Today, I recall a certain discussion I recently had with old friend and long time mentor, Dr. Howard Stein. Howard was sharing a story about a former student who, frustrated with her progress at the end of the semester, confronted Howard after class at his lectern and asked in a loud voice that the rest of the class could hear, “What do you want from me?!”
Howard shouted back at her, so the rest of the class could hear his response to her, too: “I want three things from you! Intelligence! Intensity! Integrity!”
Those “Three ‘I’” totems were hammered into us by Howard from Day One of our graduate school classes, and every single day thereafter — so his answer should not have been a surprise to her — and it wasn’t. Deflated, the student slinked away to try and do a better job finishing the semester.
What do those three words mean in the larger context of our lives?
When we want intelligence from our students, that means we need original thought coming from a base of tendril thinking where many concepts are conflated into a single, fresh, argument that foments new meaning. That’s a difficult task to accomplish because you can’t just settle for one right answer. You need a whole mind full of mindful answers in order to chip away at your own truth in the molten center.
Intensity is the manner in which you present your intelligence. Do you have a passionate mind and an intellectual heart? Or do you offer your thoughts will a dullness that precludes any sort of insight or discovery?
Integrity is the most difficult of the “Three ‘I’s” to master because it relies upon a strict moral core. You cannot fake integrity. You cannot manufacture integrity. You have either lived a moral life or you have not. Integrity demands a history of behavior and it is that very ethical habit of action that binds us to the morality of our own intellectual discovery. You cannot teach integrity and you cannot buy it — you can only practice it every single day of your life with the hope your integrity will sustain your reputation and enhance your opinion in the public square of ideas.