Choosing Integrity (based on a true story)

Back in the early 1980’s, Susan was in seventh grade and wanted to hang out with the “cool kids”. She had a major problem though. She had a learning disability. Back then, kids with dyslexia, no matter how genius, were required to take classes with the mentally challenged kids – the children with low IQs. Whenever the cool kids passed Susan in the hall and they saw her waiting for fourth period with the other “special ed” students, they would call her “reee-tard”. For some reason they called her “cockroach” too. Another girl with a learning disability, who wore the same clothes just about everyday, got the nickname “Stinky”. While Susan seethed in anger, that other girl would do her best to ignore the kids, pretending she didn’t hear anything.

Susan hated being humiliated and didn’t want to feel like such an outcast. She decided to try to look like she fit in. Izod Lacoste alligator shirts were the signature style of the popular crowd back then. For those who don’t know, Izod Lacoste brand alligator shirts were collared, golf-style shirts available in a wide array of colors with an appliqué of a small, usually green alligator above the left breast. These shirts were insanely expensive. Her mom wouldn’t buy one, so Susan saved up her money and bought one herself.

Sure enough, the day she wore her new alligator shirt, the kids started talking to her as though she were part of their group, and, for once, they didn’t call her cockroach. However, while they were all waiting for fourth period, Susan had one of the weaker moments of her life. It was a moment when her moral fiber was supremely tested and she flunked. The kids started teasing the girl who wore the same clothes everyday. Then someone in the group turned to Susan and said, “Ask her why she wears the same clothes everyday.”

Basking in the glow of sudden acceptance, and in spite of her personal experience enduring all those nasty comments, Susan did it. She asked the girl that awful question. The girl who had always ignored the meanness suddenly broke down in tears. It was just too much to be outcast by “one of her own”. Susan suddenly felt absolutely ashamed. The sobbing girl ran off to the bathroom and then the bell rang for class to begin.

Susan’s teacher had witnessed this and pulled her aside. She said, “Susan, I saw what you did, and I’m shocked that a kind person like you would do such an ugly thing. Do you know why she wears the same clothes everyday? I’ll tell you why. Did you know that her family’s home burned down and that they lost everything they owned? That’s why she doesn’t have many clothes to wear to school.” Susan was devastated. She tried to apologize to the girl, but the girl wouldn’t even look at her.

That evening before going to bed, Susan pulled her new shirt out of the laundry, ripped off the alligator appliqué and sewed it back on upside down. It was a statement to herself that she would never be untrue to her sense of right and wrong again and that she would always do her best to not go against her integrity.

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1 Response

  1. Mari Anoran says:

    I love this story. It’s so appropriate for the times we live in. As I get older I try to live with integrity and only deal with people and companies that act with integrity. Sometimes I feel like my ideals are antiquated. It seems like every day brings a new political scandal, or some sleazy tabloid headline or reality show garbage where the players act so unscrupulously. You ask yourself: “Why should I keep trying when everyone cheats and lies around me?” I recently rented the Smartest Guys in the Room about the Enron scandal. What made the movie watchable was the narration of the two journalists who wrote the expose the movie is based on. They were very low key about the way they told their story but you could tell they were committed to finding out the truth about Enron. Conversely, it’s shocking and painful watching the rise and fall of the top Enron executives as they got greedier and greedier, ultimately leading to the collapse of the company and their own lives. It IS true: “What goes around, comes around!”

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