We hear the word integrity flying around social circles. But what does it mean? The standard definition of the word is the quality of adhering to moral and ethical principals. This creates a soundness of moral character. The other definition for integrity is a state of being whole and undivided. In fact these definitions go hand in hand because when you have integrity, you and your own conscience are whole and undivided instead of in opposition with one another.
Morality is about principles, fundamental truths or propositions that serve as the foundation for a system of belief, behavior or chain of reasoning. Morals are principals concerning the rightness and wrongness or goodness and badness of behavior. The problem is this is a serious gray area. For example, some people strongly believe that it is right to punish a criminal who carried out a great enough offense by killing him. Others believe this is morally wrong. Some people believe honesty is always right. Others believe it is right, except for when it will hurt someone. This begs the question, is right or wrong something that is defined by the individual themselves or by society at large? To know what is right or wrong, you would have to know first who is right about what is right and wrong. Even though we have some consensus in the world, people do not fully agree about what is right and what is wrong and morals keep changing over time.
Conscience as opposed to morals, is an inner feeling or voice which is subjectively viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's own behavior. This means conscience is subjective too. But it is concerned with the self instead of others. In other words, it is more concerned with right or wrong for you specifically versus right or wrong in general. There is an intuitive feel to conscience where as morality is guided by reason. You can think of conscience like a guiding light. That light is obscured and bent by morals. Morals are like a filter that the conscience is fed through. To understand more about Conscience and morals, I suggest you watch my YouTube video titled: Morality Vs. Conscience.
Some examples of lack of integrity are: Saying you will do something and not doing it. Telling a lie when the truth is the opposite. Leading someone to believe that they can trust you and then betraying them. Hiding things about yourself and keeping secrets about yourself so that the aspect of you that other people see is not the real you. Being two faced. Self-sacrificing instead of adhering to your true wants and needs. And changing your stories and opinions in order to bend to public opinion instead of staying steadfast in them. All of these things have something in common. In all of them, two parts of you are in opposition. For example, one part of you says something is right and good and the truth and another part of you adheres to the opposite way of acting anyway.
When we want someone to gain some integrity, what we are saying is that we do not believe that they are acting in accordance with morality. We do not believe that what they are doing is right to do. This is especially true if we have experienced a person demonstrating their belief that something is wrong in one scenario and doing that same thing in another scenario.
For this reason, a lack of integrity should be defined as the quality of not adhering to principals communicated to you by your own conscience. And not living in a state of wholeness in and of yourself. For example, if your conscience tells you that honesty is right for you and you lie, you are demonstrating a lack of integrity. Two parts of you are split in that moment and you will feel bad as a result of it. Your internal guidance system will be guiding you in the opposite direction of where you are currently headed.
We tend to see a lack of integrity when we meet with some kind of crisis. When stress is put on our system, we have the tendency to crack. This is why people say you have to wait for a crisis or a bad time to see someone’s true colors. In order to feel better, people resort to all kinds of behavior that society could consider to be immoral. For example, it isn’t until we suffer financially that we steal. It isn’t until we are tortured that we betray someone’s trust. It isn’t until the truth will get us in trouble that we tell a lie. It’s not until someone puts pressure on your own authenticity that you decide to cave in and change your stance so others will see you as a good person.
Soundness within yourself and between all the aspects of yourself is the foundation of a strong sense of self. This is something that cannot be taken from you. It is only something that can be given away. Therefore, the reason that a lack of integrity is so damaging to you is that a lack of integrity is a form of self-betrayal. And it is a guarantee that what you need most in a crisis (to remain strong and intact) will not happen. The good news is integrity can always be built no mater how compromised it may have been in the past. Here are some suggestions for how to build it:
- Spend some serious time considering your idea about what is right vs. wrong in each scenario you find yourself in and why. This requires you to really open your mind. Question the rightness and wrongness of things. How do you know whether something is right or wrong? Is it right or wrong in every scenario? Do not act until you are sure your subjective idea of what is right is as objective as possible. There is a reason that ethics is a whole branch of philosophy, it isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Be open to alternative philosophies about what is right so as to become even more aware and thus clearer about your what is truly right for you.
- Put effort into integration. This means no more compartmentalization. Being “split” into different parts is actually a collective human condition. A person is really a conglomeration of different personalities. This is why we say someone can have many “sides”. We fragment ourselves in order to cope with the external world. We preserve ourselves by compromising ourselves until being compromised becomes a detriment to our wellbeing. We have one side of us that wants to keep the peace and another side that wants to win no matter the cost. We often fall into a lack of integrity when two aspects of us (or more) do not agree. We need to become aware of these different parts of us and help them come to an agreement where both of their needs are met. We need to let our aware self facilitate a mediation between them where the prerogative is unification.
- Fulfill your promises and keep to your word. This is one of the most common ways to notice your lack of integrity and correct it. Obviously if you say one thing and do another, there is a split between your words and actions. Make sure they are aligned.
- Before you make a commitment, stop and make sure you can follow through on that commitment. If not, you have to be authentic about it and be brave enough to be willing to upset people.
- Pay attention for that feeling of internal discord when you are out of alignment with your own conscience. This means you could very well be in the act of doing or saying something that not all of you agrees with. That feeling is telling you “wait and pay attention… this isn’t right.” This is your golden opportunity to build integrity instead of press on with your current course of action.
- Get super honest and authentic with yourself. Then communicate that inner truth to others. Denial is the enemy or integrity. If the inner truth is something you are denying because you are afraid to admit to it or are ashamed of it, it will come out anyway in passive aggressive ways that will cause people to say you have no integrity.
- Do not act impulsively. When we are in a heightened state of reactivity, certain parts of us have hijacked our entire system and are acting unilaterally. This means other aspects of us are being bulldozed. This is a form of self-abuse in the name of self-protection. We all tend to have a specific way that we behave in a crisis or in threatening situations. This is where our greatest lack of integrity tends to show. So watch yourself in these scenarios to discover your particular breed of lack of integrity. Perhaps you believe being honest is right but when you are threatened, you lie. Perhaps you believe taking responsibility is right but when you are threatened, you justify yourself and play the victim making other people the bad guy for everything that happened. You need to find alignment between all aspects of yourself and have all of them agree upon what is right before taking action.
- When you feel like you have acted out of alignment with your own conscience and have lost integrity as a result, admit to it. Admit to it to yourself and if you feel like it would restore your integrity to admit it to anyone else (especially anyone it hurt), do so. Any apology given should not include a justification for why you did it.
- Work on becoming comfortable with fear. Integrity requires bravery. People who are not brave, do not have integrity. Bravery is something that can only exist when someone is afraid. It isn’t about being fearless. It’s about being willing to be afraid and act in accordance with your own personal estimation of what is right anyway.
Acting in accordance with your own integrity can be difficult. But I can promise you; it isn’t more difficult than living a life without it.