Understanding Integrity

Integrity comes from the Greek words ‘integritas’ and ‘integra’ meaning whole. Integrity is crucial in our effort to live a happy healthy life. It is part of the very foundation of who we are as human beings. One definition states that it is “a life in which thoughts, words, and actions are congruent and conform to ethical principles…without faltering no matter how dangerous, how unpopular the person makes themselves to others.” Wow, image living like that.

Ok, while all that is well said, there is an aspect of integrity that gets lost in this and many other definitions.  I am not certain if there is anyone who actually lives up to this ideal concept of integrity.  So with that in mind, what about those of us who make great strides in abiding by our beliefs, however, we end up faltering in certain troubled areas? Are we no longer considered individuals of integrity? Well, that may depend upon our response(s) to our stumble and/or fall.

Dishonesty: So many of us “good” people focus a great deal of energy on the image of integrity rather than the spirit of it. We create lifestyles of false integrity that is more about satisfying how others view us or how we want to be seen rather than being true to ourselves and what we claim to believe. This is dishonesty; dishonesty with others and primarily with ourselves. We see this so often in politics, religion, in how we handle our finances, in relationships, how we nurture our kids, how we interact with each other. Dishonesty also played a significant role in the collapse of our nation’s economic structure. If we live a life of pretense long enough, as the pressure builds, we too will collapse exposing the instability of our fragile structure. It is a dangerous thing to begin building our character on a foundation that looks stable and strong, only to find out this foundation is hollow. When we worry more about how we look, rather than being true, we sacrifice the dignity of our humanity and integrity of our relationships.

Genuine Integrity The spirit of integrity is not about perfection, but more about the process of living towards fulfillment as honest as possible. Wholeness includes the journey towards the end and the end as well. When we walk against what we understand to be “right” or true (and we all will during the course of our lives), genuine integrity challenges us via our conscience to face this conflictual encounter between our beliefs and our thoughts and actions. We must eventually turn and face what we say we believe and match that with our actions to examine what just happened. This conflictual encounter is necessary for us to reexamine why we believe what we say we do and honestly explore to find out if change is necessary. This includes our beliefs, internal and external obstacles, distractions or resistances to our norms. Pausing to reflect helps us to ask questions, challenge our norms without judgment and help prevent us from repeating unhealthy behavior. Some beliefs and behavior may take a few encounters before we can change them, however when we accept and do not deny these challenges, we are being genuine and living with integrity. How genuine is your integrity? Share your thoughts.

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