Our News Media Doesn’t Understand What “Integrity” Is (Or Why It Matters)

The Importance of Integrity in Business | FreshBooks Blog

Everyone is born with the same amount of integrity: one hundred percent. As we drop from the womb, we haven’t betrayed any principles yet, haven’t gotten lazy when intellectually challenged, haven’t let anyone down. If we “say” we’re hungry that’s what we mean. If we say we’ve pooped or peed ourselves, we have! If we’re sad or lonely or happy as a clam, we’ll broadcast that fact as loudly and clearly as we can. We are as honest as we’re ever going to be. Then we go out into the world and one of the first things we learn how to do is be less honest. Part of that’s just what it takes to get through a day filled with different kinds of relationships. A certain amount of truthiness goes with being human and living in a human society. But, there is a line. People who take on “important jobs”, work that could genuinely mean life or death to others (airline pilots, physicians, police officers for instance) can be less than honest with their romantic partners, but we need them to be totally honest with their passengers, patients or perps. Would you allow a surgeon with questionable integrity to slice into you?

Me neither.

Integrity is like a balloon made of platinum. As solid as it seems, it’s easily punctured. And once punctured. it’s irreparable. If Donald Trump had a radical change of heart (and character — let’s pretend okay?) and suddenly (on the inside) became absolutely honest, would we believe him? Certainly not. And, ironically, the more Trump pled his newfound honesty, the more dishonest we’d be sure he was. That’s what happens when you bust a cap in your integrity. It dies. And the world’s perception of you solidifies: you are a liar. If Trump could keep up the act, not just insisting he was honest but actually being that way, perhaps in a few years, our skepticism would begin to subside. To the degree that one’s integrity can be repaired, the process moves as slowly as nerve regeneration in humans. Glaciers can beat it in a foot race.

And yet, our news media regularly restores the broken integrity of the very least deserving. Richard Nixon was a criminal — full stop. At the very least, Watergate should have fixed Nixon in our collective understanding as a man with zero integrity. Of course Nixon himself would want to restore his integrity — or bamboozle others into thinking he (somehow) still had some integrity to trade on. Why would our news media want to help him though? Better question: why would our news media want to put ITS integrity on the line for someone their own reporting established had none? I don’t think it’s because our journalists don’t have integrity, I think it’s because they simply don’t know (or maybe even care) what it is.

“Both sides do it” brand journalism conflates skepticism with cynicism. Suddenly everyone becomes a variation on a theme : the lust for political power. Regardless of what they actually do or say, so goes the thinking, their motives are all exactly the same. From this vantage point, NO ONE has integrity. How can they when (per the journalist doing the reporting) everyone’s hedging or gaming everyone else? This simply isn’t the case. Progressives don’t want what conservatives want; they don’t want to live in a past where white, Christian men had all the power and money — the very thing conservatives want to conserve. Progressives will tell you openly that they want a rising tide to float every possible boat. Conservatives, on the other hand, will lie to you about just about everything because, they know, if they told America the truth about them — about their motives — they’d be in jail already.

When our news media gets up on its hind legs and insists that Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy or Mark Meadows or Devin Nunes or Bill Barr or Mike Pence or Chuck Grassley or Susan Collins or Jim Jordan or Marjorie Taylor Greene or Brett Kavanaugh or Steve Bannon or Ted Cruz or anyone in the Trump clan is an “honest actor”, they’re committing journalistic malpractice. They’re labeling criminals as honest then demanding why Democrats won’t negotiate with them. But, even when our news media reports actual acts of treason — based on hard evidence they themselves have vetted — they refuse to connect the dots their reporting suggests do connect.

Example: On June 25, 2016, current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a meeting of GOP leaders — a month before the GOP will nominate Trump to be their presidential candidate. They know Trump’s candidacy is inevitable. McCarthy is worried however because he fears that Trump is corrupt: “There’s two people I think Putin pays,” he says, “Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” No one in the room balks at the thought. There’s nervous laughter — that’s what motivates McCarthy to insist “Swear to God!” He wants to be taken seriously. He wants his news to be taken seriously. But, then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan asserts his “leadership”. He shuts down the conversation. They’re not going to discuss this secret; instead, they’re going to keep it — this knowledge that a hostile foreign government has compromised the man they’re going to nominate to be POTUS. “That’s how we know we’re family,” says Speaker Ryan, third in line to the presidency himself.

