INTEGRITY – WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT MEANS
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© January 2014, L.D.Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
The word integrity and living in integrity are most interesting concepts. This article explores their meaning.
A definition of integrity. The word integrity can mean whole or complete. For instance, it is related to the word integer, which means a whole number, not a fraction or partial number.
Integrity can also refer to a condition of being integrated, rather than fragmented. Integrity as a way of living has to do with having all parts of one’s life flow smoothly together.
Integrity can also mean connected, in touch or well-coordinated, rather than isolated, neurotic or psychotic. It can also mean grounded and centered, rather than confused.
It may also mean coming from the heart, rather than being up in one’s head or being “in the gutter”. In this regard, it can be related to the fourth energy center or chakra, which is located in the heart area. It can also relate to the three hearts, discussed in a separate article entitled The Hearts.
Integrity also reflects being balanced in one’s life and lifestyle. However, the balance must work for you, and not be just what society suggests. For example, society might say you must get married and have a family. However, if this does not suit you, then to be balanced in your life need not include a family or a partner.
Integrity also has something to do with honesty, truth-seeking, reliability, authenticity and consistency in all parts of your life. These must be your principles of living. Truth is so important for integrity that it is discussed again later in this article.
Finally, integrity suggests a quality of being deeply in love with yourself, your soul and your spirit so that you live as your own person, unaffected or minimally affected by what others want you to do or be.
These are some aspects of integrity and living in integrity.
WHY ARE HONESTY AND CONSISTENCY ASSOCIATED WITH INTEGRITY?
The answer is that without basic honesty and consistency, one’s life will simply not flow smoothly in an integrated and coordinated fashion. The man and woman of integrity knows this, so, in general, the person will be very reliable, honest and consistent in speech and behavior.
It is not so much for their own sake, but rather because such behaviors fit into the larger picture of a life that is whole and runs smoothly, like a well-oiled machine with the gears meshing properly.
Lying, cheating, exaggerating, acting flighty or disrespectful tend to destroy this quality of integrity or wholeness, so a person who wishes to live in integrity avoids them. Having said this, a person of integrity may not always be fully honest if it does not serve the higher purpose of a life in integrity.
For example, if a robber comes to the door and demands all your money, a person of integrity might give a little, but not all his or her money. This is because one knows that the thief will go away happy, and there is no need to tell the whole truth in this case. It is probably senseless and not wise to give away all of one’s money in this case.
Another example is that if brute honesty would be tactless and harmful, one can soften it so as to communicate better, for example. If you don’t like someone, at times it is best not to blurt out the truth, but to simply hold your peace and move on, for example.
So integrity is about honesty, but only as it serves a higher purpose of an integrated and smoothly flowing life. In general, however, people of integrity are very honest.
This quality of integrity – that behavior and thought must serve the whole person’s higher good – pervades all behavior of the person of integrity. For example, to live in integrity may mean to be inconsistent, now and then. If you see that one of your ideas or behaviors is not correct, then the person of integrity admits it and changes, which to the world looks like inconsistency. From the higher perspective, it is simply what must be done to stay in integrity.
In the same way, a person of integrity may seem to be unbalanced or uncentered or ungrounded, because a certain behavior might be required at a particular time for the person to stay in integrity. An example is the bible story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple. One could say Jesus was unbalanced and even crazy to do this. However, he clearly knew what he was doing and did it for a particular effect or reason that was in integrity with his view that the temple should not be defiled by the presence of money changers and their greed.
WHY IS INTEGRITY OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH THE BIBLE AND PRINCIPLES OF LIVING SUCH AS THE TEN COMMANDMENTS AND THE GOLDEN RULE?
The reason is that these principles promote integrity, I would argue. They are sensible, simple rules that keep life orderly and whole. They are universal principles, in fact, and not religious, in and of themselves.
In fact, one can be a so-called “religious person”, and live very much out of integrity. This occurs when one tries to live by the rules, so to speak, but cannot feel the true feeling of God in one’s life. Also, one may fail to see the larger picture of oneself as a member of humanity, a brother or sister to everyone, and a child of God like everyone else. Then one tends to become very ‘legalistic’, perhaps caught up in words rather than ideas, and one can easily lose integrity as a result. For example, one might attend church on Sundays and pray for guidance, but when faced with a situation, one might resort to cheating, lying or some other thoroughly unbiblical method of solving problems.
WHY IS INTEGRITY ASSOCIATED WITH A SEARCH FOR TRUTH?
A person of integrity seeks the truth in all things, and attempts to apply it all the time as well. Truth simply means that which explains life the best. It may be a physics truth, or a psychological truth, or a nutritional truth. Truth is that which best explains how life is to be lived, and what life is all about at the deepest level.
Truth is different from honesty. Honesty has to do with one’s speech and perhaps actions. Truth is a more of an ultimate and vague subject that has to do with seeking for and being guided by the highest wisdom at any time.
