A Beginner’s Guide to Personal Integrity
I am grateful to @ionel_condor for the suggestion which kicked off this post.
It may strike you as odd that some folks might need a Beginners’ Guide to Personal Integrity. Most of the folks I know have personal integrity coming out of their ears. But I do note its absence or lack, in some quarters.
I have until now put “integrity” down to a certain predisposition. Something someone either has, or does not have.
Maybe it’s not a predisposition though, nor an aspect of character. Maybe it’s just a lack of exposure, of role models, of education. God knows, we can hardly look to people in the public eye for role models these days. And I can distinctly remember no integrity classes at school.
Is Integrity teachable, anyway? I’m hardly qualified to judge. Aside: If anyone has a more informed opinion on this point, please do let me know.
But let’s assume for the moment that, through diligent application and study, one can improve one’s integrity, should one so choose. Why might folks chose to invest time and effort in integrity?
Before we look at that question, let’s attempt a definition:
What is Integrity?
Integrity is the characteristic of behaving and thinking congruently with one’s personal values and beliefs. Put another way, integrity is doing what you believe to be right, irrespective of the costs, downside, hardships involved.
“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
~ Oprah Winfrey
Consider the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. Did the Scorpion have integrity? I believe so.
I think I like Robert Brault’s (reverse) definition best:
“Loss of integrity comes from those thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.”
~ Robert Brault
What it is Not
Some conflate integrity with virtue, honesty or “goodness” of some kind. I do not. I suggest even evil men can have integrity, should they but behave congruently with their beliefs. Here, “the Right Thing” is a personal relativism.
Nor do I choose to mix-up integrity with honesty, excepting honesty-with-oneself. Neither does e.g. cheating or sociopathy signify a lack of integrity, if we suppose that the cheater’s or sociopath’s thoughts and actions remain congruent with their personal values.
What are the Benefits of Integrity?
From an individual’s perspective, acting with integrity can confer a certain calm self-satisfaction. I attribute this to a reduction or elimination of cognitive dissonance. Note I say *acting” with integrity. Just “having” integrity to me seems to confer few if any benefits, save perhaps as a fillip to the ego.
“Integrity has no need of rules.”
~ Albert Camus
From a group perspective, integrity contributes to the ties of goodwill, trust and mutual concern which help bind a team, group or community closer together. Fellowship thrives on acts of integrity.
“There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity.”
~ Samuel Johnson
How to Build Your Integrity
- First off, ask yourself whether integrity has any place in your life. It is, after all, not for everyone.
- Assuming you want to build your personal integrity, how about reflecting from time to time on what you believe? Come to understand yourself and your world-view a little better, by degrees.
- Every time life invites you to make a choice, consider the options, even (especially) the unpalatable ones, and ask yourself which options are most congruent with what you believe. After the event (the action), find time to reflect on your choice, with the glorious benefit of hindsight. Did the choice feel comfortable, or did it effect some unease, some kind of cognitive dissonance?
- Associate with other folks of outstanding integrity. Their definitions of “right” and “wrong” may differ from yours, but the way they remain faithful to them might inspire you to do the same.
- Discuss integrity with your loved ones, your peers, your associates. Explore the issues, the trade-offs, the costs and the rewards.
- Find time to listen quietly to your inner voice – some call this “intuition”.
Much recruitment effort is spent looking for new hires “with integrity”. I suspect few who seek this rarest of character attributes have a good operational definition. After all, “we all know integrity when we see it”, don’t we? Kahneman, for one, may differ.
Actually, I suspect that much lip-service is paid to the search for candidates with “integrity”, whilst quietly letting that requirement pass, because it’s “too difficult”.
And that’s hardly acting with integrity, is it?