Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.Thomas Merton
We were recently approached by a benefits advisor and asked to provide analysis and insight on a particular client which we had provided to another advisor. We said “No.” A senior leader from the same group contacted us, asking again. We said “No.” The client contacted us and asked us to provide the analysis to the advisor, who also happened to be the incumbent. We said “No.”
We weren’t trying to be difficult. We were respectful and forthright. We knew that our position might cause us to lose a new account. We truly wanted to find a way to accommodate the client’s request. We really wanted to win new business.
Providing our analysis outside of our commitment to our partner just wasn’t the right thing to do.
Fidelity is defined as “Faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.” in the case above, we had no contract with any party. We did not even make a verbal promise. There were many nuances to the situation. We could have justified a decision to share the analysis. It just wasn’t the right thing to do.
On more than one occasion, we have been on the other side of the scenario above. We have had our ideas taken to competitors. We have seen promises made to us broken. We have been betrayed by others who approach things differently. We will see it all again.
Fidelity is a narrow path but we’ll keep walking it.
No one is perfect. Humanity is built to compromise. We are all hungry and competing for wins. We do this at work. We do this in our relationships. We do this at the grocery store. We do this in our cars. We all live by degrees of compromise. Do we wait our turn or push to the front? Do we further our position at the expense of someone else? On the continuum of promises made, which ones do we feel are more breakable than others? Do we break unspoken promises saying “I never promised…” What degree of “imperfect” are we wiling to accept in our behavior?
Many have become jaded into believing that, in order to win, we have to be willing to play rough, behave selfishly, take care of number one, and compromise our integrity. When I say that we’ve been on the losing side of breaches in integrity, some might respond “That was your fault for not protecting yourself” or “You should have put it in writing.” Those are reasonable points. Not all is black and white – there are many, many circumstances complicating our worlds. Fair enough.
However, I must confess a certain sadness at such cynicism and self-justification. Though we may have lost some revenue for trusting the wrong person, that person lost something else. Every time you break a promise, compromise, fudge, mislead, or rationalize a betrayal, you are losing a piece of yourself. Those betrayals take something out of us, they stain us in unseen ways. They tilt our view of the world, shade our vision, and weaken us. They lessen our joy and foster insecurity and distrust. They always start small and grow from there. Always.
I’m not espousing a “Pollyanna” approach to life. Be smart, protect yourself as much as possible, and anticipate areas of risk. The path is narrow and we will all falter from time to time. Faltering does not make one “bad” or “evil.” You can still make things right, amend behaviors, and do better the next time. We all learn along the way. However, persistent breaches of faith indicate something darker and more problematic. They also catch up with you.
Ultimately, fidelity is a spoken or unspoken promise to yourself. What kind of person do you want to be? The narrow path is really about that person, how she relates to the world, and how she chooses to be faithful, or unfaithful, to her commitment to herself. The narrow path can be difficult. The narrow path demands more. The world will work to pull you off of it. People will provide many examples of how not to walk it and say “that’s how it is.”
Walk your own path. Walk the path of fidelity to a higher standard. Walk the narrow path of fidelity to the best version of yourself.