I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how having integrity doesn’t make life super easy. In fact, displaying integrity, as much as you can, can leave you striving for deep breaths and a space of calm in the midst of difficult moments. But the thing that having integrity does absolutely do is this:
Integrity allows you to build a firm foundation for a strong life, a grounded life, a guided life, and a life without regrets.
The newsletter reflection for next Monday has this theme, but as always the space to reflect is quite small, and once I start thinking about it (as I often do) I start realizing that it’s a topic for much more than just one small reflection, and indeed it’s something more of a series of blog posts.
So welcome to the first post of the news series, Sarey’s Brief Guide for Having Integrity.
So here are the parts, friends:
- What is Integrity and why bother with it?
- Tell the truth.
- Be kind, not nice.
- Cultivate wisdom and self-awareness.
- Be angry in healthy ways.
- Act and speak from a place of inner peace.
Integrity is the intersection of all these things. So yes, tell the truth, but don’t use it as a weapon – be kind, even when telling the truth. Cultivate wisdom. Cultivate fearless self-awareness – and be kind to yourself when you do so; you are worth more than your worst thoughts on your worst day. Never suppress anger for any longer than it takes to remove yourself from the situation, then practice ways of letting it go; anger can be a motivating force, so get rid of the anger, not the motivation to change unhealthy, unjust, unequitable situations. When you act and speak, do your best to do so when you’ve already gotten rid of anger and fear. We make different choices when we’re calm than we do when we’re scared or angry.
What Is Integrity?
An erstwhile mentor once defined integrity for me this way:
Integrity happens when the space between what you say you think or do and what you actually think or do is ever decreasing. Hypocrisy is when that same space is increasing.-The Rev. Cameron Miller
So, yes. Voldemort had great integrity. Because what he actually thought and did matched really very well with what he talked about. So this is a sword that cuts both ways. And having integrity might be something we associate with morality, but in fact it is something that works with anyone in any place of the morality scale all the way from someone who is totally amoral to anyone who totally checks off every box in whichever morality to which they subscribe.
And so in a way, to have integrity is simply to be honest enough with yourself and others to do what you say you’ll do, and be honest about what you think. And I freely admit that my instructions on how to display integrity go beyond that into the moral code I try to follow: love your neighbors as yourself. So the simplest instructions for how to have integrity would actually be:
- cultivate self-awareness,
- think and act and speak in transparent ways.
The truthfulness, being kind not nice, acquisition of wisdom, and thoughts about anger and inner peace are morality-based additions.
Why bother having Integrity?
Having integrity leads us to a happier, more well-grounded life.
Specifically, displaying integrity (using it in the moment) may bring forward conflict, but not create conflict ex nihilo, and the conflict it brings forward is smaller than the conflict failing to have integrity would eventually encounter down the road. So there’s still conflict in a life of integrity, but having integrity involves meeting that conflict earlier, smaller, and even slightly more often. So, life is smoother than putting that conflict off until it blows up, or we can’t take it anymore and have to run away from situations.
Let me give you an example:
Hex and Sindi are a married couple and they pride themselves on the fact that they never fight. But Hex isn’t honest about all the things that they find annoying about Sindi’s behavior, and so Hex’s annoyance grows and Sindi never has a good reason to make minor and reasonable adjustments to their behavior. The same goes for Sindi – they’re also not being honest about the things Hex says that fills them with resentment. And so Sindi’s resentment grows and Hex never has a good reason to make minor and reasonable adjustments to their words.
Now, if Hex and Sindi can deflate their pride enough to actually have a difficult conversation (like unto an argument) where they can both be honest and have integrity, where the outside of what they say is okay, actually is okay on their inside, and if it’s not okay on the inside and they’re feeling annoyed or resentful, then they don’t just pretend everything’s fine. They actually (calmly, kindly) tell the other person how they’re feeling and what sponsored it, now they’re making progress.
And if Hex and Sindi can have this kind of conversation regularly, yes, there appears to be more conflict in their relationship, but it’s very small, like some little waves on a lake, like steam coming off a pressure valve. And if they can’t have this kind of conversation regularly and they keep it all inside, and they’re not being honest about how they think and feel (thus lacking integrity), their relationship may seem very healthy from the outside, but inside pieces are beginning to rot. Inside, the pressure is beginning to build. And depending on what kind of people Hex and Sindi are, maybe one of them will blow up with anger one day for something ‘seemingly’ small (but it’s really tapping into the large pocket of molten magma of anger just beneath the surface that has been growing throughout their relationship). Or perhaps it will look different than that – perhaps one of them just won’t be able to stand it anymore and they’ll run away – perhaps an actual divorce, perhaps an affair, perhaps just becoming more like roommates than two people in a relationship.
And so not having integrity in that intimate relationship doesn’t avoid conflict, it just pushes it off into the future.
And having integrity in that intimate relationship doesn’t create conflict, it just pulls it into the present.
Because conflict is unavoidable, and conflict is not the problem.
The problem comes about when we’re not as honest as we can be with ourselves, and the people around us.
Another Way To Think About Integrity
Another way to think about integrity is how honest we are with ourselves, and how honest we are with other people.
Getting honest with ourselves is a deep process that involves self-awareness and cultivating wisdom. It also might involve some healing, because sometimes when we start looking inside our own heads and hearts, sometimes it gets scary.
Getting honest with other people involves courage and temperance. Temperance means ‘just enough, not too little, not too much’, and using temperance in being honest means that sometimes a situation calls for a shot glass of honesty, not a thimble-full, and not a pint glass.
Why might that be?
Every single human being can only take one step at a time. And if we give them a pint when they can only take an ounce, we’re not doing it for their good, we’re doing it to make ourselves feel better. And when they need an ounce and we only give them a dram, we’re not doing it for their good, we’re doing it to make ourselves feel better.
Having integrity is an ongoing process, just like the rest of this life. It isn’t a one-and-done. And in this blog post series I’ll walk through the bits and pieces of how with you on how to have just a little more integrity today than yesterday. And if we can do that? We will succeed every day.
(This is part one of Sarey’s Brief Guide to Having Integrity. As they are posted, the links to future parts will be found here.)