When you think of the word “integrity”, what comes to mind? When you’re talking with a friend about someone else and say “She’s a person of integrity”, what do you really mean? Are you saying that she is generally honest or trustworthy? That she can be counted on, or that you can count on what she says and does? Do you mean that she lives a good, wholesome life, however that is defined for you? Does she conduct herself in a moral and ethical way, in your opinion?
Dictionary.com defines Integrity in the following way:
1: Adherence to moral or ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2: The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
3: A sound, unimpaired or perfect condition.
Yawn. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you probably expect that I have some problems with these definitions. And you’re right about that. The first problem I have is that they all imply that integrity is an either/or proposition: Either you are moral, ethical and honest or you are not. Either you are whole, entire, undiminished or you are not. Either you are unimpaired and perfect, or you are not. Consider that no one is perfect and no one is imperfect. These definitions set up unrealistic expectations for us when it comes to what integrity really is. Do you have integrity or do you not have integrity? I believe the question is pointless, and the answer is both.
None of these definitions actually define what integrity is in a completely objective, global sense. What is moral and ethical in one part of the world may be completely immoral and unethical in another part. What is deemed moral and ethical on one side of the political spectrum is often the polar opposite than the other end of the political spectrum. What one person considers whole, undiminished, unimpaired and perfect may be considered to be a complete mess by another person. What is “perfect”, anyway, and does that even exist in an objective sense? (no.) So I’ve asked myself, how can integrity be defined in such a way that it agrees with all cultures, all ideologies, at all times and in every circumstance?
You could say “Well if a person says they’re going to do something and they do it, then that is a person of integrity”. Okay, that works. But what if they also fall short of their other commitments also? That’s not living in perfect integrity. What if they routinely put others’ needs ahead of their own to their own detriment? What if you know them in a professional sense and they always follow through with their intentions, but unbeknownst to you, typically leave their family’s emotional needs behind? Would you then say that person has integrity? Or, can someone be generally honest but never follows through on their promises? I know lots of people I would trust with my money and even my life, but I don’t expect them to ever be on time for an appointment. Do they have integrity, or not?
Does an honest person necessarily have integrity? Consider this: Would you say a member of the mafia is an honest person, generally? Probably not, yet a mafia soldier would not live very long if he did not have a high degree of integrity with his peers. So to me it seems that integrity is a much more complex issue than simply applying morals, ethics or honesty in one’s judgment of whether a person has integrity or not.
To me the literal definition of integrity by Dictionary.com is not enough. Integrity is not an either/or condition. Integrity is a matter of shades of grey in all aspects of life. It is less of a personality trait and more of a skill, one that all of us have and all of us have an opportunity to work with.
I have another definition of “integrity”, one that encompasses honesty, morality, ethics, wholeness, ‘unimpairedness’ while negating notions of perfection, and is applicable to all cultures at all times and within all ideologies:
Integrity: A degree of consistency between a person’s feelings, thoughts, words and actions. Period.
It seems almost too simplistic, but think about it within your current concept of integrity and you will see that it fits very nicely. Defined this way, a person with a high degree of integrity is automatically honest and trustworthy. A person whose thoughts, feelings, words and actions are highly consistent is a person who can be trusted. They can be perceived as whole and unimpaired. Perfect? Never. Perfection does not exist, and that is a major point.
None of us are perfect. None of us have perfect integrity. On the other hand, none of us are totally imperfect. None of us are completely without integrity. We all have integrity. All 7+ billion of us. Some are better at it than others. That applies to you, your mentors, those you envy, those you despise, the President of the United States and the lowliest vagrant on the street. All have integrity at some level, and all are working with it or against it at some level.
My next blog post will delve deeper into this concept of integrity, and why it is so important in developing your own sense of self empowerment, which translates into changes and opportunities in your life. Our inner sense of integrity is actually a core identity that we all have and have always had since our birth. Our sense of integrity, defined as the level of consistency between our feelings, thoughts, words and actions, is at the basis of our values, our intentions, our directives, our behaviors and what we see showing up in our lives.
Stay tuned, and keep writing.