Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Peculiar Integrity

Something interesting happened at the restaurant the other day.

Five young men were seated at a table in my section, and as they walked in, I judgmentally perceived them as thugs. At most restaurants, you get all types of people, and right or wrong, you learn to quickly categorize them in order to interact appropriately.

These fellows wore very casual clothes; jeans, clean shirts, and a couple wore caps. As I walked over to the table to greet them, I got a closer look, and they were covered with recognizable tattoos. They were members of a Hispanic gang, whose name is not important for this essay.

I took their order, brought them their sodas, food, and eventually the check. The leader of the group, who was easily discernible, casually gave me a $100 bill, no change needed. They left, and as time went by, I began to ponder a few things.

First off, I had a sense of who and what they were from the moment we started to speak. There were no 'hard' looks, no cliché dialogues, no pretensions. Those kinds of affectations are common in movies and television, but entirely unnecessary for the real thing. These guys were instead very friendly and gracious, and even used my name respectfully while talking with me.

They were laughing and having a good time, no one was acting like a bad-ass... but I had the very palpable feeling that I would never, ever, want to cross them. Not that I would ever have a reason to do so, or that they would seek to force that kind of interaction; it's just that people who live with that level of intensity are not prone to pretending they're crazy or out of control. On the contrary; their daily lives eliminate the need to generate false demonstrations of machismo.

Secondly, I felt an odd sort of kinship with them, which puzzled me a great deal. I have no interest in drugs or drug culture. I have no interest in involving myself in illegal activity. The shared Hispanic lineage may have contributed to the feeling, but on a very low level, as my life growing up was very suburban.

I think what may have caused me to identify with them despite their method of making a living is that I could sense a strict adherence to a set of rules, a code of honor amongst themselves that not even death would make them violate.

Yes, it's true: I don't think it's wise for human beings to buy or sell substances that may do long term anatomical and behavioral damage. I certainly don't want my future children getting involved with drugs or gangs. The fallout from such lifestyles can sometimes include the injury or death of random uninvolved people. All that, yet it is hard to look at such a strong obedience to an oath of loyalty with a censorious eye.

The purpose of their allegiance may be ultimately destructive, yet the fact remains that they would rather die than break the rules or betray their fellow members. I doubt the same can be said of many people who claim to worship God and obey His commandments.

Some of the most honorable persons mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures were courageous souls who fought incredible odds in battle, always risking their lives. They killed many in the process, simply because a God (Who most back then didn't even believe in) told them to do so. Think about what that means... taking a human life is not an easy thing to do. How much more difficult would it be when an Entity you can't even see or understand is ordering you to do it.

Coming back to my experience at the restaurant, I am left with the following thoughts:

Is what these truly dangerous men do for a living considered moral? Perhaps not.

Do I wish to personally embrace their lifestyle? Not really.

Interacting with them was sort of like looking at a National Geographic episode devoted to lions in the wild. Do I want to risk my life trying to join the pride? No. Do I want to have them all caged? No. Do I respect them, despite their sometimes ruthless activity? Yes.

I admire their devotion to their unbreakable code of ethics.

What does integrity mean anymore in a world where so many willingly sell their souls for money or attention? At least these young men are not liars and cheats.

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