Sometimes we plant the seeds of despair, causing ourselves and others misery. Other times, we plant the seeds of joy. I was speaking to a previous student of mine tonight. I've known him for close to a decade. When we first met, he wasn't quite 20. Now, he's closer to 30. Amazing. I taught many things as a professor, writing, literature, pop culture, socio-cultural theory, film, philosophy...even a little medical humanities when I got the chance. But the thing I'm MOST proud of teaching is INTEGRITY. For, what are we humans without it?
I would issue a "lifetime" guarantee--good for my lifetime, of course--where I offered my unconditional help to students in terms of references, recommendations, help with resumes, proofing, editing...or just a friendly, objective ear when needed. Having taught for fifteen years, you might imagine that I've had lots of opportunities to make good on my guarantee--and you'd be right. But the guarantee was more than just a way to offer professional support to students beyond the classroom, it was a lesson in itself--a lesson in integrity.
How many times have we asked for help and not received it? How many times did we count on another to be there and found nothing but emptiness instead? When that happens, it wears on a person...and misery isn't far behind. The world can easily eat away at our integrity. But our integrity is really all we have.
I wanted to not just lecture about the philosophy of having personal integrity, I wanted to SHOW my students what integrity truly is. When I look backward, I see decades of integrity--in not just keeping my promise to all my many students throughout the years, but in those same young people--many of whom have woven that lesson into the fabric of their very lives. Because when you come down to it, nothing else shows who you are like strength of character. You can have multiple Harvard degrees...but it means nothing if you lack integrity. And though you can fool many at first glance about who you are, that's not an easy thing to maintain. Eventually, people figure it out.
My Uncle Sid used to say that life is long. Imagine a long life without integrity--how would you live with yourself? You might be able to justify yourself for a time--maybe even decades--but when mortality perches on your shoulder (and it catches up to ALL of us, rich or poor)--you may find yourself unexpectedly examining your life with unprecedented scrutiny, and the worst of it is, you'll have little time to make up for those moments you wish you could undo. Examine your life at this moment. Every action you regret is an action connected to integrity in some way. You may regret many things that happened to you but I'm not talking about that--I'm talking about action you initiated. Ouch. Hurts, doesn't it? But it's a good pain, the kind of pain that will allow you to learn and ultimately, grow. Welcome to your humanity...your own garden of Eden.
We each have our own personal gardens to tend, but what we sometimes forget is that every action, every reaction, every interaction, plants seeds in other gardens as well. When you sit looking at your life one day, I hope you see thousands of gardens where you helped to plant joy, where you added positive fruit to an already flourishing garden. Everytime you plant that kind of seed, like spring-ushering bulbs, the beauty of your own garden will multiple. You'll have so much increase, you can split some of your plants, sharing them with your community--essentially, you can create a cycle of positive growth in countless lives and therefore countless futures. Now that's what I call planting a garden!
Until next time, dearest readers...happy planting!