The Nitty Gritty on Integrity
Possibility for You, and Community Glue
Integrity at a Glance
So just what is “integrity?” It’s a word we hear frequently, though nailing down a definition for “integrity” is not necessarily easy. Go ahead, think about it for a minute.
We can dig a little bit and look to the dictionary. Good ol’ Webster describes integrity as, “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” That’s still vague. How firm? What’s a code? Good morals? Bad? Can someone still have integrity if they are adhering to “bad” morals? To use the standard test when considering whether something or someone is good or bad, does Webster’s definition mean that Hitler had integrity?
Let’s try looking at the root of the word. It stems from the Latin adjective integer, which means whole, or complete. In this light, integrity would arise from a person’s “wholeness,” meaning consistency and congruency, or being ‘complete.’
Though vague at first glance, with a bit of effort and discussion it’s relatively easy to come up with some themes common to integrity. Ask folks at work, friends and family from outside work, and even strangers on the street, and you’ll likely hear things like: honesty; following through on what you say you’re going to do; responsibility; accountability; keeping your word.
And perhaps even more relevant, why even care about what integrity is? After all, plenty of people get along just fine without reflecting on, or acting in, integrity.
The path that this document follows is based on the assumption that living with integrity will allow you to fully create your life in alignment with your values, giving you freedom, power, and possibility in each moment.
Distilling down some of the common themes from the previous section, a working definition of integrity has been established with our organization
Whole and Complete
Whole. Complete. People of integrity act consistently across many situations and among many different people. They are maskless. This definition of integrity-as-wholeness encompasses three components, or subsections:
- Honor Agreements
- Act in Accordance with Principles and Values
- Word as Self
These subsections are organized in an order of development, which will likely provide you with understanding and perspective, and maybe some motivation on your integrity journey. For example, when a child learns to read they generally follow a path, with more structure and tangible concepts at the beginning (learning how to read by gaining knowledge), which lead to internalization and more intuitive skills further down the path (at some point, the child surpasses the learned knowledge and simply reads). That path might look something like: 1) Learn and memorize the letters, 2) Sound out words and sentences, letter by letter, and 3) Be able to read fluidly and intuitively, without thinking about the individual letters.
Another way to consider the path is in terms of knowledge and being. For example, when you know something, you can likely talk about it, converse with others about it, and have a sense of it. Yet that may not mean that you actually live, or act, from that knowledge in a way that is internalized. We can use a musical example to further illustrate this. You might know how to read music, might be able to talk about reading music, might even be able to teach people about music, and perhaps you know enough about the trombone to be able to take your knowledge of music and the trombone to play some sweet songs. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a musician, where the music flows out of the trombone as an expression of you, no longer thinking about hitting the notes, not thinking about reading each line…it simply happens.
Regarding integrity, ideally you will be moving from knowledge and awareness of your values, to seamlessly integrating those values into all of your actions and communications. Here’s what the path may look like, and we’ll walk the path using an example of meeting a new friend, Pat.
Honor agreements. This is the most structured and basic element: following through with your agreements. Making agreements, and observing whether or not you follow through on them, will give you some very quick indications as to what some of your values are! Simply being aware of your values (if you aren’t already) is the first step towards an integrated life.
For example, you meet a cool person, Pat, at a Conference in San Francisco, and you agree to stay in touch. Pat lives about an hour away from you, and so you need to make quite a few plans to keep in touch. You set times to talk on the phone, agree to write a couple emails, tell Pat that you’re going to send him some links to some websites that are the bomb, and tell him you’ll send a few photos from the conference via snail mail. What agreements did you keep, and which did you miss? Did you alter any? Did you do any grudgingly? How come? This step is about getting in touch with what’s important to you…the first step towards knowledge and awareness.
Act in Accordance with Principles and Values. This step follows from the first section of honoring agreements, where the agreements that you enter into follow from, and continue to develop, shape, and bring knowledge about your principles and values. Through your experiences and interactions, you become aware of, and continue to develop, personal principles and values; these are beliefs/stories of how you live your life, and can be influenced by relationship (spouse, parent, friend), family, group (church, club), community (geographic, cultural), organization, society (laws), world. They are the stories you live by.
Back to Pat: the friendship is continuing to build, and so is your awareness and knowledge of yourself and your values. Sure, there were a few rocky patches with Pat; he was pretty pissed that you didn’t mail over those photos you promised him, as he was really looking forward to them. But as you kept putting it off, and putting it off, you looked a bit deeper at why you were putting it off, and found that you really do not like the Postal Service! They’d fired your grandpa many years ago, and you also think that the prices they charge—a government agency no less—to send something a few miles away are really quite outrageous; as you see it, their personnel policies and stamp prices are completely ridiculous. You and Pat chat it out, and you realize that you’ll not be making agreements with him (or likely anyone) that requires you to use the Postal Service anymore. You also realize how much your grandpa’s situation influenced you, and are more aware of what motivates you when it comes to money and the government. You and Pat reach some comfortable and enjoyable rhythms in your friendship, and you also are acting with more intentionality in all of your agreements as you increase your knowledge and awareness around your values and motivations.
Word as Self This section follows from the first two, where, through your experiences, you learn and recognize that every word you speak, your word, has the power to create your reality in line with your agreements, principles, and values. You directly create through the power of your word; the context in which you exist, in which you live, is created by your words and your language. Your integrity flows from within you, and is intuitive; you know immediately if something in you is out of integrity. When your word is your self, you become consistent across groups and environments; external influences do not change how you act. Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” comes to mind here.
Pat, again. You are now in rhythm with friendship. It is in some ways difficult to describe the quality of your interactions…they simply are. In the first two stages, you were in the process of becoming friends. In those stages, you were finding things out about each other and your selves; there was knowledge gained and used, and you likely even gave meaning to your interactions by referring to each other as friends. Now, you have moved past becoming friends, and are friends. The way you interact moves fluidly and in integrity with your values, principles and agreements. And now, if you act in some way that is not in integrity with you and/or the friendship you have created with Pat, it is immediately recognizable within you. You do not need to look for it, or try to know it or understand it or see it. You simply know it…you feel it within you.