Self-discipline, honor, and integrity are three traits that I believe are hugely important to possess, to be known for, and consistently exhibit. They aren’t traits that are inherited or given, though. They must be deliberately and continuously built upon. Consistency is critical, as with any attribute. They are hard to imbue, but as they are consistently and deliberately kept, they become easier to form as a habit.
They are traits that the military tries to instill into recruits. That usually is due to a failure of the parents to introduce it to their children. It’s not an easy thing to do because it isn’t comfortable, and they are abstract concepts whose importance is difficult to explain to a young child. And sometimes to an adult. And if the parents never were taught the importance or how to have them, it’s nearly impossible to expect them to pass them onto their children. Typically an outer force has to interject and work at it, which was the case for me. It’s easy to talk about them and claim to have them, but as usual, actions speak louder than words, definitely in this case. They are abstract concepts, and it’s possibly easier to display them than to discuss them meaningfully and adequately. I’m trying my best. I may not do a perfect job, but I’m trying to explain them and will come back and edit this as I can to try and make as much sense as possible.
A fact I observed is that these essential traits escaped my ex-wife, and mother to our daughter and my ex-stepdaughter. She wasn’t taught them, and her parents weren’t taught them, so it makes sense they escaped her. When I attempted to explain them to her other daughter, she and her daughter considered them tyrannical attempts to destroy complacent behavior. If you aren’t familiar with any of them, as they weren’t, that perspective makes sense. But it doesn’t remove the responsibility (and reward) of invoking them. And it never will. I have a feeling my daughter’s step-father is deficient in them as well, beginning by the fact he’s never bothered to introduce himself to me. Honor and integrity are already missing. That’s going to make my job that much harder. But I’m determined to teach my daughter Cecelia about them and to understand why they are important to possess.
The difficulties I face in instilling these traits are formidable. When you begin to teach someone how to improve themselves, it’s helping them move in an upward, forward direction. That often doesn’t sit well with those who stay behind. So you have people that will constantly ask under their breath or right to your face, ” You think you’re better than me?” What they fail to understand is that it’s not about comparisons. It’s an end in itself.
I have a print hanging in my home of the mural of my high school’s 1908 baseball team that’s in the lobby of the awesome sports complex that was being built as I graduated. It reads: “Effort in sport is a matter of character than reward. It’s an end in itself and not a means to an end.”
Those words are true when you’re striving to improve your own character as well, I believe.
The Great Santini comes to mind, which I find interesting for a number of reasons. One is that it’s written by famous SC author Pat Conroy and set in a town where I’ve actually lived, in the exact same neighborhood it was filmed, in fact, right down the street. I know this life, and this writer, and I remember my father liking this movie, which starred Robert Duvall, who has a condo in Beaufort, where this was filmed and I lived. Small world. The Big Chill was filmed around the corner and The Lords of Discipline was another movie taken from a Pat Conroy book which centers around discipline at The Citadel, where many of my good friends went, and the incoming headmaster after Mr. Wright, at my boarding school whom I talk about below, General Grinalds, became president. Another formidable man.
I intend to teach these attributes to my daughter and have her respect what they represent. And be able to identify them in others. When you find a person that has them, and they are fundamental in the way they conduct their life, you know you’re dealing with a person that you can trust. There aren’t many people out there that fit this description. It sometimes surfaces to appear to others as arrogance. It’s an excellent way to live. That’s not arrogant; it’s merely a fact. There are superior and inferior cultures and people and ways to do things. That’s life. To think otherwise is silly and naive. There are better ways to live life and in worse ways.
I had the fortune, privilege, or opportunity – define it as you wish – to be exposed to several people who know about these traits, what they mean, how valuable they are, and how to establish and maintain them. They are people who I try to emulate and respect and consider role models in specific ways. Not surprisingly, many of them are men, who were officers in the military, and are older than I. They have or had if no longer with us, wisdom and experience gleaned form hundreds of years of tradition, substantial research through trial and error and living ones lives in a good way, with spirituality, chivalry, respect for others and humility all being essential aspects of their personality and lives.
HONOR: I went to a boarding school that emphasized honor. We utilized an honor system that has become legendary. I was surrounded by others who were being taught honor, integrity, and self-discipline. Their fathers were men who were pillars in their communities, both business and cities in which they lived, and had the same beliefs and traits, as did our masters at the school. Many of them attended the same school and traveled the same paths. I’m a member of an order, Kappa Alpha, which I joined in college, whose motto is Dieu et Les Dames. “God and Women.” The two things that garner the most respect from the men in the order. Two things I learned to hold in the highest.
