My mother has been consistently repeating this one phrase to me since I was a child; she sometimes calls me on my cell, to this day, just to say it.
She says “Junior,” (she calls me Junior) “remember to choose integrity son. Having a good name is best of all. Remember integrity.“
When I was about 17 years old I witnessed something I obviously have never forgotten. While still living in St. Thomas Virgin Islands, I was working with my father in his Air Conditioning service, repair and installation business. One day we had a job in a jewelry store right where the cruise ships dock up and tourists spill out in a spending frenzy. In St. Thomas if you don’t have your air conditioning working in your stores, good luck keeping people in there.
I really was just the tool kid. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was the errand guy for the tools needed. When the job was done, my father was writing up the invoice for the store owner when I heard the owner offer my father anything he wanted from the store.
“Eh, what do you want? A watch, a gold piece….what? Take something. You can have it.”
My father, wiping the sweat from his face from being in the hot store, just patted his wrist, smiled back and said “My watch works alright. Thanks though, I don’t need anything.”
After that quick banter the owner mentioned that his A/C at home wasn’t working well either. My father responded and told the owner that he should let us know when he would be home and we would come check it at that time. Then this owner did something I have never forgotten.
He pulled out a bunch of keys and began to slide a key off of his keyring then handed the single key to my father saying, “Here, go to my house and take a look at it. Nobody is home so you should be alright.”
We went to the guy’s house, fixed his A/C and then headed off to some other appointments we had. By the time we finished our work for the day, the guy’s shop was already closed. My father called him and told him that we could bring his key to his house since the store was already closed. This owner surprised me again…he said,
“That’s ok, hold on to it tonight and you can bring it to me tomorrow at the shop.”
I remembered that I asked myself ‘How many people can sleep well knowing that some other person has the key to their house?’ That was the first time I really understood the effect of integrity and what trust felt like.
In life, you really don’t notice your tests, because if you did, it would give you the incentive to consciously act in a way that’s beneficial to you for a later end. You get to dip into your knowledge and ask ‘how should I act in this situation?’ I see this many times in athletics – when the head coach is around everyone acts ‘right’.
The real test is in what you’ve already taught yourself to do naturally.
My father’s test didn’t happen when the owner gave him the key to his house, it was some other silent times in the past, while his actions were being inconspicuously observed by this store owner.
How would people see you if you didn’t know you were being watched?