The term integrity is commonly used as a standard of moral uprightness. But whose morality: Taliban, Catholic, Jewish morality etc.,?
Morality is society’s distinction between good and bad, right and wrong behaviour and these are not universally agreed.
The right to murder, take more than one wife, or educate are all culturally defined, and what or who has integrity really depends on the particular context.
One group states that its morality is the word of God because it’s in the bible and another states it’s morality is the will of God because the prophet said so. One group calls the other immoral because it judges according to its own moral code.
Not surprising then that violence results.
A more useful definition
Since people confuse integrity with morality and morality is not universally defined, it’s clear we need a better definition for the world integrity. Here’s one:
Integrity is simply action consistent with declaration.
My agreement on the morality of your actions have nothing to do with integrity. All that matters for your actions to have integrity is whether they align with your stated declarations.
The drug lord who declares his intent to murder anyone who interferes with his interests, and then does so, has as much integrity as the American President who declares his intent to use military force against any nation who he believes intends to do harm to the U.S.A.
Both the drug lord and the President act with integrity when they order their henchman and soldiers respectively to kill e.g with a turf war, or the Iraq invasion. They lack integrity only when they act inconsistently to their declarations.
This is why we can’t even discuss human integrity without the declarations to assess it. This is why American Presidents take an oath, married couples make vows, and why we swear to tell the truth before we give testimony in a court of law. We can’t asses their integrity as President, married couple or witness without them first constituting themselves as President, married and truthful respectively.
We can only evaluate an action’s integrity in the context of a stated declaration, and we can only assess a person’s integrity by observing that they act consistently with what they’ve said.
Integrity is the source of our power
Action consistent with declaration produces trust which in turn allows us to build networks of love and power. Religion and country often provide shared common declarations which we use to evaluate our actions, but more and more we don’t even remember the declarations that make us say, French or American; or Catholic or Jewish.
Because we don’t practice remembering these declarations for who we say we are—as a husband, father, sister, brother, boss etc.,— we stress over every situation that calls us to choose how to behave, how we will act. We act inconsistently at great cost to ourselves: anxiety, indignity, failed marriages, broken friendships and powerlessness.
Your capacity to have integrity comes from consciously constituting yourself in the same way that a country forms itself with a constitution, a company with articles of incorporation, or a married couple with vows. Your personal constitution—as in a personal credo or manifesto—allows you to practice being who you say you are in the world.
Your personal practice of integrity
You can begin practicing integrity by asking yourself what roles do you hold e.g father, writer, boss, colleague, customer, businessman, good citizen, husband, wife, partner, teacher etc.?
What do those roles mean to you, and to those who interact with you when you hold those roles?
- What kind of person (role) are you? Forgiving, patient, kind, helpful?
- What kind of person (role) are you committed not to be? Cynical, moody, disloyal, selfish?
- What will you do? How will you behave?
- What will you not do—under any circumstance?
- How do you treat other human beings?
- What do you value?
- What will you fight for?
- What are your goals?
Answering these questions in the form of declarations will constitute you as who you say you are in the world. Having a practice of remembering your declarations, or those given to you by your religion, parents or teachers will give you the capacity to have integrity.
Without such a practice I can’t see how you can have integrity.