Walk Upright, and Carry a Straight Stick

“You can observe a lot by watching.” – Yogi Berra

Remember standing in a lake and trying to touch something on the bottom with your hiking stick?  The first time I did this I was stunned when my stick, which I knew was reasonably straight, suddenly bent where it went into the water.  The effect was even more stunning when someone else was holding the stick, unless I was next to them and looking from their perspective.  I came to understand that this effect was due to the nature of light – the speed of light in water is different than in air and that is the cause for this apparent illusion.  We just took it for granted and went about vacation as usual.  This did give the salamanders a decided advantage, however.

I posted earlier about the why and the what and the benefits of observing, especially people’s behavior, and coming to terms with what we see.  The “why” was fairly easy, and the “what” was a bit more challenging.  The next question, however, is the one I’ve been wrestling with, not just since the last post but for nearly a lifetime – the “how.”

The explanation I came up with seems to me to be a bit difficult to be described in words alone, so I’ve come up with some simple sketches to help.  What follows, I hope, will possibly make much more sense.

Picture a three-story house on the side of a cliff with a marvelous view.  The top level is what you see from the street, the entry, guest entertainment area, and garage for the Lexus.  The next level down is living quarters, and below that a work area, real relaxation area, and perhaps storage, but interspersed with support pilings and beams.  Nice picture, nice digs. The sketch: Not quite Picasso, but it’ll work.

Entry 31 Sketch 1 crop

Now let me use this as an analogy for people’s behavior, that which we observe and they observe in us.  A Behavior Framework, so to speak.

The top level we’ll call Say.  What we say or express to the world, then, is our “image,” who we want people to think we are.  Contrary to building the top level of a real house, what we Say can take the least amount of energy and thought to express.

The next level down we’ll call Do.  What we Do is how we choose to act in the world, what we choose to present to the world about us.  It will form the basis of our “reputation,” how the world views us (when we don’t know they’re looking), and Doing demands a lot more energy be exerted.

Entry 31 Sketch 2 crop

Undergirding both of these two, Say and Do, however, is our “character” made up of our Principles and Values.  This is the lowest level in our structure, and is who we really Are.  It is the foundation upon which everything else is built.  Changing our character, our Principles and Values, takes significant energy, all directed inward.  It takes real effort to dig a foundation and drive pilings.

What connects these three “stories” or levels in the Behavior Framework that is us, the vertical component in this 3D picture, I propose is our “Integrity.”

The Oxford Dictionary gives the following definition of Integrity:

  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.  “a gentleman  of complete integrity.”
  2. The state of being whole and undivided: “upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty.”
    1. The condition of being unified or sound in construction.  “The structural integrity of the novel.”
    2. Internal consistency or lack of corruption in electronic data: “integrity checking.”

It is usually only the first aspect we think of when considering character.  However, Dr. Henry Cloud in his excellent book Integrity (a must read, by the way) reminds us that all four aspects have a considerable amount to do with character.  This works easily into the visual analogy.

When we hear someone Say what they will do, we picture a spot somewhere in their Behavior Framework on their “Said” level and anticipate that the actual behavior will show up downstairs on the “Do” level directly underneath that spot.  This is because we also mentally connect “what was Said would be done” with a spot on the Who They Are (character) level, and mentally connected the two spots with a vertical (integral) line.  We naturally expect that what was Said would be done, what they will Do, and who they Are, will be completely consistent.

Entry 31 Sketch 3 crop

But when what a person Does does not line up with what they Said they would do, we mentally change the previous spot on their Do level and create a relocated spot for the unexpected behavior (“Did”), and then mentally drop our line straight downward again to find the corresponding spot on their Are (character) foundation.  The mental connecting “line” from Said to Did to Are in their Behavior Framework is then bent, broken, not whole.  It lacks Integrity.  And it makes a lasting impression on us.

Entry 31 Sketch 4 crop

All four aspects of the dictionary definition of integrity manifest themselves in this picture.  If there is a hint of distortion or bending in the Say-Do-Are construction, we mentally go to the (character) foundation for an understanding or at least a hypothesis of who the person really is and what we can expect from their Behavior Framework in the future.

Back to our hiking stick in the lake.  When what we say is what we do and it aligns with who we are, with our character, principles and values, our Say = Do = Are, others see us with a straight stick:

  • internally consistent; without corruption;
  • unified; of sound construction;
  • whole and undivided; integral, unbroken; and
  • honest; having strong moral principles,

in other words, as having Integrity.

When what we do doesn’t align with what we say, when our Say Do = Are, others see us with a broken or bent stick.  Our Professed Behavior (character “said”) isn’t aligned with our Practiced Behavior (character “done”):

The nature of our character (light) changes with Do (under water) from what it was in Say (in air).

Bending is fine for light, which behaves according to fixed laws, but not for character.  When character does this, it lacks Integrity, and the Behavior Framework it supports is not sound.  And if character is already bent, it is more likely to break under duress.

This is the source of the leadership mantra: “Walk the Talk.”

This is the source of numerous Leadership encouragements and reminders:

  • Adversity doesn’t develop character, it reveals it. — Unknown
  • Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy. — Norman Schwarzkopf
  • What you do has far greater impact than what you say. — Stephen Covey
  • Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow. — Chinese Proverb
  • The supreme quality of leadership is integrity. – Dwight Eisenhower

This is the source of the parenting (and leadership) reminder: “Be Consistent.”

And it is the source of Jesus’ instruction: ”Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6, which has more to do with the Pharisee’s behavior than their teachings).

That’s my picture of “how;”  how I learned to take observations, the Said’s and the Did’s, both mine and others, and try to move towards a better understanding of what to expect from them, and what they thought they could expect from me.  Along the way I realized that everyone else was doing the same.

Finishing thought for your journey: Walk Upright, and Carry a Straight Stick.


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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