After reading my last article on integrity, one reader asked, “How does standing up for your values align with the concept of choosing which hill to die on?” It is a great question and it allows me to clarify a few points.
First, it is important to differentiate between things you do not like and things that contradict your values. Often times, what people see as “hills to die on” are not really issues of integrity. They are the routine everyday decisions of an organization. Many decisions will be made in an organization that you do not like. Reasonable people will disagree on ways to solve a problem, how to define priorities or who should lead an initiative. It is useful to think of decisions like these as bets. In most cases, we do not have all the information we need to make a decision and we have to make assumptions and assess odds on what is most likely to happen or what actions are most likely to create the outcome we desire. We will all calculate those odds differently and choose different bets based on our own experiences, knowledge, risk tolerances and preferences. Decisions have to be made and teams need to go forward together. These are not cases where your values are in question. These are cases where you need to be able to disagree and commit.
Your values create a vision of the person you want to be. The decisions you make and the ways you act create the person you will become. Issues of integrity happen when you are being asked to act (or not act) in a way that moves you further from your ideal version of yourself. Keeping your actions and behaviors aligned with the ideal version of yourself is the heart of integrity.
Secondly, standing up for your values is not usually a zero sum game. In most cases, you are not literally, figuratively or professionally going to “die on a hill.” What you need to ask is “What am I willing to sacrifice to make a positive change and stand up for my values?” When you are faced with an issue of integrity, you have to balance the potential consequences of the action against the distance the action will move you from your ideal self. The more important a value is to you the more you should be willing to sacrifice. Acting will have consequences and it can be scary and difficult. It requires emotional courage to be able to face the consequences of standing for your values.
Finally, when it comes to issues of integrity, the more compromises you make the harder it is to draw a line. Every compromise you make moves you further from your ideal self by defining who you are in light of that compromise. When asking, “Is this the hill I want to die on?” people are looking for the most meaningful battle in which to stand up for their values. When it comes to your values, the most important battle is the first one.
Instead of seeing these conflicts as hills to die on, try to see them as opportunities to move closer to your ideal self and seize that opportunity the first time you can.