The person of integrity also knows deeply that by seeking and living the truth as it is revealed to you, life becomes more worthwhile, even if living this way might cause some hardship.
A person of integrity tends not to be too fearful of living the truth and following the truth of life even if it never brings great financial or other rewards, and even if instead it brings scorn, humiliation, and perhaps even injury. However, people of integrity are not martyrs and do not willingly submit themselves to any type of physical or other type of torture. Harming the body or mind, or allowing others to do so, is not a very wholesome and integrated way to live. A person of integrity might decide to die for a cause, but it is unlikely.
CAN A PERSON LIVE IN INTEGRITY IN ONE AREA SUCH AS FAMILY LIFE, BUT BE OUT OF INTEGRITY IN OTHERS?
Yes, this occurs all the time. A crooked businessman might be a wonderful father, for example, or a cheating wife might love and care well for her children but cheat on her husband. In these two cases, neither person is living in integrity or they would correct their behavior in all areas of their lives.
WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF LIVING A LIFE IN INTEGRITY?
All of the aspects of integrity discussed above – to be integrated, truth-seeking, truth-following, complete, wholesome, principled, honest and authentic - tend to blend together in wonderful and beautiful ways to produce a human being who is superior in wisdom, intelligence and judgment. This is the ultimate goal of living a life in integrity.
In addition, living in integrity tends to promote health in a powerful way and can help a person develop mentally and spiritually, as explained in some article on this website.
LIVING OUT OF INTEGRITY
This means living in some way or other that does not harmonize with one’s highest purposes or understanding of the truth about life. It is a life out of balance, and usually a life of secret dishonesty, cheating and lying. Examples of areas in which people live out of integrity often include:
1. Dishonesty, exaggeration or even lying behavior when it comes to money. Many people are torn between fear, greed, glamour, guilt about success, a desire to help the poor, and so on. As a result, their financial life is disordered, and usually not in a healthy state of balance.
2. Dishonesty or confusion about sexual identity or lifestyles. Some crave sex they cannot have. Others indulge, but feel guilty. Others are just confused and go back and forth. Some avoid it altogether when it is not really their desire or nature.
3. Confusion around speech and action. Many cannot or wish not to speak the truth often enough, or they have no tact so they do not communicate well. Others have learned how to use speech and action to get what they want, by exaggerating, creating drama, raising the voice or yelling, and perhaps committing violence, whether physical or emotional. Some seem to submit too much to some people while lording it over others, and so on. As a result, their lives are chaotic and they are usually depressed and lonely, since people of integrity usually do not want to be around them very long.
4. Family and other relationships. Some people have difficulty setting boundaries, asking for what they need or want, and many have trouble with honest communication.
5. One’s interests can be out of integrity. For example, one might secretly enjoy pornography, or perhaps living on donuts and coffee, even though one knows these are not healthful.
6. A common arena for lack of integrity is politics and economics. Many people believe that all people should be treated equally, yet they vote for affirmative action programs, for example, or group rights such as women’s rights or gay rights.
HOW TO MOVE INTO INTEGRITY
I find this requires a rather constant re-examination of all aspects of one’s life. One must look for ways that incongruent or unwholesome ideas, beliefs or behaviors have snuck into your life, and then purge them.
Also, one must look at one’s past in a rather critical, though not punishing way. Just because the family seemed happy or successful does not mean they lived in integrity. If one clings to old friends, old ways of doing things, old ideas, and so on, it is always more difficult or impossible to live in integrity as one moves on in life.
I find that to live in integrity, I must also listen to many sources of the news, and read books or at least newsletters that are out of the mainstream, somewhat, and pray often for guidance, wisdom and truth. Otherwise, it is easy to get out of touch with reality and with truth. The reason is that life moves on, and our understanding of events and people must also evolve or we stagnate in some ways.
The Pushing Down Exercise has also been very helpful for many people. This exercise, unlike most meditations and prayers, is not selfish at all, and is very grounding and centering. It greatly helps to integrate the body and mind, bringing more of the mind to bear on the body and on life in the physical universe. This is not necessarily the intent of most other meditations and prayer exercises.
In some cases, living in integrity may also require physical and nutritional healing. For example, it is difficult to examine one’s ideas and lifestyle when one’s memory and other brain functions do not work well. So working on one’s physical health with nutritional balancing may also help a lot in a few cases.
Living in integrity also requires a certain amount of courage and intelligence. It often means “going against the grain of society” in some ways. It is not about being a rebel without a cause, however, or about being a conformist to some ideology. It is about having the courage of one’s convictions, following one’s hunches, learning new ideas, and having the courage to implement them and alter them as needed.
As we grow older, we should begin to understand how to live in a wholesome and integrated way. If not, we just become old fools and so we develop diseases and often poverty. Living in integrity, in contrast, leads to wisdom, prosperity, comfort and usually leads to health and long life as well.