November 27, 2007
Loving Fearlessly

By Lieren

I find myself emerging from a lengthy introspection about my concept of honesty and trust. The reality of the situation is that, for me, theyíre completely intertwined. I suspect thatís true of most people, falling somewhere on the spectrum between trusting someone completely until theyíre dishonest, and making the other party somehow prove themselves before any trust is offered. For me the challenge started on the latter end of the scale and moved backward toward the former end, although the conundrum of what to do when someone breaks the trust I give freely is still a sticking point.

Added in the mix somewhere is the concept of integrity, which is something that is very important to me. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, integrity has three meanings: Ā1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values - incorruptibility, 2. ? an unimpaired condition - soundness, and ?3. the quality or state of being complete or undivided - completeness. My concept of the word involves a slightly different connotation, in that I believe itís about firm adherence to a code of ethics, which differ from morals in that they are more objective. For me, morals involve individualism and personal beliefs such as religion, while ethics involve community thinking and more objective factors such as measurable criteria. The other two meanings also influence my concept of the word because they address an object being in a state of integrity, which applies to my definition of the word as a state that a relationship should be kept in, be it work, friendship or love. The choices that I make in my life are based on maintaining my integrity, in being in a state of integrity in every relationship Iím a part of to the best of my ability. Stated more simply, it means that I am open and authentic in assessing my expectations of a relationship, as well as what contributions I can make to it, as well as keeping my word and making sure that Iím clear about what otherís expectations of me are.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists honesty as a synonym of integrity, interestingly enough. I see honesty as much more subjective, it can involve morals over ethics, and it is one of the ingredients of keeping relationships in a state of integrity. How one views their ďTruthĒ defines them, whether itís a conscious choice theyíve made or not. Sadly, American culture seems to value individuality over community, which means that itís not difficult for me to find someone who follows a ďTruthĒ that doesnít hold many similarities to mine. Therefore, being honest is not the same as being in a state of integrity. I recently attended a workshop where the facilitator posited that in making sure that one is aligned, centered, and in a state of integrity, one becomes a more productive and positive member of the world. This makes so much sense to me. Only from a place of balance and self-awareness can I make choices that are ethical.

From this foundation comes my definition of love. A loving relationship is one that is kept in a state of integrity like any other, but it also involves offering trust and honesty without fear. Recently someone told me that I love fearlessly and it gave me pause, because that one sentence sums up the difference between true, soul-deep love and the caricature of it thatís shown on American TV networks every day of the week. Itís not about being self-absorbed and seeing everything through a lens of how it affects me, itís about holding up a mirror to my loved one so that they can see the beautiful spirit that I see when I look at them. Itís not about constantly comparing what I get out of the relationship to what I give, itís about opening my heart to my loved one and giving of myself openly and fully, just as I love my children. Itís not about filtering what truths Iíll share through a filter of how the other personís reaction will affect me, itís about offering truly authentic communication from a place of trust, without fear of the consequences. Because in the end, any less earnest and sincere a love is merely a tool of manipulation.

I realize that last paragraph is a pretty selfless and altruistic approach to things. Whereís the balance between my needs and those of my loved one? What happens when something goes wrong? The first question is much easier for me to answer than the second. In my world the balance between us happens naturally, as an outgrowth of each of us holding our love for each other in a state of integrity, essentially putting the needs of the other before our own. Five years ago my husbandís father passed away and he became depressed, then he lost his mother two years later. Suddenly he wasnít able to hold my needs as he had before, not because he was holding his first but because he was at a loss for where he fit in his own world. I make no claim that itís been easy, that a part of me hasnít occasionally wondered when my needs would be restored to their Ďproperí place, but part of holding my love for him in a state of integrity is holding up a mirror and reminding him of the man I love and know is still there, even if heís lost sight of him. He had every right to have a crisis and fall out of a state of integrity in our relationship when something so life-altering as the loss of his parents happened, although there have been times when Iíve had to sternly remind myself of that fact. Iím not completely blind to my own needs or those of my children, at the point that he faltered it became part of my role to gently and lovingly remind him of his place in our world, and hope that he rediscovers his place in his own along the way. Iíve struggled with hopelessness and impatience, but my love for him has never faltered and I strive to honor every step forward that he takes and make sure that I stay steadfast, my integrity intact. Lucky for me heís a man of integrity and strives to honor his family, which I believe has helped him move forward from the depths of depression.

While the answer to the first question included aspects of the second, there are many ways that a relationship can Ďgo wrongí that are not out of the control of the lovers. What happens when someone chooses to be dishonest? Does it matter if it was direct or by omission? What happens when they choose to give someone else in their life time or energy that I perceive as Ďmineí? If Iím able to look at things objectively, my answer is that we have a conversation about the integrity of our relationship and where we think it is, but Iím not quite naÔve enough to believe that Iím always objective. Iím actually a very emotional person, which can blow things out of proportion and cause me to react strongly. When someone hurts me it takes me a moment to process it, then it comes out in tears. Itís a part of my process that throws people off, often changing the event to a time they want to comfort me through, which is rarely what needs to happen at that point. If itís a lie then I need a clear and concise explanation as to why it was told before Iím open to being comforted. If itís an omission I need to explain why it was important to me that I be Ďin the knowí and hear their reaction before I can be comforted. If itís a lack of attention then comfort is just what I need, along with an explanation and a conversation that lets me feel heard and understood. Regardless of what happens, itís meaningless if my loved oneís actions donít match their words, which seems like common sense to me.

What truly matters at the point that something has gone wrong is my intent. If Iím speaking honestly and from the heart and I say something that hurts the other person, I apologize for the pain but not the honesty. If Iím speaking from a place of anger, jealousy, self-pity, or any of the myriad other emotions common to us humans, Iím not holding the integrity of my relationship, Iím risking it for the immediate gratification of feeling Ďrightí. For many years of my life I had no idea thatís what I was doing. The heroes in the movies win because theyíre ĎrightíÖ the ugly ducklings turn into swans because outer beauty is the highest goalÖ the wife who was cheated on turns her back becausefx she was ĎwrongedíÖ Iím surrounded by messages of Ďput yourself firstí. I choose to love differently. I choose to be guided by my integrity instead of my self-preservation. I choose to love fearlessly.