Traits like honor, integrity, compassion, and respect are not traits you, all of a sudden, decide to accept as personal traits on a particular day and go forth from that point on as a person worthy of being identified as owning these traits. These traits are developed and honed over time through actions and deeds that demonstrate these traits. It requires an intentional and determined effort. As these traits are practiced they become who we are; like muscle memory of a repeated action they demonstrate themselves without an intentional thought to implement, but rather are implemented out of habit. It is also required that these actions be implemented without thought of personal gain.
A friend of mine (COL William Galbraith) once wrote, “The leadership philosophy of a senior leader is developed through years of experience and education. A philosophy of leadership is a statement or idea that guides how an individual will lead. If an individual starts to develop a leadership philosophy when appointed as a senior leader then the potential for failure is prevalent. The philosophy we use to lead is not something we can turn on and off like a light switch; it is who we are and those we lead know this. The development of a leadership philosophy is conducted in conjunction with the development of who we are. What motivates a leader on a personal level will, in part, define the leadership philosophy.”
Likewise, our philosophy defines who we are and who we are defines our philosophy. It’s a given if you lack honor, integrity, compassion, and respect you’re probably a jerk. A jerk cannot just arbitrarily start to be a person of integrity. You cannot, because of guilt felt after an action or deed, decide on Saturday to be a person of honor and compassion starting at sunrise on Sunday on your way to Church. As stated by my friend who is much smarter than I, “…the potential for failure is prevalent.” You are destined to fail and repeated failure will eventually lead you to the belief that you being a person of worth is beyond your capabilities and you’ll go back to being whatever caliber of jerk you were the day before—perhaps worse, because now any lingering doubt about whether or not you were a jerk to begin with has been removed and now you are an angry jerk.
However, the scenario played out in the last paragraph may not be all together true—which means there’s hope for you yet. You can be a person of integrity, honor, compassion and respect, regardless of your caliber of jerk-hood; you just need a strong desire and you need to cater the approach. These traits are developed and applied, not applied fully developed. Let me lead you down a rabbit; bear with me for just a minute. I consider myself a good person, but I also consider myself a failure. I am my own worst critic. People tell me I’m a good person, but they don’t know my secrets. I know that God forgives and I will be eternally grateful for that; and I use the term “eternally” in the most literal of terms. But I have a hard time forgiving myself for past actions. People say, “but you should forgive yourself” because these were done long ago (some not so long ago) and you have been forgiven and hanging on to them will only drag you down. I think the guilt helps me when a desire (or temptation if you will) comes along and prods me to do or say something that defy honor, integrity, compassion or respect. I remember the guilt and often (but sadly not always) the temptation goes away. I remember the feeling I have when I approach God and ask, “Lord, can you forgive me just one more time?” Remembering the guilt is a tool, it’s helpful to me.
OK, let’s get back on track. You can adopt a desire to do and say the right thing. You can adopt a desire to be a better person. Will you, after accepting this new you, always be a person of honor, integrity, so one and so forth? No. You will fail, but with each successful attempt the failures will dissipate, not completely but a reduction in failure is as good as a win. Will you eventually, after years of trying, get to a point where you will never fail? No. There will always be failures. However, with each failure you can, if you have the foresight to do so, learn a lesson that will come in handy the next time that option presents itself. I might add here if you are at a point in your life where you feel you have mastered the traits of honor, integrity, so on and so forth, then you may not possess any of them; pride trumps them all. Just sayin’.
In full disclosure I must say this will be the hardest thing you will ever do. It is something you will have to “want” with every once of energy. Start small, maybe yield the right of way in traffic and let someone in. Of course I must also say, if this is too hard for you, there is an easier way; just be a jerk your whole life and be remembered as such. Like Bill says, “…what motivates us will define us.” What defines us is who we are.