Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
A fundamental human challenge is to do what is right in the face of urges to do otherwise. To do that, we should first have a basic understanding of the difference and distinctions between acting through instincts and acting based on morals. Trouble arises when our instinctive urges conflict with a higher set of moral principles and values. We live in a complex and highly interdependent civilization. Acting without a moral compass damages the Whole.
That said, our collective prosperity requires that we live according to principles such as honesty, mutuality, and collaboration. Ideally, socialization teaches people to manage raw impulses to meet needs while not harming anyone in the process. This is not easy. Everyone struggles with fear, greed, and a desire to exploit or even harm others if it will bring benefit. We all can feel urges to take short cuts and break the rules.
We all have a shadow side of repressed, “unacceptable” parts of ourselves that sometimes leak out in our actions despite our best intentions. Ironically, freedom to do the next right thing comes in part from befriending the more primitive and destructive parts of ourselves. We engage them in a loving but firm dialogue, just as we might with a child. When we show or shadow parts compassionate concern, honoring their needs, those parts of ourselves feel heard and validated. When we drill down, we usually discover needs for survival and comfort. Doing the next right thing then comes down to intelligently addressing those needs while staying true to our values.
Part of being human is submitting your will to what is best, seeing that what is best is best for you. Integrity comes from experiencing yourself as part of something greater than just yourself.
To realize joy in your life, make the ultimate commitment to devote your life to the service of something greater than your own selfish needs. Live by a set of higher moral principles and values regardless of your selfish urges, while honoring those urges. With integrity, you transcend to the pinnacle of enlightened self-interest, in which you see that the ultimate selfishness is to be selfless. Because you are an interdependent part of the whole of Life, serving Life serves you. You serve Life that Life might sustain you. This becomes the spiritual moral star that directs your life journey.
To act with integrity is to act with love. To act out of fear alone means that your ego, and not your Higher Self, is in charge. People enter this world with a tension between fear and love. Moral growth entails resolving this tension for yourself. Moving from fear to love means you serve the greater good. Success in life involves transitioning from being ruled by fear to being informed by fear while acting with love.
What may appear as love may in fact be ego in disguise, as when you give expecting something in return. As T.S. Eliot wrote, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Make a choice. Do you allow your ego to manage your life, or do you harness your ego in the service of love? Why do you live? Do you live only for your own self-gratification, or do you live to both savor and nurture Life? This is the fundamental spiritual question that underlies your commitment to a life of integrity.
Some cast this dialectic between ego and love as the tension between good and evil. Note the story of two wolves:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside people. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Your commitment to doing the next right thing regardless of impulses to do otherwise brings good not only to the world, but also to you. The Law of Karma dictates that you reap what you sow. Love begets love, just as evil begets evil. How you conduct yourself determines how your life unfolds. There is a Persian saying that, “As you move, so God responds.” By acting with integrity, you strengthen your spiritual muscles and become strong in character. You shape your fate.
Fulfillment comes from doing the next right thing, which means acting with wisdom and compassion, which mends acting with love. Love leads to a life without remorse or regrets. You have nothing to regret if you do nothing that causes regret. Your esteem-able acts build your self-esteem, reducing the tendency to fuel feelings of shame. See that who you are is far more important than what you accomplish. Shift your sense of gratification from what you get to who you are. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has.” Living according to this principle, you can look back on your life with minimal regrets, knowing you made the world a better place and left a legacy of love.
Do the next right thing for the sake of doing the next right thing. Remember, in the end, you have to live with yourself. You want to go to bed each night and sleep without regrets and go into your final sleep at the end of your life with no regrets. You do this by acting with integrity.
To have integrity, walk your talk. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Well done is better than well said.” Actions speak louder than words. When acting with integrity, no discrepancy exists between what you do and what you say. Be honest, consistent, reliable, and accountable. Take responsibility for your actions and the consequences of your actions on others. Be trustworthy. Remember that consistency in the small things makes the biggest difference. When your insides match your outsides, you know you are right with Life.
See what is best from moment to moment. You cannot do the “next right thing” if your mind is clouded in self-delusion. Knowing the truth requires opening your heart and mind to what Reality has to say. Gandhi spoke of this as “listening to the still, small voice within.” This is the voice of your conscience or Higher Self.
Virtually no one acts with perfect love and integrity at all times. Commit to a life of integrity, but realize you will not practice integrity perfectly all the time. Hold yourself accountable, but do so kindly. When you act without integrity, look very closely at the impact it has on others and on your peace of mind. Commit to learn from your mistakes and act differently the next time. You just have to do the best you can and make a conscious effort to move in the right direction, day by day, one moment at a time.
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Image from: http://jaraker.blogspot.com/2012/10/what-do-you-do-when-you-dont-know-what.html