Monday, June 24, 2013


What is it?

A friend asked some questions in a post on facebook recently.
Among them were:

1. What is Integrity?
2. How important is it?
3. Do you have it?
4. Do you know someone who exemplifies a life of integrity?

This got me thinking and I decided to answer his questions here so I’d have my thoughts on this posted if I wanted to reference them later…

1. I think of integrity like the Chinese character for the word: inside-outside-same. I also like to think of it like architects think of it: able to bear weight.

2. It's pretty important to me. Living consistently in accord with my values give my life coherence and a sense of wholeness.

3. I live pretty consistently in accord with my values. If there's an inconsistency between my words and my actions, I do my best to adjust, with as little force as possible, one or both until they match. But it's always a work in progress. Life is a constant challenge to integrity, just as it is to balance or any other value.

4. I don't have any exemplars of integrity in my life. I’m too busy with what's specifically on my plate to compare it to what was once specifically on someone else's. We all crack under enough pressure anyway. I do admire people who are oriented towards integrity, whether it's conscious or not, whether they make a big deal out of it or not, whether they're always successful or not. They tend to make the best and most interesting friends.

Further thoughts on integrity…

I don't know if integrity is something I can "have". I think it's kind of like balance, more of a verb than a noun. It’s something I’m after and am oriented towards rather than something I possess. It’s a kind of inside and out, consistency of values, the walk matching the talk.

Some people pursue integrity, some don't. It's such a personal process for each person, I don't think one size fits all and I don't think of integrity as a goal really, it’s more of a mirror, like balance, or readiness, or neutrality. If I look at these concepts as mirrors, I can see how balanced I'm not, how ready I'm not, how neutral I'm not, where I lack integrity...and I can move in the direction of being a little more balanced, a little more ready, a little more neutral, a little more inside/outside same.

If I think of the ideal "integrity" as an actual goal it seems impossibly far away and pursuing it seems futile. I also don’t like to apply force or hard-will to my goals, especially personal ones. I like to put the words "more" or "less" in front of my goals.

With regard to integrity, I want my words and actions to be closer to each other, or “less” far apart. I want to move steadily in that direction, year after year after year, but I want to move there as a whole person, voluntarily and whole-heartedly. In fact to me that's what integrity is. So sometimes I might change my actions, but other times I might just change the words I use to describe them. Either way, the closer my walk is to my talk the better I feel in the core of my being and the happier I am to live and the more willing I am to die.

I have yet to find a way to will peace into my heart. What peace is there has never been the result of personal victory, only of surrender. Surrender to what exactly, I’m not sure, maybe to my actual nature, as opposed to my ideal nature? Surrender to what was actually happening in my life, as opposed to what I wanted to happen? All I know is that for me, very few things are as powerful as when my words and my actions correspond.

I also don't think in terms of what "we" must do or even what anyone else besides me should do. I value integrity pretty highly. But life can have a huge effect on integrity and anyone can be severely tested anytime. Life can suddenly put a lot of weight on anyone. Underestimating this is dangerous. If I was in a constant life and death struggle to survive, integrity might fall on my priority list and simply surviving might rise considerably. In matters like these I speak for myself, not what anyone else should do. I'm not trying to recruit anyone. People have to figure out what kind of life they want to live on their own. 

I see integrity as a kind of honesty, honesty about one's history, honesty about one's nature, honestly about what one is likely to do in the future.

A statement like this can have integrity:

"I have a long history of over-committing myself to things and then not living up to what I say I'll do. I'm working on it, but it's still very hard for me to know when to say No. It's really engrained in me to say Yes to things I don't really want to do and then I act out my anger about it by not doing what I said I'd do. So when I say Yes to something you've asked of me, just know that I'm doing my best, but in all likelihood, over time, I will disappoint you every once and a while. And to keep that to a minimum, I may have to err on the side of saying No a lot. So please ask of me what you will but just know that you might get more No's than you might like."

While a statement like this might not:

"My word is my bond. If I say I will do something, I will do everything in my power to do it. I will not let you down." 

What matters is how well the person talking knows themselves and how honest they're willing to be.

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