“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” ~ Spencer Johnson, M.D.
Not long ago, I was traveling cross-country (U.S.). As I took a seat in the boarding area, I felt something protruding into my backside. Shifting forward, I realized there was a wallet wedged between the seat and back. I pried it out, looked around to see if anyone noticed and might, perhaps, acknowledge it as theirs. I opened the billfold to see if there was photo identification. And there was. I proceeded to the gate agent to report the find and the agent called for the individual by name. He didn’t come forward.
I soon boarded my flight, wallet in tow. When I arrived at my hotel, I phoned the owner. No answer, so I left a voice message explaining the situation and asked him to call me back. There was close to $700 in cash along with credit cards. Longer story shorter, the guy called the next morning, thrilled that I had found it. He asked if I would overnight express it to him, paying for the service from cash in the wallet. He also asked that I keep $100 as his thanks. I didn’t.
Not once did I consider anything but returning the wallet to its rightful owner. Which brings me to the matter of integrity: having a conscience; willing to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.
In this case, integrity went beyond speaking the truth and taking responsibility for how you think and feel, to the action you take. Moreover, it includes the authentic presentation of yourself to others (being sincere) as well as the internal sense that one is morally coherent. It also means acting congruently with your values – regardless of what those values are. So a person who has integrity does not necessarily mean a person who does “good.”
The opposites of integrity are clearly negative: deceitfulness and insincerity.
Another way of thinking about being “whole” is that a person doesn’t have integrity so much as they are integrity. In other words, it doesn’t require some great feat to live in integrity. We just need to be ourselves, consistently. And in my view, there are (proportionately) few people in this world who are not genuinely well-intentioned at their core.
So how do you encourage and stay in integrity? Consider these exercises:
Quit telling small, white lies to friends (including insincere compliments). If you do tell one, admit it and apologize promptly. Monitor yourself and make a list of every time you tell a lie, even if it’s a small one. Try to make your list shorter every day.
- Pursue humility. Not the “look how I put myself so low,” kind of humility. Instead, make a full, honest effort to acknowledge that you don’t know it all. With real humility we can embrace our own brilliance and applaud that of others.
- Stop acting for the sake of others. We’ve all done it. We don’t go full-out or allow our true self to shine because of what others might say. This has killed more dreams and paved the way to destructive behaviors more than many addictions. Your opinion of you is far more important than anyone else. Strive to be the person you’ve always known you could be.
Socially, authentic people are well-liked. Are you? For what character traits?