Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Let's just talk...I think good is cool

Today, I just want to talk. With you, not to you. Pull up a chair. I have something, a lot of things on my mind.

It's been coming at me from all angles. Gnawing at me. Time's up. Ms. Cleland, you've got to act.

The topic is integrity. Sounds abstract, I know. But the essence isn't. We can smell it in others. There are some people, you can trust them with your life, you can trust them with your money, you can trust them with your woman, you can trust them when they tell you something.

They're truthful, and honest, all the time.

But I've been thinking about integrity and how to become the kind of person who has this because I was listening to Patrick Awuah at BarCamp Ghana late last year and he talked about it. He said you become it by practising. Every time you're faced with a decision, or a choice and you choose to do the honorable thing, it makes you stronger, and prepares you to make the same good choices when you're faced later with tougher choices and decisions. It starts with little things. Like if you're sitting in a tro-tro and the mate forgot to take your money, do you just get off at your destination and walk away? If you're in a relationship, and a friend who you find attractive drops you off at home after a night of partying at Rhapsody's at 1am, and asks if he can come in, do you let him come in...and later justify your actions to yourself saying it was just an innocent kiss? If you buy phone units and the seller accidentally gives you 2 cedis Tigo units when you only paid for 1, when you find out upon reaching home, do you later return the 1 cedi?

Then again, I was listening to some Joel Osteen CDs, and he too talked about integrity. people believe you when you speak? Can people trust that you will do what you say you will do? I know a girl who stretches the truth. She doesn't quite lie but when she's saying something that happened, she always always embellishes...I don't know if she does it to make the story more interesting or what but the people around her now know this. I even heard someone say of her...Oh but don't you know that so and so adds her own details? Do you want this to be said of you?

Suddenly, everywhere I turn, i see integrity, integrity, integrity. On walls, in newspapers, in people. In friends. I've had the pleasure of spending the last 3 weeks with the most truthful, honest, trustworthy Ghanaian man I know. I've known this guy for years, but I never get over it. I'm always surprised. Humbled. Inspired.

Maybe I feel this way because I see so little of it in the world. So little of it in myself. There have been times when I've justified my poor choices. Saying we're all products of our pasts and our environments. But the truth is, if you're looking for excuses, you can find some. The question is, are you going to continue living in mediocrity...are you going to continue being the same old you, cutting corners, doing things that would embarass you if the world found out, cheating in school, cheating at work, cheating in relationships, cheating in life. Or are you going to hold yourself to a higher standard.

We're always talking about failure in leadership in Ghana. And corruption at all levels. And sure, there are some of us that are pretty honest in some aspects of our lives, but I think integrity needs to be holistic. If you're strong in one area but weak in another, it's time to make a commitment to, and act to make a change in the areas you are weak. Can you be trusted in all aspects of your life?

Let's talk about our friends. Whether we like it or not, friends influence us. My best friend told me recently that if your best friend is a [insert vice here], you're likely to be [insert same vice here]. So what do you do if you want to act better but your tight paddies are still in the murk? You could cut them out :) Or you could be the light. But you can only be the light after you are strong. You cannot continue to be influenced by them at the stage when you yourself are weak and trying to develop your strengths.

The other day I was talking to a friend(Mr. X) who had a business idea. Immediately another friend (Mr. Y) came to mind. I thought Mr. Y had the skills to complement Mr. X. And yet after I told Mr. X about Mr. Y, I added....but I don't trust Mr. Y. I don't trust Mr. Y because he's said things, or done things, little things that make me doubt his integrity. So even though he's smart, and hardworking, and has gone to the finest schools, and savvy and whatever else...I did not recommend him as a business partner. You know what they say...."if you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don't have integrity, nothing else matters"

Even in business, I think who you are is going to affect how you do. It will affect whether you treat your partners and workers fairly. Whether you manage them fairly. Whether you pay your taxes, and your debts. Whether you're truly there to build the business and not be under-dealing, and screwing your friend over somewhere along the line. There's this tailor who always lies about getting clothes sewn. He'll tell you it's done and then you get there and he's not cutting. He'll say he'll meet you at 5, and he'll switch of his phone at that time. Then there's another seamstress who tells you, i'm not going to be able to touch this work till after 3 weeks. But after 3 weeks, she gets it done and stays in touch with you and tells you the truth about why she's late and asks for a bit more time, and delivers when she promises. Which of these people do you think I want to work work?

I'm not even sure where this conversation is going, but feel free to talk to me about any of what I've said. My new year's resolution is only one. To be in reality all that I say I am. To do what I say I will do. To not do that which I cannot be open about. I know it won't be easy. Perhaps I will fail sometimes, though I definitely don't plan on it, but I will get up and try again. And maybe I'm writing this because I need to not just have this in my head. I need a reminder of my plans. I need you to support me.

