Personal integrity is unlike a social rating – it is deeply personal and is not dependent on what others think of you.
At my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk in Mysuru recently, a man in the audience, asked me, “What is the definition of self-respect?”
I replied: “The ability to look into your own eyes in the mirror is self-respect.”
He repeated the question, a tad aggressively: “What is self-respect?”
I replied again: “The ability to look into your own eyes in the mirror is self-respect.”
He demanded one more time: “….the definition of self-respect!”
I repeated myself: “The ability to look into your own eyes in the mirror is self-respect.”
He was now visibly charged. He said gruffly, “Okay, what is ability…”
I said, “Ability is ability…what you can do…when you are able to look at yourself, face yourself, that, to me, is self-respect.”
He then stated impatiently: “Oh! So, you will borrow money, you will say you don’t have the means to repay and you will say you will learn to be happy despite the circumstances, but what about those who lent you money, what about their happiness?” “I disagree with your whole Talk, your perspective,” he added, laughing crudely.
“You have a choice to disagree. And I respect that,” I said. Vaani added that, happiness here is the ability to be non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering, despite the excruciating circumstances we are in. I made my point again, that to me, self-respect is the ability to face yourself – despite what you have done, what you have caused.
The gentleman nodded in disagreement, got up and left.
At all my Talks, even as I open, I tell my audiences that they are free to disagree with what I have to share and with the choices Vaani and I have made in our Life. So, I neither had a discomfort with the question the man asked or with him leaving in a huff. In fact, we do have people who tell us they would not have done what we have done – which is, stay on, dig our heels in, and face up to Life and the people who we owe money to, stoically. It is fine if people have a different view of what they would have done in our shoes. To each one their own. Vaani and I have chosen to be happy, despite our circumstances, so that we can keep facing this enduring crisis, keep making efforts to turn our business around, so that someday soon, surely, we can repay all the money that we owe people.
This is where self-respect comes in. Let me explain.
I feel that in any situation, three perspectives are possible: what you, the person in the throes of a situation, feels you can and must do; what the world wants you to do; and what the world thinks you are doing. Maybe there is a fourth. Or more. But these three ring as immediate possibilities to me just now. Among the three, from what Vaani and I have learnt, only the first one appeals to us. Which is doing what you can and must do in the situation. If you have done that, then no matter what the outcomes of your efforts are, no matter what the world thinks of you, you can sleep well, you can look into the mirror and face yourself. This, to me, is self-respect. Self-respect is really about you. Any other perspective that is not your own is a mere perception. If you engage too much with your perception value, chances are you may be very unhappy. Because you are not true to yourself. When you are unhappy, when you are suffering, you cannot function with focus and efficiency. So, self-respect is very important, crucial, in fact, to progress and to endure a difficult, or apparently no-go situation.
Which is why I am sharing this experience and this learning here. I have understood, and experienced, that no matter how “worldly-wise” someone’s point of view may be, how suicidal it may be to do something that may be perceived by the world as wrong, if you feel like doing what will never make you feel ashamed of yourself, go do it. Personal integrity is unlike a social rating – it is deeply personal and is not dependent on what others think of you. It is about what you think of yourself, how much you value your inner peace. To be sure, you can never prove your personal integrity to anyone. Either people relate to you and “feel” your honesty, even when there’s no material evidence, or they don’t. Period. Your personal honesty is your sense of conviction and your ability to face yourself in the mirror. If you can do that, you can last any crisis, endure any situation, no matter how long it takes!