No one in the room questioned these accusations of Trumpian criminality. No one doubted that they were possible. And no one insisted they they should — per their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution — call the FBI to warn them. The total amount of integrity in that room by the time the conversation finished? Absolute zero.

Has anyone in the news media gone back to revisit these shocking accusations — and the even more shocking acceptance of them? To be fair, yeah — a few intrepid reporters have questioned Kevin McCarthy about “There’s two people I think Putin pays”. Kevin insisted he was just joking — and that (as always) ends the discussion even though it’s demonstrable that Kevin McCarthy (like Donald Trump) has no sense of humor. Bullies, as an absolute rule, NEVER have a sense of humor. It’s part of why they’re bullies. Oh, sure — bullies can laugh. But bullies (think Donald Trump) never laugh with others (except other bullies), they always laugh AT others. See the difference?

Since then, Kevin’s reported-upon statement has sat in the Trump-Russia evidence room, gathering dust. That’s a reflection of our news media’s integrity or lack thereof.

I’m old enough to remember how connecting Trump to Russia only ever got you rolling eyes in response. Same goes for describing Trump and the GOP as authoritarians and fascists. As we stand here today, those who correctly spotted the GOP’s authoritarian and fascist leanings were right: they still have their integrity on the subject. Those who shrugged off what the Republicans were/are doing? I’m not sure I’d ask their advice on a lunch order any more. I wouldn’t trust their taste as I wouldn’t trust they were telling me the truth. It’s not just Republicans whose integrity has been destroyed by Trumpism. Silence in the face of this attack is tacit complicity.

Anyone complicit in this coup d’etat blew up their integrity a long time ago.

When Trump openly told his four underlings NOT to cooperate with the January 6 Truth Commission, he openly committed a crime. Citizen Trump doesn’t have the authority President Trump had to say such a thing without criminal liability. It’s not a question whether or not Trump did this thing — he deliberately broadcast it as part of his strategy. That doesn’t legitimize it. It should, instead, make prosecuting this bloated orange pirate a thousand times easier. But, that would demand that our news media stop reporting Trump as a politician and start reporting him as what he is: a stone cold criminal in the middle of a treasonous crime spree.

I wish it were possible to buy our news media some integrity. Hell, they need it so desperately, I’d even steal it for them.

There’s No Point Being “Honest” With Everyone Else If You Can’t Be Honest About Yourself First

There’s an iconic film moment in the movie “A Few Good Men”. Military JAG officer Tom Cruise has the movie’s villain (played by Jack Nicholson) on the stand where he’s pressed him hard to get at “the truth”. Nicholson’s Colonel Jessep barks: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!” Of course, in the movie (written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Rob Reiner, both very progressive), we’re meant to shake our heads at Jessep’s arrogance. Of course we can handle the Truth. Ah, but, can we? Can any of us really handle the Truth about who we are and where we are in our lives versus where we wished we’d be? As much as I advocate in this blog for “living bullshit free”, the unvarnished truth about humans is we need a certain amount of bullshit just to get through each day. Hell, we need a certain amount of bullshit just to justify getting through most days. Especially these days.

The trap in being honest with ourselves is if we equate being honest with being judged. The reason we don’t want to be honest is because we don’t want to be judged — especially if we’re just “being honest”. Inside our own heads though, things get grey. We don’t judge ourselves the way we judge others. We couldn’t stand it if we did. But, if we could push past that kneejerk judgment, let our psychological hair down and run free, we’d probably be shocked by the stone, cold truth about ourselves. That’s neither good nor bad. It’s just the Truth.

For instance: none of us can say whether or not we’re racist. It’s not up to us. It’s up to anyone toward whom we may have been racist. IF someone were to accuse us of being a racist (or bigoted or misogynist in any way), would we accept hearing such a terrible TRUTH about ourselves? Or would we insist the “truth” was otherwise — something kinder and gentler toward us? Being honest with oneself is hard, hard work. But the payoffs are considerable. Important detail: being totally honest with yourself about yourself must precede any attempt to be totally honest about anyone else.
If you’re doing it right, being honest with yourself about yourself is pretty much a full time job all by itself. You won’t have time to give others the “benefit” of your honesty. If the world was working the way it should, all those others will be as consumed as you will be by the work involved in patrolling their own “perimeters of truth”.