2009, I was Ms. different. In 2010, I'd like you to think about this Arthur Freed quote..."Don't try to be different. Just be good. To be good is different enough". Cos good is the new cool. I'm telling you.

God knows, Ghana needs more people like this. And as we say, change begins with you.
Charlie, some of us are just lying to ourselves. The self we give the world, is different from the self we know, and what's the bloody point? At some point, it's all gonna come tumbling down. Think Tiger woods, Think Wall Street, Think Marion Jones. You don't want to work your ass off and then lose it all one day because you did not cultivate self-discipline and integrity. It's hard, but I hear it gets easier with practice. Goodluck, and let's help each other.

Have a good week.


  1. Good to be reading this at 6:38am. Thanks.

  2. Interesting..... my friend and I were discussing this exact topic with these exact examples two nights ago.

    Great thoughts :)

  3. I like u being different..Be different and good

  4. Well Ms. Cleland ... it takes guts to come to such a resolution. It takes life to make it real.
    You should be ready to sacrifice life as you know it ... cus you'll be exposed, you'll be cut, you'll bleed, you'll hurt ... and people will take advantage of you. Laugh at you, use your goodness and give nothing back.

    I have been living FOR society for a while, even more since i launched my renewable energy foundation. I got nothing back, and lost a lot. I lost a good friend who trampled hard over my feelings whilst she was leaving. People call me stupid ... how do you take care of your son?
    I say I am fulfilled in my integrity and honesty; in my passion for caring for a society that laughs at my concern for them, and don't heed my work.
    I AM FULFILLED ... but at times, it gets to me, and i cry hard.
    I told myself, since the last and only 2 times we met each other (since we left high school), "Esi doesn't smile anymore. She is this new person I don't know, and she is always polished on the outside.Polished is good, but not when it is distance ... and this new Esi is."
    You used to smile ever so much back in high school. I wish I'll see that side of you more ... in this era where everyone is being polished, distant, and god-like ... everyone secretly wishes for a friend who is still warm and reachable.
    So here's to the new Esi, and the return of her smiles!!

  5. You're spot on there M.s Cleland! Integrity is an issue, but I love the idea of being good and not different. I loved this post, interesting and it got me thinking.. :)

  6. Wow! to both the post and Golda's comment. I refer to the comment only because it just happened to stretch my mind onto something: a phony or inauthentic persona, at any point in time, fall within the boundaries of dishonesty. Think hollywood. I gotta watch myself now and make sure to always see it/tell it/express it like it is. Shieee...

    Moving on... the pursuit of integrity/honesty can be a very hard journey. I've come to know that it's far easier to be fake, insincere, deceptive,... than it is to be honest and genuine. In other words, the bad things come naturally to us while the good attributes have to be fought for. Ewiase nny3 easy oo, Chale!

    Esi, I find it courageous on your part for initiating this dialogue, and moreso for your public determination to pursue integrity.

  7. You've really written well and this is a motivation to everyone who reads. It is a dialogue like you said and it is left to us to do our own bit. Keeping one's integrity is not easy especially in the current times we live in but as for me, it is a matter of conscience.

  8. Excellent post and some great advice Esi!! We all need to look within more often, and the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any. Thanks!!

  9. "Polished is good, but not when it is distance..." Golda, I couldn't agree with you more...Deep inside we are all dying for a good friend and yet we feign this cool exterior.2010 is the year to keep things real.

  10. You were in marie claire!!!!

  11. Esi, this is so inspiring - a very good reminder. My integrity was so important to me when I was younger. 5 years of "seeing how real life is" in UK sort of rubbed the corners off me ... but I need to go back to the way I was before. Thanks for this!

    Ama xx

  12. The uncomfortable, embarassing feeling that you get when a parent chooses to talk to you about something you really dont want to hear? Thats exactly how I felt reading this because its true.

  13. Ahem.

    Here goes...

    Your time is a gift: those who we "allege" are our loved ones/friends/spouses/spouses-to-be/even spouses-never-to-be/ (hehehe...) deserve to be around us more and grow with us. Not only when we plateau at "having it all figured out", and are "more ready" to basically make known that we are 2 known.

    Your patience is a gift: those whom we would rather not have around us all the time need us to be "lovingkind" to them when they just don't get it the first time (or seem like they will never get that painfully obvious truth which we actually (shh...don't tell anyone!)...are STILL trying to figure out.

