Self-help author Napoleon Hill loved to tell the story of how his grandfather would let a few oak trees grow in the middle of his fields. He believed that exposing them to unsheltered winds resulted in stronger trees and thus more durable wood for the wagon wheels he would build.
The same can be said for people.
How do we make it through the challenges? The key is to acknowledge them and then let go of the things we can’t control while embracing what we do control.
We have no control over our ethnicity, the talents we’re born with, who the members of our family are, or where and when we were born. We don’t control the decisions of other people, past mistakes or even the rules of the games we’re playing.
We do control how hard we work, where we’re going to focus our energies, who we’re going to be friends with, and whether we’re going to quit or keep trying. We also control whether we take ownership of these decisions and whether we will live with integrity.
This awareness is actually enlightenment. It allows us to be free of distractions and embrace areas of our lives where we can truly make a difference.
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One of the hardest things to control, however, is how we respond to other people. When they are negative, it’s easy to fall into negativity. When they criticize us, it’s easy to give credence to their words.
We need to be able to take a step back and pause during our interactions so we can respond rather than react. In doing so, we remember that what others think of us is not our concern, and that there’s a difference between honesty and integrity.
Honesty has much to do with other people. They may or may not accept what we express as truth. Their perceptions can be distorted by their experiences and prejudices. Although we present good arguments, we don’t control whether others will believe them.
Integrity is something quite different and is much more important to our well-being. It has to do with being true to ourselves. It’s what allows us to endure the challenges that can rock our world, and to distinguish between constructive criticism and nonsense. It’s what centres us, regardless of what’s happening around us. Ultimately, it means embracing one’s own innate goodness as a sacred person. It has nothing to do with arrogance and everything to do with supreme confidence.
When we look at the people who have truly made a positive difference in our lives and in the history of the world, we see this integrity. We see the person who has been able to overcome racism and rise to greatness. We see the person who is able to inspire others toward a worthy cause. We see the family members who are able to bring their children and grandchildren through a crisis.
Integrity doesn’t require perfection, nor does it require us to have all of the answers to life’s challenges. It does require us to admit fault, to seek truth, to treat others with respect and to be constantly improving.
The late Catholic archbishop Fulton Sheen tells us, “Each of us makes his own weather, determines the colour of the skies in the emotional universe which he (or she) inhabits.”
Just as the winds blew around the oak trees on Napoleon Hill’s grandfather’s farm, the weather around us is constantly changing. As we live with integrity, embracing our greatness regardless of the storms around us, we become what we are truly meant to be.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.