One of the first benefits of being honest with oneself however is how it opens one’s eyes to the myriad ways OTHERS aren’t being honest with themselves but with some very important, very human context around it. On the one hand, that can make us more empathetic to why and how others dance around the truth. On the other, the context makes it crystal clear when others aren’t being “truthful” about WHY they’re dancing as fast as they’re dancing: they’re being cynical. Or, worse, corrupt.

The whole point of being honest with oneself is to “vaccinate” against bullshit and bullshit’s influence on our psyches.

Cutting ourselves slack is completely understandable. We all have to live inside our own heads. But, we have to recognize (if only to ourselves) that that’s what we’re doing. Again, the point isn’t to judge, it’s merely to RECOGNIZE what really is versus what isn’t and probably never was.

There is not a Republican Congressperson alive right now who doesn’t know what they’re really doing. They KNOW they’re not working to make America a stronger democracy dedicated to expanding its electorate. They KNOW that what they’re doing will, in fact, undermine American’s democracy because that is the point. If you can’t win elections via the strength of your ideas and arguments, you’re going to have to “win” elections by “other means”. Republicans don’t suppress Democratic voters because they believe in democracy, they do it because they fear democracy. That’s not a judgment; it’s a stone cold FACT.

Hey, look — Republicans aren’t “obligated” to want the greatest experiment in human self government to continue. They are obligated however to be honest about their intentions. And, if they refuse to be honest about themselves, it’s incumbent on our news media to force them to be honest. That’s their Constitutionally mandated mission — to be the final check on power. Honesty and sunlight — they both work wonders on a dark, corrupt world.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare put it this way: “To thine own self, be true”. Of course, the person giving that advice (Polonius) is a deceptive skunk, but the sentiment’s right. We can only really be honest — and the sunlight can only do what we need it to do — if we begin the process with ourselves to ourselves.

The Only Confession Booth Anyone Needs Is Their Own Bathroom Mirror

No confessions required. We all do this. We just do. We stand in front of a bathroom mirror and we get real with ourselves — realer than we get with anyone else because the person we’re getting really, really REAL with is US. When we look into our own eyes, we see a version of us that no one else sees because no one else can (or ever will) — the you YOU know. The you you are. We speak to ourselves with a voice we don’t use for anyone else. It’s the most honest voice we have; maybe the only honest voice. Don’t think we can’t bullshit ourselves. We most certainly can and do. But we know, deep down, that we’re bullshitting ourselves even as we do it. We see that lack of belief in our own eyes.

I named this blog after a book I’m writing — “How to Live Bullshit Free: A Practical Guide To NOT Killing Yourself” — in which I tell my personal story — how a secret I kept hidden from myself for 45 years finally achieved a kind of critical, self-destructive mass inside my head and tried to kill me. Between a great therapist, a mood stabilizer that successfully mitigates my depression and copious amounts of THC to mitigate my creative hypomania so I can be creative, I beat back depression’s grip on me. The thing about one’s darkness — the thing causing one’s depression — is that it knows you better than you because it is you. It knows where all your bodies are buried because it helped you bury them. The more you listen to your darkness, the less perspective you hold onto. That’s depression’s MO — it robs you of perspective, convincing you that the whole world is the ever-shrinking misery-nubbin you live on. There’s nothing else out there so why bother going on?

Except that’s not true. There’s plenty out there. Hell — there’s EVERYTHING out there, beyond the reach of your darkness. If only one could figure out how to open one’s eyes to it.

My darkness had me convinced that I was responsible for being sexually molested twice when I was 14 — by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. The man who molested me put me on an island with him — an island built upon the secret we shared about what he did to me (and the fact that I never reported him). If you didn’t know that secret about me, I told myself as I grew up, you didn’t really know ME. And since I wasn’t sharing that secret with anyone (I was even keeping it from myself, remember), there was NO WAY for anyone to get to know me. My molester condemned me to 45 years of self-destructive isolation where long-lasting, deep, trusting friendships were hard to come by because I had no idea how to forge and maintain those bonds.

I remember looking in the mirror at myself wondering why I was so unhappy. I would stand there, searching my eyes for a clue while, ironically, all the clues I needed were right inside my own head. If I had to describe the inside of my own head, I’d call it a black box theater. Think a shoe box, painted all black on the inside then turned over. Anything can happen inside that space. You can put the audience anywhere, the lights anywhere, the actors anywhere. You can have as much or as little set as you like. Meanwhile, in addition to the performances going on inside the black box theater that is my mind, there are a dozen or so projections — movies in black and white, color, technicolor, sepia. There are lasers and lightning flashes of black light. There’s music and sound and… what I think of as a wonderful kind of chaos.

