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All this Integrity

April 23, 2017

Integrity is something that has intrigued me since I got into this profession. I've heard it spoken of often by colleagues, clients, teachers, and mentors. Our professional Code of Ethics value #4 is "Integrity in Professional Practice"; in fact, many businesses, religions, and political arenas claim integrity as a virtue that thus makes them better somehow than others. So this is a virtue we all value, yet we don't seem to have a clear understanding of how to get, how we teach it to others, or what exactly it even means. 

 

In working with people, I sometimes ask them to name someone that they feel has integrity. Most people can't think of someone immediately, and when they do, they usually only think of one or two names, and its often someone they don't know very well personally. For example, they name a celebrity, boss, community member, etc. Very rarely is it a close acquaintance, friend, or family member. And I've never once had anyone name themselves. So this got me to think, if integrity is a virtue, how come no one can closely identify with it? Perhaps its more of a legend then a reality?

 

I'm considering doing some formal research around the concept of integrity. I would like to dig deeper into finding out how individuals conceptualize integrity and what role they perceive that it plays in their lives. 

 

Often when I ask people what integrity means they say something along the lines of:

- always doing the right thing/ doing the right thing even when no one is looking

- when our insides match our outsides/when we what we do and what we say align

 

Take a moment to reflect on these thoughts by philosopher Lynne McFall:

A person of integrity is willing to bear the consequences of her convictions, even when this is difficult, that is, when the consequences are unpleasant . . . Where there is no possibility of its loss, integrity cannot exist.

 

When we consider this quote, the key piece is that having integrity is directly linked to having struggle, unpleasantness, and loss. There are many people who work hard to avoid those things, and in doing so may be avoiding opportunities to demonstrate true integrity. So this is the conundrum of most virtues, isn't it? How can we come to be strong if we've never had to be? Or resilient if we've never faced failure? And the list goes on.

 

Another aspect inherent to integrity is consistency. Stephen Carter points out that we have the right to expect that a leader with integrity will display the virtue of consistency. James M. Gustafson agrees with this stating that a person lacks integrity when they behave differently each time they are presented with a similar circumstance. The student of integrity must value consistency because "only by the willingness to apply a principle of consistency - in particular, to apply it when there is risk to criticism from friends and allies - can any one of us demonstrate the integrity that a leader must have" (Stephen Carter). 

 

 

So what are my own personal experiences with integrity? Well, it's a virtue I strive for. I try to keep my word, respect other people's needs, act with consistency, and do the things I say I will to the best of my abilities. For me, integrity comes along with boundaries. When we lack boundaries, I believe, it becomes much more difficult to act with integrity. If we never ever can say 'no' to people, how can we possible do all the things we agree to? We cannot spread ourselves that thin. Or at least we can't do everything well. We find ourselves giving half efforts, scrambling all the time to keep up with the promises we've made. It's important the we learn that boundaries foster integrity, and therefore self-worth. We can learn to be proud of our integrity.

 

I have also definitely learned that personal integrity can come at a cost. We simply cannot satisfy every person, and therefore when we align with our personal values, and act in our personal integrity, it is likely that we will make someone unhappy. Like boundaries, there are people who get it, and those who don't understand that we shouldn't change our behaviour based on our circumstance, rather be consistent no matter what. So I've learned to accept that there will always be people who, because of limited views and ego, will not recognize integrity. And that is ok because the fact that I understand this also demonstrates my integrity. It's really a full circle opportunity to be faced by nae-sayers. In fact we need them in order to practice integrity. I want to be clear that I'm not meaning to be condescending, rather simply explaining differences in perspective. 

 

I also believe integrity comes from a place of love and compassion. If we are making choices to intentionally harm someone, and we do it with consistency, that is not integrity. As discussed, acting with integrity may impact someone in a difficult way, but so long as the intention is based in love and compassion, then that is considered integral.

 

So what I've learned so far is that consistency & love/compassion are two key pieces of integrity. However, I have also learned that there are many other aspects to integrity; I wanted to start with just a few. Blog posts to follow will delve deeper into the topic. 

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