lot of being buddies with the guys at the oil company and spending a lot of time drinking and carousing with them. He remembers that is was much like being in a college frat.
Bryce knew in the back of his mind that what he was doing was wrong, but it was too easy to make money this way and the drinking kept him from thinking about it too much.
Bryce’s awakening didn’t come for many years. It didn’t come until he was forced to stop what he was doing by a business partner who took over all of his contracts with the oil company and forced Bryce out of business. This brought Bryce’s life to a complete halt. He had already lost his marriage and realized that he needed to stop drinking which he did immediately. And then he looked at what was left of his life. He started thinking about what he had done to his dreams of “cleaning up the environment”.
Eventually, after much soul searching, Bryce ended up taking a much lower paid position with the Country as the inspector for the oil company’s tanks and their leakage. His job was to enforce the oil companies to deal with the cleanup that he had spent many years hiding. It was hard for him to get used to this new life. But he found that he could finally get up in the morning feeling proud of what he was doing, proud of who he was. (Bronson, Po, What Should I do With my Life?, Random House, 2003)
In the words that I read for our Chalice Lighting, Douglas Woods’ speaks of a Jack pine- a tree whose individuality and strong survival skills speaks of “wholeness.. an integrity that comes from being what you are.” Finding integrity in our lives often means finding congruence between what we believe, who we think we are and how we live. And I think all of us struggle with this challenge on a daily basis. Finding out who we are and what our values are and then applying them in our daily lives is a lifelong journey.
I remember a time in my life when getting through the day required shifting through many roles that I found incongruent. I was working full time as a corporate manager, I was also raising two small children, and I was also a lay leader in a very active Buddhist lay organization. Part of my challenge was just getting everything done and still getting time to eat and sleep. But the major challenge was not feeling schizophrenic in the different expectations each role contained.
My job as manager required that I play tough. I managed mostly men who were older than I and I was very aware that there was some resentment at my being promoted over them. What I observed in the women who had been promoted above me was that they were mostly women who could put on a tough exterior. And if these women had children, you certainly never heard about them. The women who had small children were expected to keep that “problem” to themselves. There wasn’t much leeway given to women or men who needed to leave work at a certain time to pickup children at day care.
The Buddhist organization that I belonged to had another set of expectations. The lay organization I belonged to was Japanese in origin and followed the Japanese cultural norm of patriarchy. Women were expected to lead by following the male leaders. At that time in the seventies when women were finally beginning to find their voices, I felt extremely torn between my commitment to my new found religion and my distaste at the obvious inequity of roles.
Being a mother of small children came with its own set of demands such as having time to spend with them. My work was demanding and the Buddhist organization where I was a lay leader also demanded my time. I soon found myself having no time left for my children. While I took them with me to Buddhist meetings when they were very small, that soon became less than ideal for very active children.
I felt torn inside between what I believed I should be doing which was spending more time with my children, and the demands of the job and the religious organization. I also felt torn about my role as a woman with the conflicting role expectations between the organizations where I was spending my life. I finally decided on my own to resign my position as a Buddhist lay leader and spend more time at home. I was very happy with my decision and started to feel a lot less stress in my life. Eventually, my husband and I decided to leave the Buddhist organization as the values of a hierarchical, patriarchal organization that was basically fundamentalist didn’t match our values.
At work, I found that as a manager I was being asked to lay off people primarily based on their age. I complained about this criteria, and I was eventually demoted. I wasn’t tough enough. I found myself much happier working in staff positions where my expertise was valued and I wasn’t expected to mold myself into a certain kind of management style.
Often we find ourselves in situations at work, in personal relationships, or in volunteer positions where we find ourselves at odds with the values or roles we are expected to play. Sometimes the uncomfortableness isn’t at all obvious to us as we are asked to take on new responsibilities or new roles. We may be asked to be aggressive at work in sales or management positions or to take stands on issues where we are not in agreement. Later, we find out that we just can’t be ourselves in these roles.
Parker Palmer, a Quaker author, tells of the “steep price” he paid when he lived a “divided life”. When he feels he is “denying [his] own selfhood”, he is depressed and uneasy. He notices that people around him are also made uneasy by his lack of wholeness. People feel his lack of integrity when he feels they can see a disconnect between his words and his actions. He reminds us that the media is filled with recent stories about people whose dividedness ruined the lives of others at places like Enron, Arthur Anderson, WorldCom, and the Catholic Church. The people who line the headlines are often just the best examples of lives lived outside of integrity but not very far from where we may find ourselves.
Palmer uses these examples as situations where we may find ourselves divided:
(Palmer, Parker, A Hidden Wholeness, p. 6)
But when Parker travels to his favorite place in the Minnesota-Ontario wilderness, he relaxes into the wholeness he finds hidden in all things. Palmer says, “Wholeness does not mean perfection; it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” He recognizes that we each face the challenge of making our lives whole, healing the dividedness in our lives everyday. We intuitively feel where our lives are not congruent with who we are, and yet we continue to try to heal this brokenness. This reveals our humanity.
We see examples of people who faced their inner dividedness in their workplace with the whistleblowers at World Com, the FBI, and Enron. Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley, and Sherron Watkins were named as Time magazine’s “Persons of the year” for their roles in naming the corruption they found in their corporations. Here we find people who struggled with the dividedness they found between their own sense of integrity and their need to have a job and their integrity won.
Many people struggle with revealing their true identity to their co-workers or management. They may struggle with revealing their sexual orientation, their true ethnic origin, or their religion. Some of us struggle with discussing our difficulty with the workplace’s values or the ways that employees are treated. I remember something I really had difficulty with when I worked in a corporation was the way that management acted toward employees. The company where I worked seemed to have a culture of anger. It was considered acceptable for upper level management to demonstrate childish temper tantrums directed at whatever employee was at hand. Later, when another corporation took over our company, a very different culture was instilled where managers were appraised on how well they treated their employees. I thought this was an unusual work environment and I fully appreciated it.
We soon learn in the workplace to hide our values, our vulnerabilities, our true selves in order to protect ourselves from a culture that doesn’t value our differences. Often, our jobs ask us to be machines, good machines that produce widgets from 8am to 6pm or longer. During this time, we aren’t expected to be human beings with feelings or ethics or strong beliefs about something. We learn to hide the most precious parts about ourselves in order to fit the organizational mold. Our customers or our management are the gods that hold our attention, while our own truths are lost.
We forget that we once had dreams. Dreams about doing good in the world. Or at least doing no harm. Dreams about how individuals should treat one another. Dreams about using our own best selves in our work. So often our need to advance in our career swallows up these truths about who we once were. We forget who we are.
Palmer reminds us that we each desire to “center our outer lives on inner truth”. He says we should each say, “I want my inner truth to be the plumb line for the choices I make about my life - about the work I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them.” (Palmer, The Hidden Wholeness, p. 45) This inner life is a beacon when we allow it to direct us toward the kind of life we want. Listening to our inner voice isn’t always easy. There is much noise interfering all the time. Noise about how much money we could make if we just kept quiet. Noise about how other people act in a certain way so why shouldn’t we? But when we find a way to listen, our inner voice tells that we can only be happy working and living in a way consistent with our own values.
The poem by Mary Oliver that we read today speaks of this inner voice reminding us that we can save our own lives:
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,
(Mary Oliver, from Ten Poems to Change Your Life, edited by Roger Housden, Harmony Books, 2001)