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March 2008
April 2008

2008-03-29 »

Integrity = Power, but that's not good enough

The underlying theme of this journal is things I wish someone had told me so that I didn't have to figure it out the hard way. Recently, I finally figured something out the extra-hard way, which makes it one of the most important things I ever wished someone had told me.

I had to think for a while about how much detail I wanted to go into. I decided that more anonymity is better. So I'll put it this way: this story is not about anybody who is currently involved in my life.

This story is about something that the best story writers and movie directors know intuitively, whether or not they could put it into words. Here is the big lesson I have learned about [human nature]:

    Bad people come in two categories: the kind with integrity and the kind without it.

Integrity, by the definition I'll use here, is the state of not having to compromise. I've talked a lot about avoiding compromises here before, so hopefully you know what I mean.

One important lesson I've been learning for a while is that people with integrity are natural leaders. "[Look behind you; if there are people following you, then you are a leader]." This is not because of any particular social skills, but because people with integrity have something that other people want: confidence.

Lack of confidence goes hand in hand with lack of integrity. If you frequently find yourself saying things like, "That's the right thing to do, but I can't because..." then you don't have integrity. The rest of this article can do nothing for you. Go work on getting rid of your compromises (it won't be easy!), then come back later.

The confidence of integrity is a powerful thing. You can easily see it in people the moment you meet them, if you know what to look for. People with integrity can [look you in the eyes without flinching]. In fact, they're eager to look you in the eyes to prove how much integrity they have. Because they don't compromise, people with integrity are the kind of people who don't just put up with it when the world isn't the way they think it should be. They'll do what it takes to make things make sense, whether that requires changes in themselves or changes in the world.

The people without such a strong sense of integrity, which is most people, are simply not as strong. They do things because they're forced into it. Many people really are forced into it; integrity isn't something you can insist upon. Sometimes, finding a non-compromise solution is just luck. When you can't find it, you compromise.

One way to gain integrity without cheating is to simplify your goals. This, to radically oversimplify things and insult an entire religion, is the Buddhist system. If you can truly convince yourself not to care about material things - and make no mistake, some people really can - then material things become irrelevant to your quest for integrity. If you don't care about having power over people, then serving someone else is not a compromise. If you don't really care about personal relationships much, then what people think of you need have no effect on your decisions.

By the way, that's why so many programmers find integrity so easily: they don't really like people, they seek [achievement, not power], and they live in a world where the only material goods they care about (computers) get dramatically better and more affordable every year. Programmers are halfway to enlightenment the day they're born, without even trying. That's also why programmers have so much trouble understanding people who don't have integrity; most people care about those other things, and those other things are a lot more complicated than computers, and unless you're careful, that can lead to compromise. Having human relationships without compromising feels almost impossible sometimes, because most humans do not have integrity, and that lack of integrity can easily spread back to you.

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