At the risk of getting kicked out of the quasi-Buddhist club for “should”-ing, I will say this: We should speak the truth. We should walk our talk. And it should trouble us if we fail to do either.
I used to think that these were not only reasonable but commonly understood expectations in human relations. But in recent years I’ve gotten the impression that I’m some sort of moral fossil for feeling disappointed when people say one thing and do another. My expectations are too high, I’m told; I’m too rigid.
Mind you, I am not talking about intimate relations, in which we can easily get lost in the labyrinth of the unconscious, with its ancient wounds, dysfunctional defenses and slippery coping mechanisms. Here, a personal moral compass is especially important, yet I can appreciate that — try as we might — we are sometimes too blind to perceive true north, let alone hew to it.
But is it so hard to speak honestly and then do what we say in our less complicated, day-to-day relating?
I have recently tried for the second time in six months to arrange a getting-to-know you meeting suggested by a potential friend. Both times, she was enthusiastic about the prospect, going so far as to identify days that would work for her. Both times, when I have followed up with a specific invitation, she has quit communicating. I experienced a variation on this theme last year with a longtime friend who repeatedly sent warm e-mails expressing how much she valued our relationship and wanted to get together. Yet every time I suggested a time and place, she was just too busy.
Perhaps you have experienced something similar: the oft-promised phone call that never materializes, the agreement clearly made then casually discarded. In the scope of injuries people inflict, these are admittedly flesh wounds, venial sins against one another. But, they add up, and — unlike much of the harm we do — are easily avoided.
Of course, we have busy lives. But unless we are incapacitated emotionally or physically — deep depression or a coma come to mind — we can nonetheless behave with integrity. It’s not hard, nor time-consuming: Promise only what you genuinely intend to do, then act in such a way as to make it happen. If circumstances conspire to thwart your sincere intentions, say so — and then follow up in a forthright manner as soon as conditions are more favorable.
There are unavoidable harms in this life, too many to count. In some situations, it is difficult to do the right thing, and we bruise each other. But in others, it is not. And in every case, integrity — within ourselves and in our dealings with each other — matters.
So, let us avoid needless harm: Let us speak the truth. Let us walk our talk. And let us be troubled when we fail to do either.