Author Elizabeth Gilbert (Photo: Getty Images)

OPINION

How do you find your own integrity during an endlessly infuriating news cycle?

An Instagram post from Eat, Pray, Love writer Elizabeth Gilbert made Caroline O’Donoghue think more about integrity in a world governed by furious reactions

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

The word “integrity” means having strong moral principles, and sticking by them. I usually take this concept to mean: you pick a couple of principles that correlate with your worldview and you do your best to uphold them. For example: I call myself a feminist and therefore try my best to act accordingly. I call myself a journalist, so therefore will never take a commission from the Daily Mail. I use this definition of integrity because it’s the one that suits me and, this week, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has made me reconsider that. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dear Ones: It’s Monday morning and the godawful news cycle is about to begin again. Before I start getting high off the crack pipe of outrage, I decided to do an integrity check on myself. It’s not fun or pretty, but here goes: 1) Did I give Bill Clinton a complete and total pass on being a lying skank about women, because he was my guy and I liked his politics? Answer: Yes. So can I really “not believe it” when others do the same, for the politicians and candidates they like? 2) What if the tables were turned, and Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House? What if my side had a chance to hastily shove a lifelong appointee on the Supreme Court who agreed with ALL MY BELIEFS—thus ensuring that for the next 30 years, every cause that I valued would be protected? Would I be tempted to overlook or excuse that candidate’s various character defects, lies, and crimes in order to secure this priceless seat on the Supreme Court? Answer: Probably yes. So can I really “not believe it” when others do the same? 3) Do I preach love and courage and peace and inclusion, but then use my social media platforms to spew rage and fear and panic and condemnation? Do I constantly use the language of war, with the delusion that this will somehow lead to peace? Answer: Yes. So can I really “not believe it”, when others do the same? 4) Do I claim to speak for all women, in a way that some women would find profoundly insulting? Do I make blanket proclamations about how “we women are angry,” or “we women will rise up and take our revenge” — ignoring the fact that literally millions of women have completely different beliefs from me? In claiming to speak for all women, do I therefore drive an even bigger wedge between those of us who identify as progressive feminists and those who do not? Answer: yes. 5) Do I spend my days being outraged and indignant at other people’s lack of integrity, and then forget to check my own? Answer: yes. 6) Can I be an activist and advocate, but still do the hard work of identifying my own blindspots, my own shortcomings, my own hate, and my own failures of grace? I sure fucking hope so. Because I’m the only person I’m in charge of.

A post shared by Elizabeth Gilbert (@elizabeth_gilbert_writer) on

Gilbert, who is most famous for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, but has since written novels like The Signature of All Things and the creative self-help guide Big Magic, took to Instagram this week with a “Monday morning integrity check”.

“It’s Monday morning and the godawful news cycle is about to begin again. Before I start getting high off the crack pipe of outrage, I decided to do an integrity check on myself,” Gilbert writes.

There’s no mystery about what the “crack pipe of outrage” refers to: for American women – and, indeed, women everywhere – the last few weeks have been nothing short of a spectacle of out-sized misery, repressed trauma and being really, really fucking mad. We are mad about Brett Kavanaugh, and we are mad at the people who protect him. But more than that, we are mad that Christine Blasey Ford has been forced to endanger her life in order to seek justice that we know – or, at least, have been brought up to assume – will never really happen. We are mad that our own rapes, should we choose to ever speak about them, will be denied at every retelling and will harm our personal credibility in the process. We are mad, mad, mad, mad, which is exactly why the word “integrity” and the phrase “Monday morning integrity check” feel so jarring from Gilbert.

“It’s not fun or pretty, but here goes: 1) Did I give Bill Clinton a complete and total pass on being a lying skank about women, because he was my guy and I liked his politics? Answer: Yes. So can I really ‘not believe it’ when others do the same, for the politicians and candidates they like?

We are mad, mad, mad, mad, which is exactly why the word 'integrity' and the phrase 'Monday morning integrity check' feel so jarring from Gilbert

2) What if the tables were turned, and Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House? What if my side had a chance to hastily shove a lifelong appointee on the Supreme Court who agreed with ALL MY BELIEFS—thus ensuring that for the next 30 years, every cause that I valued would be protected?”

The post goes on and on like this, identifying all of Gilbert’s various inherent personal prejudices, finally ending with: “Can I be an activist and advocate, but still do the hard work of identifying my own blindspots, my own shortcomings, my own hate, and my own failures of grace? I sure fucking hope so. Because I’m the only person I’m in charge of.”

I don’t know why I found this so instantly refreshing. I shouldn’t be this reassured by a woman who is so diligently identifying her own faults in such a public way. At least part of it, I think, is to do with the fetishisation of the “warts and all” social-media post. You know the one I mean: where the beautiful Instagram influencer admits to “not being perfect” in a caption for a photo of her looking a bit tired. Or the lifestyle-blog mum with the live-in nanny who will occasionally admit to being vomited on, to get her page numbers up. I’ve become so cynical about posts like this that seeing a woman like Gilbert legitimately face up to real, human errors in her own judgement is genuinely comforting.

Why? Because I make these mistakes all the time, too. Because I’m a journalist who is supposed to be impartial, and yet I find myself exercising these same biases all the damn time. If Diane Keaton announces that she is “standing by” Woody Allen, I will tentatively defend Diane Keaton, and say that, while her words are poorly chosen, we must remember that she is not responsible for the actions of an adult man. But if Donna Karan defends Harvey Weinstein? Well, fuck Donna Karan. Why? Well, because I liked Diane Keaton already, and I don’t really care about Donna Karan, and she is therefore easier to criticise.

Is this an over-simplification? Sure. But it doesn’t make it any less true. Bill Clinton and Brett Kavanaugh are not like-for-like cases, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of us are willing to overlook the crimes of our leaders as long as their general message suits us. It doesn’t even have to be about politicians, or sexual assault on a grand scale; more and more, I’m noticing that when a celebrity is revealed as being “problematic”, the first people to express rage at their flaws are the people who have a vested interest in disliking their work. The men who hated Wonder Woman’s stridently feminist publicity campaign were the first to endlessly criticise Gal Gadot for being in the Israeli army. People who are fatphobic are the first to share scare headlines about fat people’s health. People wear their prejudices candidly, and the internet has endless facts and figures to help them do it.

Why? Because anger is easy and empathy is boring. It’s unbelievably tempting to flip to righteous anger the moment you hear about someone being selfish and hypocritical, and it’s easy to forget that you, too, are selfish and hypocritical. That’s why I’m grateful for the Monday-morning empathy check, and might need to set a reminder to do it every week

@Czaroline

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Author Elizabeth Gilbert (Photo: Getty Images)
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