More Than Money
Issue #35

Money and Leadership

Table of Contents

“Personal Stories: The Power of Integrity”

By George Thompson

I used to have a strong reaction to people who seemed to misuse their power. When people would act superior because they had a lot of money, I would get a tight feeling in my jaw and gut. I would think to myself that they should not be lording it over other people just because they had more money, especially if they hadn't even made the money themselves; it was an inheritance they had not earned.

Then I took two courses: one on how to live deliberately, the other on integrity. 1 As I did the course exercises, I discovered that the attitudes and behaviors I was criticizing in others were actually ones that I had exhibited but had not wanted to admit to myself. I started to realize that, although I considered myself a good person and had done many good things in my life, I sometimes acted from self-serving intentions.

Specifically, I realized that I, too, had lorded things over people; I had acted just like those people I was reacting to. My technique, however, was a little different. I used talents that I had inherited, instead of money, to justify my acting superior-but the result was the same. I made people feel small so that I could feel bigger.

Sometimes making myself feel bigger took subtle forms. A professor in medical school had warned us about the "I'm a wonderful doctor syndrome" and I began to see that one form it took for me was in a kind of "nobility complex." I would do this good work for people, but then, secretly, I would think it removed me from obligations that an everyday person would have, like taking out the trash or responding to emails and phone calls or being patient with my wife. Secretly, I would think, "I shouldn't have to do those things because I'm contributing so much in other areas. I'm too busy to be bothered with common concerns." Similarly, when I gave to others, especially through committees and boards I was on, my good work in the world became an excuse not to live up to standards of average human decency.

It was initially a bit horrifying to realize that I had put people down to build my own ego, and that I had deceived myself that my giving was serving others when it was really serving myself. After all, I was a psychiatrist and medical school faculty member who was supposed to be helping people, and here I was discovering that I had used my power to make myself feel better at the expense of others. This was not exactly the image I had of myself!

However, seeing my ill intentions with awareness turned out to be incredibly freeing for me. I had had no idea how much time, energy, and attention had gone into keeping those bad intentions under wraps. I had had no idea how separate it had made me feel from others.

It may seem simplistic to say, but as I have become more aware of my intentions -discovering where they have been altruistic and where they have been selfserving -I've gained a surprising sense of wholeness and freedom. I can feel how, in the past, I divided my power. I used part of it to create things in the world and part of it to keep my bad intentions in check. It was as if I had been keeping an eye on myself to make sure I didn't do anything wrong. Once I began to be honest with myself about my intentions, I found that I could connect with other people more easily because I didn't need to hide anything. As I began to shift from self-serving intentions to service to others, I could trust myself more freely- and it seemed that others could put their trust in me as well.

Now, most times, when I see others who are acting superior and self-serving, I don't have the strong emotional reaction that I used to. Instead, I often feel a sense of compassion because I know what it is like to be on my high horse, and I'm able to respond more effectively because I feel more centered and comfortable with others. This has made me a more effective leader-and a happier person.

If I do have a strong reaction to somebody or something, I ask myself: What haven't I taken ownership for in my own life? What haven't I assumed responsibility for? Where might I be doing the same thing? I use personal integrity exercises [from the Integrity Mini-Course, see sidebar] to initiate a process of selfexamination and to realign with my best intentions.

These days I recommend to others, including my patients, medical students, friends, and colleagues, that they undertake some action to serve others with awareness; and I recommend some work on the integrity of their own intentions. In doing so, my hope is that others can experience what Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet, was alluding to in these lines:

I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.

The Avatar® Personal Integrity Mini-Course is available for free on the Internet , along with the Basic Attention Management Course and the Basic Will Course.

1 The Avatar® course and the Personal Integrity Mini-Course, developed by Harry Palmer. Avatar®, Living Deliberately®, and Star's Edge International® are registered trademarks of Star's Edge International. All rights reserved.

George S. Thompson, M.D., is associate professor and director of the residency training program in the department of psychiatry at the University of Missouri- Kansas City School of Medicine. He also teaches the Avatar® course in the U.S. and abroad.

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