Some of the men that had a profound impact on me growing up that I still think of and use as a role model is my headmaster at Woodberry Forest School, Emmett W. Wright, who recently passed away recently, well into his 90’s. He was from Atlanta, where I was born, and a southern gentleman and scholar, who studied English, just as I did in college as an undergraduate. He went to Furman in SC, where I’m from and is the best school in SC. We ended up having much in common, although he had a far more significant impact on more young lives than I ever will, as far as I know at this point.
The funny thing about Mr. Wright was that among the student body, I was probably considered one of the most unconventional students. And he liked me for that. The masters always had their eyes on me because of how I dressed and wore my hair, behaved, and who I dated and hung out with. I didn’t walk the straight line they expected all students to. They thought every student should act like they wanted to be a prefect. Teachers handed out demerits to me at will, but I never got a “See EWW” on the demerit board. He stuck up for me and had my back. It was a funny relationship that I’m not sure many students or faculty were aware of.
Another was the father of who I consider one of my best friends, John Buxton, and whose namesake he took. John Snowden Wilson Buxton. He was special forces, green beret, in the marines, and a father of five incredible children and husband to an equally unbelievable woman, Caroline Buxton, who I also admire greatly. He had two brothers, who were well-respected doctors in Charleston. Just a terrific family and Mr. Buxton was a man that any man should have looked up to and admired. I know I did. He taught his children what it means to be fighters, such as when my friend learned he had cancer and beat it, and how to have hugely successful and loving marriages with plenty of children to boot.
I have other role models, but I won’t keep listing them and what they’ve meant, because they all have contributed the same to my life, which is a model to strive for. These are just two such men. There are a handful of others who are/were giants among men in the business world, in their communities or country, in their church, in their military group, and were successes throughout life—real people with exceptionally high standards for themselves and high-achievers.
SELF-DISCIPLINE: My mother used to make me make up my bed before I went downstairs for breakfast before school. And keep my room straight. Even my dad used to say “a place for everything and everything in its place.” And at camp and school we had to keep our beds, rooms, cabins, footlockers, and common areas tidy and clean. Every day. It became a habit.
Self-discipline becomes a strength in that it allows you to do the things you don’t want to, but know you should. And do them now, instead of procrastinating. It leads you to become an achiever and to accomplish things that others can’t.
Discipline and self-discipline are two traits that are more focused on men than women in American society. In Israel, women are expected to join the military, so it’s clearly a cultural thing. I would even say it’s a socio-economic factor. Those with self-discipline tend to do better in life than those without it. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Discipline is such a big and, I believe, a valuable characteristic that I’m going to dedicate another post entirely to it. So I’ll leave this for now: Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.
INTEGRITY: Integrity is often defined as what you do when no else is around. But it’s more than that. It constitutes reliability and consistency. People can rely on you to do what’s best. It’s a principle of strength. People can count on you, which means you aren’t afraid to be held accountable.
I have people tell me all the time they’re responsible and accountable, but they aren’t. Talk is cheap. Action is what matters. Action that’s exclusive of whether anyone is around or not. Always do the right thing if you see an opportunity to make something better; take it.
Some synonyms for integrity are forthrightness, honesty, straightforwardness, principle, honor, candor, purity, and corruption. All things I strive to be and do an excellent job of, I believe, to the point that it’s too much for some people. They don’t like candor, straightforwardness, and aren’t used to people being forthright with them. They don’t believe it can even be done. But it’s like Yoda said, there is no “try.” You either do it, or you don’t. I believe that’s the same with a lot of ways to live life. Lying is something I don’t tolerate. I don’t do it. I don’t have to. I know other people do, and I know other people do it even when they don’t have to. It becomes a habit to them, where they always feel they have to make something up for every circumstance. I know a couple of women that do that all the time. And they believe all people lie because they do, which isn’t right, and is a sad way to go through life, I think. And the people they hang out with do the same thing. Birds of a feather flock together.
Something I’m placing here as an epilogue is a fact that no matter how far down you find yourself in life when other people have taken everything you have and you are stripped bare of all dignity and humility is all you have left, you will still have your honor and integrity. And that is huge when you’re left with nothing else. It will keep you motivated, and take you far.
Also published on Medium.