Integrity is one of those common words we may use without ever stopping to ponder what it means. We instinctively have a strong sense that integrity is a good thing; so it’s an attribute of human character worthy of effort, but how do I attain it.
I never found a definition that satisfied all the elements central to a full understanding of integrity; so a number of years ago I wrote my own:
“Integrity is the reliably consistent alignment of what I believe, think and do and the highest objective standards of morality”
Let’s unpack that definition starting with the back “…what I believe, think, and act and the highest objective standards of morality.” There are four elements to integrity:
- External. What I do. My public life. Observable words and actions both in terms of commission and omission in various situations; after all, sometimes the right thing to do is nothing.
- Internal. Who I am. My private life. My mind, will and emotions. Some call this the human spirit. This includes all the doubts and fears with which I may wrestle but not expose to the outside world.
- Metaphysical. What I believe. This may be an explicit and conscious set of beliefs, or it may be your subconscious internal compass of right and wrong (your conscience). Some call this the human soul.
- Supernatural. What is Right and True. This standard exists apart from me as an individual and serves as an arbiter of right versus wrong. [As an aside, this fourth element may make some of you uncomfortable. You may believe it inappropriate to pass moral judgments across peoples and cultures and struggle with the notion of an objective right and wrong. Consider this…Absent this fourth element, one could claim that the individuals who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks on the USA were individuals of integrity. The incredibly tight alignment among their beliefs, thoughts and actions led them to sacrifice their very lives. They made this fateful decision based on a powerful belief in the rightness of their position. Attempts to argue that their actions were wrong starts one down a logical path of right versus wrong.]
Random or occasion alignment of these four elements do not produce integrity. We must combine all four elements in a “…reliably consistent alignment… ”
Without a reliably consistent alignment among these four elements I will experience the draining and damaging effects of internal turmoil. I am weakened emotionally. The pressure erodes my passion and siphons off my stamina. Sustained internal misalignment will eventually damage my physical and emotional health.
Externally, an unreliable or inconsistent alignment among these four elements produces collateral damage to my relationships. Not only does my inconsistency hurt others, but the rebound effect makes my life a bigger struggle. The blowback also shapes my reputation as someone unpredictable and inconsiderate. The multiplying effect of my reputation makes every subsequent interaction more difficult than necessary.
On the positive side, a reliability consistent alignment unleashes and leverages the power of alignment.
When we nurture and exercise our own inherent talents we act in concert with who we are as a person. We naturally and more easily perform at a high level. We feel joy in our labors, because we are doing work we were designed to do. We receive invigorating affirmation from others that inspires us to greatness and sustains us through difficult times. We experience a wholeness that breeds contentment.
If we take integrity to the ultimate level and align ourselves with “the highest objective standards of morality”, we place ourselves in alignment with God-ordained Natural Laws. We suffer less heartache and harm. Our behaviors yield fruitful outcomes. We enjoy mutually fulfilling relationships. We are producers (givers) and not solely consumers (takers); yet we can humbly receive without guilt.
At a practical level building integrity involves regularly expose your mind to Truth (for me that’s the Bible) to erase errors that creep into your life from the imperfect world and renew your mind around right thinking. Consider writing a personal mission statement that reflects Truth and your uniqueness as a human being. Regularly assess and realign your beliefs, thoughts and actions to your mission statement.