By A. Joseph Sarcinella, V
"Character and integrity are not defined by that which you do when others are watching but by that which you do when no one is watching."
For as long as I can remember my large Italian/Basque father has always insisted that I conduct myself with honor, respect, honesty and responsibility, but as I matured in age I realized that all he meant was I needed to have integrity in every aspect of my life. There were many times in my youth where his words guided me through the turbulence of adolescence, where the temptations of the world and free will could have led me down an unsavory and irreparable path. However, is true integrity holding strong to your beliefs and doing that which is "right" when faced with circumstances that could have either praise or negative repercussions, or is it holding strong to a conviction and a commitment made to yourself and a greater cause, where you are only self accountable?
My mother is Native American of the Lakota and Assiniboine nations and my life has been surrounded by the traditional Native teaching and ceremonies of her people. In my mothers culture the most sacred ceremony is called the Sundance, an event of personal sacrifice where an individual commits four years of their life to conduct themselves with absolute moral character and respect, while participating in ritual fasting (complete abstention from food and water) and abstaining from alcohol and drugs. Those drawn to this ceremony promise themselves, their creator and their family to participate and suffer in order to help alleviate the suffering of others. It is a personal sacrifice, a belief in something greater than oneself, where there are no negative repercussions for not holding true to the commitment made. In the spring, participants must fast and stand on a hill alone continually for 4 days and nights and pray for those that are suffering, then in the summer attend the Sundance where for four days they do physical labor for purification, followed by four days of fasting, ceremonial sweat lodges (an extremely hot indigenous sauna), and dancing from dawn to dusk while staring into the sun and praying for those who suffer. It is an intense sacrifice that is based on the notion of personal integrity.
At the age of 22, I had the honor, along with my older brother, to have the calling to be a Sundancer. Along with that honor came the realization that I had no one to answer to but myself as to how I was going to conduct my behavior. Did I have the integrity at such a young age to follow the practices, to refrain from the activities that young men of 22 generally engage in? It was difficult because unlike other points in my life where the notion of integrity was generally followed by either praise or negative repercussions, this situation had neither. I would receive no accolades for participating, no repercussions for sneaking food or drink during times of fast, no one would know if I went out to the bars with friends and had a few drinks, all I was left with was the personal knowledge of my own actions.
I remember the first year while I was standing alone on the hill, 110° during the day and 40° at night, it would have been so easy to walk down the hill and go to sleep, have a drink or have a meal, cause no one would have known. However, I would have to look into the mirror and say "I lacked the constitution to follow through with a promise to myself." That summer during the actual Sundance, it would have been very easy to sneak off and cheat myself, no one would have known or cared, but again I would have to look into the mirror. I have known others that participate in this way of life and they have no problem with not following the codes of conduct and they look into the mirror and smile, but I knew that if I broke that promise I would never be able to look at myself as a person of integrity. I could still hear my father in my head "conduct yourself with honor, respect, honesty and responsibility."
I am 27 years old now and my brother is 34 and I know that both of us have true integrity, because we saw a greater good, something bigger than each of us and we knew that by our actions someone had a better day; we held true to the code of conduct associated with the responsibility we undertook. I could have easily broken the promises I made to myself, I talk with friends now and know that I missed some very good times and adventures with them and at the age I am now I know that a great deal of the indiscretions that young men have in their early twenties are not available to me anymore. However, I know I am a stronger and better person for what I have done, because the lesson I learned is that I possess an internal strength, an ability to hold true to personal convictions that many people do not obtain until later in their life.
Returning to my original question of; "whether true integrity is holding strong to your beliefs and doing that which is "right" when faced with circumstances that could have either praise or negative repercussions, or is it holding strong to a conviction and a commitment made to yourself and a greater cause, where you are only self accountable" I believe the answer is quite clear. A person of true integrity is not the person that holds true to their convictions and beliefs, doing that which they believe to be correct, when others know, care or could be affected but the person that holds firm to their convictions when the person that they have to answer to is looking them square in the mirror.