    Finally, your personality is a gift: we owe it to those around us to be who we are for real as constantly as we can and not impersonate people who we very creatively imagine they would love to meet, know, or work with. Else, they pretend as well, and both people look ridiculous ;)

    Sure, I'm not here to say nobody will ever try to take you for a financial, physical or emotional ride, (insert cynical comment here) but the urge to respond by building a financial, physical or emotional hedge around oneself must and can be mastered. The point is being true to yourself, and God. I can confidently say I can't for the life of me stop meeting the most amazing people characterwise since I allowed them to actually meet and know ME, and I'm not stopping for anything, chale.

    None of us will, hopefully.

    Away bus,


  14. Hello Esi, that was great. I made a promise that in 2010, I am going to be true to myself and do my best to to have a good name.
    I will not promise anyone if I know I am going to fail them. I promise to tell the trutheven if it hurts so bad. It not easy to try to do the right thing always with all the temptations and challenges. If the people you roll with cheat, lie, steal to get whatever they want in life, I believe that you should cut them loose and make new friends beacuse you cannot change them
    With Gods help we can all get there in truth and with our intergrity intact

    God Bless

  15. In fact Esi Cleland. You are now, oficially' Esi Bonsam!! Deep and very thoughtful. I totally agree with you.

    My question though is a society like Ghana where "who you are" or " who you know" is essential to succeed especially in most sectors ( Not referring to normal networking but networking where you have to give to recieve) How can a person nature true integrity? From churches to schools to governmental institutions to NGO's etc. so so kalabule den dey do. It's pretty much mundane and disheartening. If you opt for absolute intergrity you most likely will be a pauper and not be as effective as you intend to be. If you go with the status quo (I'm refering to), you are pretty much tainted. So is there a common ground or is the idea of robbing Peter to pay Paul is justified?

    Thoughts and perspectives on from Esi Cleland Bonsam and everybody else will be much appreciated. oh and Golda too( very inspiring lady)

  16. How true and how apt. This is your finest post so far.

  17. Africa's DaughterJanuary 23, 2010 2:43 AM

    wow Esi. amazing. for the past 2weeks, i've been asking for Grace to act with integrity at work in certain situations. that word has been literally revolving in that minute brain space of mine. glad to see you've brought the subject out in the open.

    It's true that people will take advantage of you and some may consider you as dumb or a fool when you practice integrity..and believe me, sometimes it's hard to refuse to respond in they want you too or your natural self is telling you to. But i believe living a life of integrity is possible and as long as it's possible, i'm willing to pursue it...though i may falter

  18. At work today, my entire team was under really intense pressure to meet a very aggressive deadline. Since our industry is heavily regulated, we deal with a lot of documentation at every step of our work. It so happens that, today there was one document that had a slight error with it, which needed to be fixed for audit purposes. Fixing it the right way would have meant making the document change as the Project Manager, sending it over to our Lead Software Developer to review and sign (he's in Romania, and had left for the day), and then sending it to our Lead Software Test Engineer to review and sign. After all of this was done, I'd have had to schedule a review/approval of that small change with our Quality Assurance Point-Of-Contact (QA POC). Under that much pressure, the thought did cross my mind: to make the change without anyone knowing, and saving myself and the entire team additional stress. At that moment, though, i thought of your quest for integrity, and resolved to do things the right way. I made the document change, found another Software Developer who was available to review and sign, after which i sent it over to our Lead Software Developer for his review and signature/approval. While all of this was going on, i scheduled a review of the change with our QA POC for the document to be QA-approved. It was the straight and narrow path, and it wasn't convenient. But i felt uplifted and good after doing the right thing. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. Thank you Ms. Cleland for bringing the issue of integrity in the open. I have been practising integrity since i can remember (not to sound conceited). There have been times when i have done the wrong thing and i had to live with my conscience accusing me about it for a long time. I hate the periods that i have been on 'trial of conscience'. I have also been fencing with the dark side of my nature, which feels inclined to do 'what everyone is doing'. The path of integrity is not easy, but displaying it in the littlest things, does build you up for the big things. So welcome, Ms. Cleland, my follower journeyer on the path of integrity.
    P.S: Prepare yourself for criticisms and the fallout of doing the right thing will definately come, but the reward, ah, the reward, perfect peace, is definately something to strive for.

  20. Dear Ms. Cleland. It's been hard reaching you. Can you please mail me through please. There's a literary project to be discussed. Ref: District Magazine

    Thanks a lot

  21. I heart Esi!
    ~ Adwoa P

  22. I like! Great post Esi. Sorry I haven't been keeping up on reading your blog. :) Love this one. I need to re-examine myself for some integrity. :) Thank you!