“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”-Mark Twain
I have always tried to be a “good person.” When I’ve missed the mark an uncomfortable feeling comes up after, often lingering even after time has passed.
In tempting circumstances the inner alarm usually sounds just as I step off the cliff, leaving me a choice to abort the mission.: “I really shouldn’t do this, but……” When I don’t move forward it’s a choice. When I do move forward it’s a choice.
Reality television shows; public figures with no boundaries; children exposed to adult issues; venom spewing on Facebook; politicians who exploit power; and foul language being bantered about appear to be the norm. This leaves those of us trying to “do good” and “be good” feeling like Martians.
How can those of us seeking to do the right thing support each other?
- Define what “doing good” means for us. As a lawyer and writer, words are my passion and I introduced powerful ones to my children at a young age. Before she started kindergarten, my daughter Danielle would report: “Mom, Courtney isn’t acting in integ-witty,” when tattling on her sister.
Integrity is a great catch-all word for the qualities of doing good. It means making good moral and ethical choices, acting with sound character, being honest and trustworthy, and most importantly being accountable when I’m outside of integrity. I’ve made my fair share of poor choices stepping squarely into a gray area and then shutting down the barometer that would help me navigate. But I’ve never stopped trying to “stay awake” to living and acting with integrity. Those of us in this fight must never stop trying.
- Live and speak about our values even if they are unpopular. I follow a mentor online and his blogs and podcasts highlight his high values without preaching. He also honors his wife of 30+ years and doesn’t minimize or joke about her, a breath of fresh air for this divorce lawyer. His posts are like an oasis even though I don’t ascribe to all of his philosophies. His insights help me refine my own moral code and support that I’m not alone in fighting the good fight.
After writing my book The Compassionate Lawyer, I began to publicly speak about some of the questionable practices of lawyers, challenging my profession to be more compassionate. I took barbs from some who thought I was a Pollyanna and not a “real lawyer” because of my views.
A small number would come up to me after the speeches to express support. They were largely miserable lawyers, living outside their value system because they felt that had to in order to practice law. Hearing that others were striving to be a different kind of lawyer, helped them reclaim their authenticity. As a result we have formed the first Compassionate Lawyer Society in the country at Drake University Law School. It’s a group whose mission is to educate, encourage and support fellow attorneys in the pursuit of justice through compassion and excellence.
- Use “the pause.” One of the most valuable life skills I’ve learned is to identify whether I am in a state of emotion or clear headedness when I am making decisions. When difficult choices come down the pike, if we are in emotion we are likely to make a poor choice. It’s not only negative emotion that fuels a poor choice it’s also strong positive emotion that has a similar effect. Both emotions filter or block our inner voice.
I’ve found by recognizing emotion and exercising “the pause,” I can reboot to my clear head and consciously making a choice with my value system on the radar. Pausing means to:
1) Stop and get an awareness (emotional or clear headed?)
2) Review the status of your body (tense? Rigid? Stressed?)
3) Breathe (the anecdote to many things in life!)
4) Open to the moment (consciously focus on the all the stimulus).
After pausing you’re better equipped to make a good choice, including deferring the decision to a later time.
- Find an accountability partner or partners.
I work with a coach who is a person of high integrity and characteristics I’d like to have myself. We have monthly meetings and every Friday I send him an “accountability e-mail.” In it I describe the things I am wrestling with and the steps I am taking to make good choices. I’m brutally honest and transparent. Knowing he is there to hold me accountable makes me consider choices more closely.
Reaching out to our supporters takes away the isolation and holds us accountable. I am mutually supportive with others in my circle, who are on a similar path and have texted them when I am on the precipice of doing something stupid. I serve as this accountability partner for other lawyers and law students who work with me as a coach.
In our legal practices it’s critical that lawyers encourage our clients to do the right thing and choose integrity every time. They look to us for wisdom and guidance. From a client email I received after a consultation with him on continuing to take the high road in his co-parenting relationship :
“ I really appreciate the “validation”….even when you know you’re taking the right course of action it can still be very difficult to do so. Hearing a “keep it up” sometimes is very helpful.”
- Exercise self compassion. Once we set our intention to live in integrity, it’s ineveitable that we will face circumstances where it’s easier to do the opposite. When we stumble instead of reminding ourselves of our imperfections and prior failures, we have to regroup and get back in the game. Some of my major integrity cracks have been my greatest teachers, energizing me even more towards the goal. Perseverance builds patience, character, and other byproducts of the good life.
By setting our sights on doing good, we create a tremendous momentum that empowers others to follow suit. There are abundant fruits from the lives of those living in integrity. Can you dream with me about the impact such an effort would have on the world?
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”