THE BLOG
09/18/2014 11:17 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Different Take on Integrity

I once had the privilege of giving the keynote for a conference for coaches and consultants in London. While speaking with participants afterwards, someone took me to one side and asked with great sincerity if he was correct in noticing that I had been covertly introducing "spirituality" into my talk. I, of course, completely denied it. (Not the spirituality bit, just the idea that it had been in any way "covert.")

After reassuring me that he didn't mean it in a bad way and sharing how powerfully it had impacted him, he then asked me how I "got away with it," as he had found a lot of pushback from clients when he tried to introduce similar ideas in his talks and sessions.

What it made me think of was something that is very alive for me at the moment -- the notion of only speaking from my experience, or as I somewhat more colloquially think about it, "being less full of crap today than I was yesterday".

While you probably won't find this in any dictionary definition of the word "integrity," to me it is at the very heart of the matter. If I spend my time sharing interesting concepts and ideas with you, I am like what the founder of EST, Werner Erhard, once described as "a guy in a diner" -- someone who has an opinion on everything without ever experiencing anything.

But if instead I restrict myself by and large to describing what I see, there's nothing to argue with and nothing to push back against. Curiously enough, in this restriction I have found great freedom. I no longer have to attempt to justify my what I say to someone, anymore than you would try to prove to a stranger that the sky is blue. When we say what we see, we step outside the world of opinion and now stand together in an attempt to illuminate the truth.

As I reflected further on this simple practice of integrity, I remembered a conversation I had with a journalist who was interviewing me for an article on coaching, and asked me what I made of an enlightened teacher we had both learned from who seemed not only certain of what he said, but at times, almost frustrated with his students.

While I have no idea what was really going through his head, the following metaphor came to mind:

Imagine you are looking at a beautiful vase of flowers. In your excitement, you begin to talk to the people around you about it until you realize to your amazement that they can't see what you are seeing.

So struck by the beauty of what you're describing, they come back to you day after day and ask you to tell them again about what is right in front of their eyes. Some of them actually begin to find it for themselves, like the hidden image emerging from within a 'Magic Eye' poster. But others continue to ask without listening and close their eyes to wonder why they can't see.

After 20 years or so of describing the vase, you too might get a bit frustrated. But the flowers have become no less beautiful. In fact, they never will.


Perhaps my favorite way I've heard this type of integrity of speaking described is by my friend and mentor George Pransky when he told me "Don't teach above your pay grade."

Or to put it even more succinctly:

If you don't know what you're talking about, stop talking. In the silence that ensues, you just might hear something real, beautiful, and true.

with all my love,

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For more by Michael Neill, click here.