Speaking of Integrity

There’s an old saying that, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

I’m always intrigued by how people talk about themselves.

One of the most ancient, anchoring premises of law is the lack of validity of one’s own testimony.

The assumption is very simple; we are not likely, maybe even not capable, of seeing ourselves objectively.

In other words, our integrity is in question.

The word “integrity” we might recall, comes from the root word “integer” the mathematical term for a whole number and is where we get the word “integrated,” which again implies unity and wholeness.

Speaking “of” integrity is very different from speaking “with” integrity.

We are in an era of wild claims, conspiracy theories, vain promises and blatant self-promotion.

Something as seemingly simple as “the whole truth” seems almost boring to us.

A few years ago I was called to jury duty. As part of the preparation, the judge told us that our work was very important and very specific.

The defendant would be present but we would not hear from him. In fact we were not to make our decision on his appearance at all. Our decision was to be based on facts – the evidence only.

Not his size, appearance, tattoos or anything outside of actual, confirmed evidence. Anything the defendant put forth would only distort the legal process.

There’s an old saying that, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

Any statement on one’s own behalf is presumed to be inherently biased, if not misleading.

This has been an aspect of law for millennia.

Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in history and even scripture as inadmissible testimony. In a court of law, even the testimony of one witness is insufficient — for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15).

A legal case might include “character witnesses” – those who knew and could testify to the integrity, if not innocence of the defendant.

Objective witnesses, those with no knowledge of the defendant, no stake in his or her guilt or innocence, in other words, no bias, for or against the defendant, are considered the most reliable.

One’s own testimony, under most circumstances is misleading or confusing.

This principle holds far beyond official situations like a court of law. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example spoke of a visit by the local village parson who spoke endlessly of his own attributes; “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

The assumption, fair or not, is that if we don’t bring up our own attributes, no one else will.

In other words, we don’t really trust our own work.

“Bragging about yourself violates norms of modesty and politeness – and if you were really competent, your work would speak for itself.” – Adam Grant

Most of us assume a base level of decency if not empathy. But not everyone does.

Abusive, controlling people, whether bosses, spouses or family members, use deception and power for their own benefit – and often great cost to others – their cruelty is deliberate and designed to control and ultimately destroy their victims.

Along with an obsession with conspiracy theories, much of our common vocabulary in politics and the media (especially as we get even thicker into the final weeks and days of a frenzied and increasingly contentious presidential election), we have learned to expect continual manipulation and distortion which includes a near textbook idealization-devaluation-discard abuse cycle where partners, bosses or candidates “lovebomb” their partners, employees or potential voters and then devalue them through stonewalling, gaslighting, smear campaigns, verbal and emotional abuse, then discard those strategies until they need a victim again and the trauma begins again.

You could describe these people as bullies and they certainly are. But they are almost always far more than that.

For whatever reason, the set of personal characteristics that bullies and manipulators have mastered, work well – to a point – in a market economy and a political system that requires (near endless) self-promotion.

And these people tend to excel in confidence if they lack any talent, expertise or even interest in their field.

Power, however, is intoxicating. For most of us it is a heady drink. For people like this, it quickly becomes their life-blood.

The more power, the better. If you’ve studied history, especially the history of kings, pharaohs and other rulers – even major CEOs and business founders – you see the near delirium, even desperation in the lust for power.

Those in power, as history has shown us, have no qualms about sacrificing friends, even close family members in their quest for power.

Life in the king’s court is a dazzling and dangerous place – in almost any setting. Royal intrigue is great material for drama whether that might be a novel, a movie or real life.

When this lust for power claims its victim, there is no escape and the rest of us follow the arc in wonder – and one would hope – from a safe distance.

The know-it-all, again as history has shown us, has no limits. That’s the point, in fact. Gold, harems, empire and power are just material for the unending royal appetite.

There is no bigger stage for dramas like this than government.

Oddly enough, there is nothing new about this. In fact Socrates warned us about this a millennia or so ago;

“No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet everyone thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades, that of government.” – Socrates

Governance is actually quite tedious, if not boring.

I’ve been involved in dozens, if not hundreds, of neighborhood, legislative and community meetings. Most of these are informative, maybe even inspiring. But many seem endless and become forums for complaints, pet causes and rants – even disputes.

The closer you come to neighborhoods, the higher the stakes and, almost always, the more intense the passion of a full range of stakeholders.

Challenges emerge and sometimes it seems that difficulties are too great, or even that victory has been achieved.

But as always, keep Socrates in mind;

“Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.” – Socrates

At every level, from neighbors to family members to eccentric bosses, we can save ourselves major headaches if we keep one more statement from Socrates close by;

“Mankind is made of two kinds of people: wise people who know they’re fools, and fools who think they are wise.” – Socrates

Maybe it’s my bias, but my life experience tells me that a little more humility and a little less certainty would do us all a world of good.

Life is complicated enough. Royal intrigues are enjoyable to watch, but they create total havoc in your personal life and your career track.