The landmarks of a truly great person include honesty, integrity,  responsibility, commitment and honor. We all feel like we’ve mastered them, yet the standards seem to vary from one person to the next. How could that be?

Clearly, we all want to have great character. When someone asks “Are you responsible?” we want to say “Yes, I am!” We would never say “No, not really” and we would be insulted if someone called us irresponsible. Most of us find a level of character that we can be proud of and strive to uphold it, but that usually includes some exception to the rule.

For example, we are all honest when the truth is easy. Some of us are also honest when the truth is difficult…but maybe not every time. Maybe we’re 80% honest instead of 100%. Maybe we sugar coat it to be polite or water it down to avoid conflict.

Similarly, we can all honor the commitments that are convenient. But when other priorities interfere, we show up late, we get most of it done, or we expect someone else to take up the slack….because something had to give, right?

We speak of honesty, integrity and the ideals of great character in absolute terms, but few of us hold ourselves impeccably to those standards. We all allow exceptions.

Consider this scenario.

I have committed to my husband that I will not spend more than $15 a day for lunch until we pay off the car. But today I really want dessert.

If I pay cash he’ll never know.

If she chooses this route and goes above her budget, is she still honest? Is she still honoring her commitment? Does she have integrity? Most would say that yes, most of the time she is honest with him, she is otherwise honoring her commitment and she does, in general, have integrity. It was only this one time.

That’s how we, as a society, justify that for her.

How did she justify it for herself? She probably said something like “I should be able to have dessert when I want”…”I’ve had a really stressful morning and I need some chocolate”…or “it’s only five bucks.”

It’s these exceptions, and our justifications for them, that keep us from truly impeccable character.

Why did she choose dessert over her commitment? Is there a sense of rebellion, or a temptation for chocolate, or maybe an issue with money that has been triggered? If she recognizes the issue and takes steps to resolve it then the temptation to betray her husband will no longer be there. The agreements stay unbroken and she is a better person for accepting the challenge.

Clearly, whether or not someone’s wife decides to eat cake for dessert will not make or break the world. However, the rationalization process we use to dismiss much bigger compromises is exactly the same. Don’t all affairs start with some kind of “harmless” flirting?

The exceptions we make bring the ideals of impeccable character down to a level we can embrace without too much inconvenience. In turn, they stunt any opportunity we have for growth.

On the other hand, holding these ideals in an absolute state means no excuses, no exceptions, no compromises. While performing at this level all the time may be next to impossible, seeing the difference between where you are and where you can go is very powerful.

Have the awareness to see the exceptions you make and the humility to accept the challenges they present…for that is the true meaning of impeccable character.

Time to transcend! This blog series is intended to challenge you by reaching beyond the status quo. If you are feeling resistance, consider that your ego is coming forward and presenting you with an opportunity to grow. This is where the magic happens!