A story on integrity

What does it take to live with integrity?

Integrity means being true to ourselves and being honest, upright, and decent in our dealings with others. When integrity guides us, our thoughts and words are in line with each other; our actions align with our principles. Our conduct speaks for us more eloquently than words ever could.

I recall a conversation with Captain Vijay Gopal on the subject during a train ride from Trissur to Bangalore, and I am providing the summary to benefit the readers. Any discussion with Captain is a gem.

1. Integrity is the only measurable trait that we could think of. While there are indirect measurements for a few other virtues, the metric for integrity is straightforward.

2. There is a threshold. Everyone responds to a particular limit. Can the point be defined? It seems complicated as this virtue depends on various factors — economic and social status, short-term and long-term needs, culture, internal strengths etc.

3. Once I cross the threshold, I do not look back. Very few test the border and would not try to go there again. There is always a further desire to break new barriers.

4. Objects of temptation are the drivers for the threshold. There are several we come across day in and day out — cash, gifts, drinks etc. etc. These drivers typically appear in a vectorial fashion — with volume and intensity.

5. All animals, including human beings (intellect), fall prey to these temptations. Many learned sages, sacred books and wisdom literature have eloquently discussed this aspect from immemorial.

Emperor and the seed

The following story is Marilyn Kinsella’s adaptation of a Chinese fable like the one retold by Demi called “ The Empty Pot”. I know several versions of this story, and the protagonist has a different name. I called him “Ling” in the current version. After reading the story, please look for the twist at the end and consider answers to the following questions.

1. Will the new age emperor in the 21st Century appoint Ling as the successor?

2. How would New Gen Ling work towards becoming an emperor?

3. What type of seed did the king give?

Once there was an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, “It has come time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you.” The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. “I will give each of you an exceptional seed today. Please go home, plant the seed, water it and come back one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!”

One boy named Ling was there that day, and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.

After about three weeks, some other youths began talking about their seeds and the plants that were starting to grow. Ling kept checking his pot daily, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, and five weeks went by. Nothing happened.

Others talked about their plants, but Ling didn’t have a plant and felt like a failure. Six months went by, and still nothing in Ling’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn’t say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.

After a year, all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wouldn’t take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to take his pot and be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick, but he listened to his mother. He took his empty pot to the palace.

When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants all the other youths had grown. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor, and many different kinds laughed at him. A few felt sorry for him and said, “Hey, nice try.”

When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown,” said the emperor. “Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!” All the kids stood in line with their pots in front of them. As the king passed Ling’s pot, he smiled at Ling.

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