If someone were to write down the story of my life so far and then analyze it for patterns, at least one pattern would emerge. Again. And again. And again. The pattern would be so:
Aurooba has a desire. Aurooba acts on desire. Aurooba learns desire is not considered correct or appropriate. Aurooba attempts to curb and completely squash desire to gain approval. Aurooba gets more and more pent up. One day Aurooba can’t take it anymore and lashes out with her desire like a vicious whip that keeps on cracking. Aurooba hurts people, people hurt Aurooba. Aurooba slowly comes to an equilibrium, where she learns her desire is not wrong, no matter what others may say, and she learns how to not be vicious about it but still express her desire.
Ain’t that funny. (No, not really.)
So now that I’ve recognized and come to terms with this pattern, what am I going to do about it? I’ve learned that living my life for other people’s approval is self-damaging. I also learned that living my life in a vicious/angry way is self-damaging. You can’t really live your life without some approval, but you can definitely decide who’s approval matters and who’s doesn’t.
I can’t compromise who I am. Doing so will be my destruction. I will not sugarcoat who I am. I am who I am. I know there are people who will accept me and encourage me to be more of who I am. So I’m not worried if you don’t like me, because you’re not all people.
But this confidence doesn’t come easily. It didn’t for me. It’s still a battle sometimes, a lifelong commitment that must be renewed repeatedly. A commitment to be your truest self.
This is living with integrity. It’s not popular. It’s not always liked, and it can make you an outsider.
Don’t let anyone tell you living with integrity is easy. It’s not. There are constant pressures from every Muhammad, Aysha, John, and Mary to act in a certain way. A way that often doesn’t reflect your truest self.
But living with integrity will give you the most meaningful and powerful experiences you can imagine (and can’t imagine). You will grow. Oh, but you will grow. It’ll hurt a lot sometimes and other times it’ll be like a glorious unfurling of wings you never knew you possessed.
Integrity is not bending to peer pressure to drink (if drinking is not your thing). Integrity is not wearing the hijab no matter the gentle coercion (if wearing the hijab isn’t your thing). Integrity is distancing yourself from the boy who would pressure you into sex (if you’re not ready for sex). Integrity is breaking up with friends who put a higher value on how you make them look instead of how you help them grow (if pretences aren’t your thing). Integrity is knowing that fitting in will not, in the long run, make you happy.
Self-knowledge is an integral part of integrity. You cannot live with integrity if you do not know who you are. This is why integrity in a very young person is considered admirable, regardless of what actions that integrity leads to.
I wouldn’t say I knew who I was in my teens, though I did know some things. I can tell you without a doubt that I had very little integrity, I flipped and flopped 24/7, at least mentally. But as a teen, that’s your primary job (yes even above schooling, I believe), to find out and figure out the foundation of who you are, that is, your values.
This is a hard task to do, because no one really tells you to do this explicitly. Sometimes it’s there implicitly, sometimes it isn’t there at all. How do you figure out your values? That’s a whole post in itself (for later).
Many of us are into instant gratification. This is cultivated by the plugged in culture we are all living in; however, this desire for instant-gratification is an enemy of integrity. Integrity often means holding out for something greater not revealed or experienced instantly. Giving into peer-pressure, on the other hand, is instantly gratifying.
Let me, at this point, mention peer pressure can be a positive thing. Not giving into peer pressure is not synonymous with living with integrity.
I have not bowed to peer pressure in the past because of cowardice: I’m sitting in a small group, listening to spoken word artists from the community and it is a great thing. My friends know I write poetry and kept encouraging me to share mine. I even came with my notebook. But I didn’t do it. I sat there and shook my head at every person urging me, because inside I was quaking. I wish now, I had swallowed my fear and just done it. I am braver now than I was then..and yet I still wonder, if presented with a similar situation now, would I be able to get up in front of everyone and read poetry? I don’t know.
Positive peer pressure comes from people who are your best allies, like-minded and caring enough to uplift their friends. I am fortunate to have such friends. I recognize how important it is to have good friends. Not just friends you can party and have fun with and laugh and goof of with (there is nothing wrong with those friends), but friends with whom you can grow. Friends who, by virtue of being who they are, push you to try new things and experience different perspectives. I cannot stress the value of amazing friends. So thank you, my amazing friends, for being so amazing. I wouldn’t be who I am without you. I hope I have been able to offer similar value to you.
So if you haven’t before, I’d urge you to at least think about integrity and the role it does (or doesn’t) play in your life. What could you gain by living with integrity? What would you lose by living with integrity? What are you losing by not living with integrity?