But there’s also a stairway — attached to the theater’s back wall. The stairs lead up to a platform up in the rafters just beneath the black box’s roof. On the platform, there’s an office. Go in the door and you’ll see there’s a closet in the back of the office. In the closet (open the door), there’s a filing cabinet. Open the top drawer and you’ll find a memory, glowing white hot: my molestation. It was always like I stood in the black box theater’s doorway, down on the ground, but I was always keenly aware of that light burning up in the corner, unseen but not unknown.

Between therapy, the mood stabilizer and the cannabis, I was finally able to confront my demon — the fact that I was molested. It happened as I stood, late one Friday night, in the bathroom, gazing at myself in the bathroom mirror. “You know what happened, right?” I said to myself, “You know what that man did to you.” I nodded. And then I broke down and sobbed on that bathroom floor for hours, crying not so much for me as for that 14 year old boy who felt so alone and isolated from the world.

That first confession was brutal. But, damn if it didn’t set me free.

Confession isn’t easy. It’s hard. Harder still to confess your deepest, darkest “shouldn’t have’s” to yourself: “I shouldn’t have had that last glass of wine… shouldn’t have said that… shouldn’t have betrayed that confidence or violated that trust”. But, also — shouldn’t have taken the blame. Unfortunately, part of getting mentally healthy is doing a lot of heavy lifting. There’s no easy route to it — but there’s a route. That’s key. There IS a route and we all deserve to be on it.

Use it like a mantra: “the truth WILL set you free”. And being free is the first step to being happy. Living a lie and living happily are mutually exclusive propositions.

Go on — look yourself in the eyes. Tell yourself the truth the way you know it is. In the end, you will thank yourself.

I Know Who I See Staring Back At Me In A Mirror… What Does A Republican See?

At some point, unless you’ve removed every reflective surface from your house, you WILL have to see your own face reflected back at you. I don’t know about the rest of you (cos none of us will EVER be in a bathroom ALONE with anyone else) but when I look at myself in the mirror, I look right into my own eyes.

In those moments, I bore in on “me”.

I see those moments as me getting to talk to ME. It’s me having a chance — if I choose to take it — to speak directly to myself — to that box of thoughts and traits and wild imaginings that I think of as “me”.

Now, let’s be clear — we all lie to ourselves. Mostly we tell small lives to us about us. Mostly it’s because we want to be “better” than we are: better friends, better spouses, better parents, better at our jobs, better at spelling, better at sex, better at getting what we need (vs what we think we want). Telling ourselves little lies is a survival skill.

Except we know we’re lying to ourselves even as we do it. Because it’s us doing it. To us.

We know what we know. We know when we’re bullshitting ourselves about it, too. Except… we are capable of keeping secrets from ourselves. Hell — I “kept one” from myself for 45 years (that I was sexually molested twice when I was 14 by the spiritual director at my family’s synagogue). I knew it happened. It rippled through my life every day; hell, it was the reason I tried to kill myself. That secret.

A part of me always knew it was there, waiting to be dealt with one way or another.

I make it a point now — my mental health depends on it — to be as honest as I can with myself. Lying has proved it’s no good for me. Honesty with myself to myself is where good mental health lives. That’s what makes watching Republicans lie so compelling to me.

Donald Trump is a text book sociopath. He has no conscience to speak of. He’s not capable of being honest with himself; lying — even to himself — is how he rolls. That doesn’t excuse the lies for two seconds. Most Republicans are quite capable of discerning truth from bullshit; they’re NOT sociopaths. The only good explanation for how Republicans behave these days is “guilt”. Knowledge of guilt.

Bill Barr may be a hard core Christian shill but he’s not an ignoramus. He KNOWS empirically that the bullshit he spewed the other day to the Federalist Society (like the bullshit he spewed at Notre Dame a few weeks before that) is rubbish on steroids. When you say things that are demonstrably untrue, it’s not because you believe the opposite is true; you NEED the opposite to be true because you’re a goddamned liar, a thief or a criminal.

My bet is most Republicans don’t see anyone staring back at them. They see a physical body. They see a face. They even see eyes. But there’s nothing behind the eyes — except fear maybe.

We know damned well they’ll never see an honest person staring back.