Whole and True—Incorporating Integrity into Your Life
When I hear people talk about their values, I notice that they use a wide variety of words. Honesty, hard work, loyalty, and open-mindedness are all values that people I know strive for. But one value seems to always rise to the top: integrity. It’s a value that is unassailable yet losing ground in modern society. Ironically, some still uphold integrity as a core value while acting against it in all their words and deeds. A lack of integrity is not only accepted but also sought after and celebrated—from behind a veil of denial. I thought it would be interesting to dive in and deconstruct the word, the value, and the way it’s expressed. Before researching the word, I thought about what it means to me. In my mind, it suggests a quality of “honesty plus”—honesty at one’s core.
Adherence to a code
Merriam-Webster’s definition of integrity is “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” Having a personal code is key. All of us have a sense of our values, but without codifying those values, they can be fuzzy, or worse, flexible. Yes, we all evolve, and our values may evolve with us, but if our values change according to the exigencies of the moment, then they might as well not be there at all. The word moral is another key word in that definition. For clarity, Merriam-Webster defines morality as “conforming to a standard of right behavior.” Here’s where we can get into some murky waters, since right is subjective. Of course, there are many authorities (e.g., legal or religious) that tell us what right means, but it’s up to each of us to envision our own version of right, one we can truly believe in and build our lives around. We can develop our own ethics that we truly understand and can follow with complete clarity.
The word integrity comes from the Latin integer, meaning “intact,” and another great related word is integral, meaning “essential to completeness” (Merriam-Webster). This idea of being intact and complete really appeals to me. These two words together suggest the word whole. Striving to be whole can have both an internal and an external aspect. Internally, it means integrating all the pieces of yourself in a cohesive, honest way—being true to yourself. To be whole, you can’t deny any part of yourself, even those parts you don’t like. You can work on how certain parts of yourself manifest in your life, but if you deny they’re there, you’ll never be whole—there will always be something that doesn’t feel quite right with your life.
The external aspect of wholeness involves being accepting of the way we interact with others and intentional about our interactions. For me, that means understanding that I am an introvert. It takes significant energy for me to interact socially, even though I enjoy it. Part of my path toward integrity involves embracing my introversion and assimilating it into the way I live and interact with people. This includes planning for time when I can be alone and making that time meaningful.
My “honesty plus” version of integrity still holds for me after my exploration of the word and its meaning. In this context, truth includes being true to others—being honest in your words and actions, being true to yourself and all the components of yourself, and being true to your ideals and values. In this way, wholeness and truth are intertwined. I can see why the word is so powerful.
I don’t always measure up to my standards of integrity, but I do try to stay aware of my code. When I do something that goes against my code, I both examine my motivations and reassess my code. Although I firmly believe that there are legitimate reasons for failing to be honest, such as sparing someone’s feelings, if I’ve gone against my code and lack a reason to revise it, I try to be very specific about the reason. I try to recognize when I’m rationalizing something out of convenience, selfishness, or any other negative reason. Nobody’s perfect, but we should all strive for an ideal.
Integrity is part of what makes you who you are. To assimilate it into your life, you need to be fully aware of what it means for you.