My life, both personal and professional, and especially as of late, has forced me to confront the issue of lack of integrity. From people’s duplicity to the current status of my physical surroundings, the lack of integrity has put my mind and emotions in a tailspin.
But, what exactly is integrity?
Merriam – Webster defines integrity as the following:
1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2: an unimpaired condition : soundness
3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness
Incorruptibility, soundness, completeness. If someone were to ask me what those three words exemplified, I would say that they were a pretty succinct list of values that one should aspire to. No one is perfect, but if we were to approach our life with the primary goal of being in integrity, how would that change the outcome….of everything?
For example, let’s take one particularly nasty habit: gossip. Most everyone does it, even me. During a conversation suddenly a name is mentioned. There is a bit of information that you are aware of. You may have first-hand knowledge, you may have heard it from a reliable source, you may have heard it so far down the line that you are blissfully unaware of the actual circumstances or even the number of parties that it went through before reaching you. But, you mention it anyway. It seems plausible, even factual. It adds to the conversation. Now that it’s out there though, how do you feel?
I know, for me, I get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m getting it now, just writing this, as I relive those times where I’ve said something I shouldn’t have. Or I’ve been so angry that I’ve reacted in anger instead of responding after taking a deep breath. Or I’ve actually said or done something hurtful just to be spiteful. But, in all honesty, I do endeavor not do those things. I try, however painful it may seem, to be truthful at all times. To me, being caught in a lie is a far more frightening prospect than having to tell the truth, even if telling the truth does potentially land me in hot water. In that way, I keep my personal moral barometer in check, an attempt at being incorruptible.
Let’s take another, seemingly unrelated and less toxic habit: disorganization. My personal space is my personal space, right? I’m busy, I don’t have time to do this or clean that or start or finish something or other. Who does it bother? If we’re being honest, it bothers us. Because when we’re already late and we can’t find that something we need, or a work project gets delayed because we didn’t prioritize sufficiently, or simply the restless sleep we may experience because our bedrooms are so cluttered that the last things we saw before we closed our eyes mirrors the state of our minds, our life is being impaired, it is not sound.
One more. This one may be the most difficult: relationships. And, not just with others, but with ourselves. How often can it be said that we don’t feel like we are being pulled in a million different directions? And are all of those directions in integrity with who we are? Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. How can we be a complete, undivided person when we allow our lives to create so many divisions and perpetually give in to so many crossed boundaries? In the end, while we may initially feel like we “did the right thing” by allowing all of this to happen for the sake of others, we inherently know the cost to us, personally, of those allowances.
These are just a few, highly specific examples of how we wind up living value-compromised, impaired, divided lives. They are habits, so ingrained in our being that they come naturally, far more so than attending to each issue, each moment from a position of wanting (as much as possible) to be in integrity.
Which brings me back to the question I posed about how outcomes would change if we approached our lives with the primary goal of being in integrity. I have made this question an ongoing part of my journaling process. While I often mentally review situations (I am a great over-thinker), I also write them out for review, almost as a third-party mediator. Doing so allows me to set in motion opportunities to not only effectively change future situations when they arise, but also to take a valid look at the role I play in each past situation, and to accept responsibility for that role, whether it be positive or negative. It also gives me closure, and allows me to move past particularly painful moments and decisions.
The Dalai Lama said, “We cannot change the past, but we can reshape the future…”
What better way than to make a conscious effort to do so with integrity?