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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Gregg

Integrity is a Duty

My subject today is integrity. I believe that there are true and universal principals that guide all aspects of our life. Integrity is one of them. For me integrity is a journey not a destination, an effort to live according to one's sense of duty. Its' not something I exemplify each moment, instead I strive toward it and hope that I succeed during some portion of every day.

Integrity comes from the Latin word integer. It means a sense of wholeness deriving from qualities such as honesty, morality, fortitude and consistency of character. The word conveys completeness, a life completely vested in morality.

When it comes to integrity, the first rule is to discern right from wrong in accordance with one’s highest moral values. With this understanding, the second rule is to promote our highest moral values by what we do, our actions. The third rule can be the hardest to achieve. We must be unafraid to articulate our moral values and the actions that we take. Living with integrity is a challenge. It requires that we are able to discern right from wrong and act appropriately in every situation. Because right and wrong are often subject to interpretation, we can become confounded in the very first step leading to uncertainty of the appropriate action. Consistency and predictability is crucial to integrity.

The concept of integrity has received little attention from philosophers but has long been a central concern of many religions. Integrity, after all, is a kind of wholeness, and some religions teach that the creator calls us to live life in accordance with the divine command which are steeped in morality. In Islam, this notion is captured in understanding that all laws, legal or moral, are guided by the divine path God has described in the Quran. In Judaism, the study of the Torah reveals the laws under which God's people are expected to live. And Christians are called by the gospel to be pure in heart (Matthew 5.8). All of these examples ask us for undivided attention to follow moral codes of conduct, often defined by the creator’s laws. I like to think of it this way; integrity implies implicit obedience to the dictates of our conscience, in other words a heart and life habitually controlled by a sense of morality is our duty. A good citizen is a person of integrity and who leads a life with integrity. And a life with integrity, in turn, requires all three steps that I mentioned above.

I'd like to explain that integrity is not the same as honesty. Honesty is a desirable element of good character, but honesty by itself in not Integrity. From my definition it is clear that one cannot live in integrity without also displaying a measure of honesty. But one can be honest without being in a place of integrity. Integrity demands a difficult process of discernment of one's deepest understanding of right and wrong, and then further requires action consistent with what one has learned. It is possible to be honest without ever taking a hard look inside one's soul, to say nothing of taking any action based on what one finds. A man who believes that governments should assist the homeless will act with integrity if he too, works to improve conditions for the homeless.

It is nearly impossible to act with integrity in all cases. Life is complicated and we do not take the time think about and discern right from wrong. In fact, in times of stress, it may be nearly impossible to sort through right and wrong. Indeed, I suspect that if we consider our lives closely many of us will find that we often don't understand our own values and, perhaps, we do not really want to know. Because if we consider our values, there is some very difficult work ahead that requires both time and emotional energy. It is so much easier to follow the crowd, not think deeply about issues and look the other way when we see wrongdoing. Perhaps we ignore right and wrong when we elect or reject political candidates. To proceed with integrity, a public-spirited citizen must do a bit of soul searching —must decide what he or she most truly and deeply believes to be right and good and move forward with great resolve.

Even if we invest in the efforts that the first rule requires, the second rule toward a life of integrity offers new challenges. It is far easier to know right from wrong than to do something about it. Even if one believes that the homeless deserve charity but never give to the homeless, they do not live with integrity. Or a person that thinks of homeless as bums who should not be given a dime yet dig into their pockets to offers money when confronted is also not living with integrity. In order to live with integrity it is necessary to discern right from wrong and take the second difficult step by becoming involved and acting on what one believes to be true and right and good, regardless of what others think. To be effective, it also helps to do this with kindness and understanding but that is a topic for another time.

The person of integrity stands out. When they offers insight or a promise, like "you've got the job" or till death do us part, they are trusted. Moreover, such people are willing to tell us why they are doing or acting a certain way because they have thought deeply about their actions. They do not cheat on taxes out of greed but claims they are doing it as a protest. Nor do they ignore or cover up wrongdoing by a co-worker a church member or some in your family. And it does not promote integrity to claim to do the will of God when one is actually acting on the demands of a political agenda. A life of integrity means that we do what we think is right even when others disagree. Our natural tendency is to gain acceptance by conforming. Acting with integrity, however, may result in the expression of an unpopular belief and this is rarely met with acceptance.

A person of integrity is willing to bear the consequences of their own actions, both good and bad. If we are never tested with bad consequences, we won't really know how deeply we believe. The person who lives a life of integrity is not better at discerning right from wrong than others. This individual is the person who is willing to work at it. Skill in telling right from wrong matter, but the willingness to attempt it matters more. Integrity is the basis of trust. In order to be trusted youmust earn it.

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