Looking For Integrity?

My, what the last few years have wrought: a self-serving LeBron James, a cheating Tiger Woods and a scheming Pat Riley. We witnessed a comeback-hungry Whitney Houston, a battered Rihanna and an obscenity from Joe Biden. We buried a pitiful Gary Coleman, a reformed Dennis Hopper and a forever-youthful Jimmy Dean. We saw an irrepressible George Steinbrenner face a bottom-of-the-ninth-inning challenge that money could not change; may his pioneer spirit rest in peace. Brett Favre waffled and Charlie Sheen went back to court; then they both signed monstrous one-year contracts for financial gains beyond what most of us will earn in a lifetime. There are so many examples, and so many lessons to be learned.

We take the garbage to the curb Sunday night, and bring the cans back to the house Monday after work then fill them again with newspapers that herald more loss, less gain, more confusion and certainly fewer “precious moments.” Once in a while we pause and ask, “What’s it all for? What’s it all about?” And then the momentum of life blows an increasingly steady wind at our back and whispers, “Hey, don’t worry about it,” and we shake it off like a wet dog, and begin to push forward again. The imposed mediocrity peppered by the will to carry on is like seeing all the family cars parked in the driveway as you walk to the house on your birthday and having to pretend to be amazed that everyone’s there when you enter.

“Surprise!” You knew it the whole time and, disheartened again, plop down in the heavily mortgaged home that has lost about 40 percent of its 30-years-to-build equity within a few months, and say, “For me? Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

Don’t Get Sucked In

Depending where your radio and television are tuned, an economic recovery is right around the corner (CNN) or further away than it has ever been (FOX). We’ve learned that the truth is only an interpretation, not a requirement of the media. Our kids have their heads buried in 3-inch screens all the time now, typing away on keyboards made for the cast of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, while downing Red Bull by the gallon so they can stay up late and see which relative of Hulk Hogan is most likely to consider ending it all next.

We see tattoos wherever we see skin, and we see more skin at the county fair than our parents ever saw in their bedrooms. Internet porn makes the old peek at grandpa’s not-so-well-hidden magazines seem Ovaltine-innocent, and Christmas after Christmas we are puzzled by the inner conflict that “this just doesn’t feel like it used to.”

Rush Limbaugh says, “Sports is where people can invest total passion without fear of consequence.” I have seen rabid fans throw objects at players from the stands and other nut-case fans paint their bellies and expose themselves to sub-zero temperatures. I suppose these are forms of total passion, but can someone please tell me we are willing to invest our emotional reserves for something greater than sports!

Change Channels

So now, observe the big, red imaginary “X” on the map under your feet that corresponds to three words, “You are here.” And the question arises. “What happened? How did we get here? When did everything that was once so precious, tender, wholesome and respectable get to be so cheap, fleeting and unsatisfying?”

And there, my friends, is where the dog catches its tail and the circle is complete. While we have been loading our resumes with unidentifiable accomplishments from arcane societies and clubs, gaining hits on our blogs and Web sites, “friending” people we don’t even know on Facebook so we can display our popularity to others (and ourselves), we have lost sight of one very simple--but important--point: It’s not so much what we did, but how we did it that truly matters. How we did it rests simply on conscience, and that--above all--is what I find lacking today:

• “You have five NBA championship rings! How did you do it, LeBron?” “I turned my back on a whole city, sold out my reputation, and got real selfish.” “Hmm--how’s that working out for you?”

• “I helped get the economy back on track!” “How did you do that, Mr. Frank?” “Well, I lied to people and had them invest in companies I knew would be belly up in no time.” “And you would like us to applaud you?” “Well, yeah.” “Well … no.”

• “I left my wife and now I’m free!” “How did your kids take it?” “Well, they’re adapting.” “Adapting to your freedom, watching mom struggle, or missing the life you promised them?”

• “I’ll just never see eye to eye with my parents.” “But you’re 40 and they’re almost 80.” “Well, they ought to think about that.” “Shouldn’t you be thinking about that?”

• “I refuse to talk to my sister after what she said in 1997!” “Yeah, but the reason she said what she said in 1997 is because of what you did. You just don’t want to face her.” “That’s her problem!” “No--I think it’s yours since she turned out to be right.”

See? Merely insert old Jiminy Cricket whispering to Pinocchio, and suddenly things begin to get better. It’s amazing how such a simple thing brings about the right behavior. Winston Churchill once said, “The only guide to man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations, but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honor.”

So what does all of this mean? Don’t look to sports and movie idols for virtue, my friends. Look within and bring out the moral fiber that you want your children to exemplify throughout their lives. It can be so very contagious.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.