Integrity. The book definition of this word is: honest, sincere, open & upright in character and actions. Brian Burrell in his book, The Words We Live By, addresses this big word and argues that we all live by certain words, creeds, and ideals, whether we know it or not. However, words and ideals may conflict: “…integrity consists in knowing which words take precedence over others.” So many challenges we face today, in my view, can be reduced to a lack of integrity. Cheating on standardized testing in Atlanta; race relations in Ferguson, MO, and now Baltimore, MD; performance-enhancing drugs and deflated footballs in professional sports. The great reggae musician Bob Marley said: The greatness of a man is not how much wealth he acquires but in his integrity and ability to affect others around him positively. Strive to make integrity a bedrock principle in your lives.
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8. Accentuate the positive. There is an old Bing Crosby song that says this. “Accentuate the positive.” Also, fill your life with positive people who are ready to get things done and have some fun in the process. We have the words of Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker, who was taken hostage by ISIS in Syria in 2013. In February it was confirmed that she had been killed. She said: “I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free …. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.” And then there is that piece of wisdom from my elderly mother-in-law, who said: “Nobody likes an old crab apple.” Accentuating the positive will draw good people to you and leave the rest stunned; for the people whom you touch it will lift their lives in positive and mysterious ways.
Be careful about the Tyranny of Technology. Technology can be very tantalizing. It has given us many benefits, but it has come also with its downside. Do not let technology be an end in itself, and do not let it control you. Use it to achieve your goals and to live a good life; do not let being connected digitally be your definition of a good life. It has been a bit sad. Ten years ago you and I interacted and greeted each other much more on our school’s pathways and hallways. Not so these days. We are too busy staying connected, not missing a thing in our social circles. Do not let digital interaction substitute for genuine, face-to-face interaction. If you do not guard against this, we are headed for a world in which we lose the ability to interact personally in real time, a world without personal phone calls, a world without written thank-you notes. Say no to drugs, and say no to the Tyranny of Technology.
6. Take time to smell the roses. Remember on summer Mondays to go to Newport Creamery. It is “Buy one Awful, Awful, and get one free”! Colonel Bill Taylor, one of my mentors in the Army, taught me: If you are not having fun, you ain’t doing it right. I have found this to be true. A sense of humor is very important in life. When I was a teenager, I interpreted this to mean that a person knew some good jokes and told them well. No, it is a much richer concept than that. It is able to see the sun behind the rain clouds, to be able to dance in the rain. Even in bad times, to be able to keep your chin up and to laugh. My hero Abe Lincoln said of laughter that it is the “universal evergreen of life.” He also said that a good story “can whistle off sadness.” His sense of humor was one of the things that sustained him throughout the ordeal of the Civil War.
5. Seek balance. This is rather un-American. We are out to win and to be on top. If one of something is good, two must be better. More is better. And so on. However, this comes with a cost. Remember the four pillars of a healthy life: nutrition, rest, exercise, and prayer/meditation. These can help to keep you balanced, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. You remember the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece. One of the two most common responses it gave was: meden agan: moderation. Nothing too much. And with your eating habits, remember the immortal words of Miss Piggie: “Never eat more than you can lift. “
4. A final point about people: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Do not assume the worst of them but rather the best. Yes, sometimes they do bad things. And sometimes you will be taken advantage of. However, in the long run you shall still come out ahead if you look to the good in most people and not the bad. Who knows, you may even be an instrument in changing the life of a person for the better. You may be the only Bible a person every sees.
3. What’s a great way to nurture relationships with other people? Learn their language. Learn a foreign language. In my first career as an Army officer, I had the opportunity to live in Germany for six years. Having studied it in high school and college and living there for that long, I was able meet many Germans, learn more about their culture—from the “inside”—and to learn how they think. The world is getting smaller. The presence of international students at your school gives a great a great opportunity. I do not want you simply to get to know that international student during the academic year, I want you to know him or her well enough to visit that friend in his or her own country. Here are the most important words you must know how to say in that foreign language:
- Hello & good bye
- How are you?
- Excuse me.
- That is wonderful.
- How do you say ____ ?
- For me: Where can I get a good pizza pie?
- And of course: I love you!
You will be running this world soon. I know, that’s a little scary, but true. We all need more empathy with others to understand how they look at the world. The challenges the world face are increasingly transnational—climate change, terrorism, epidemics. We are all increasingly interdependent. In the world today, so many people are building walls between each other; I ask you not to build walls but walkways. Learning another language is a great way to build walkways.