Integrity – The Last Virtue Standing
Integrity – The Last Virtue Standing
October 28, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
In a few short years I will turn fifty. My increasing proximity to the half a century mark has got me thinking about my life so far and the accomplishments that I am most proud of. After much pondering, the thing that has emerged as one of my greatest accomplishments is my pursuit of integrity. I say “pursuit” because I believe that integrity is a journey – a journey of knowing better and doing better, even when we are alone. The reality is that we can fall in love between dinner and breakfast but integrity cannot be built overnight. Integrity takes time – lots of it. Integrity is also not about trying to be perfect. The singular goal of integrity is to use our time and energy today to be better than we were yesterday. In other words, integrity is not relative. Rather, integrity is really all about our personal commitment and evolution in becoming better people. Not perfect, just better. Better at being honest, trustworthy, honoring our commitments and respecting each other.
There are limitless spectacular things we can accomplish in life and there are innumerable virtues that we can uphold. However, integrity might very well be the last standing virtue on which the sum total of our lives will be evaluated. Our level of integrity is like our DNA because it is a unique identifier that summarizes who we are, what we believe in as well as what we will be remembered for.
Integrity is defined as one’s adherence to moral codes or guiding principles. In many ways, integrity represents our platform, or our cause in life, as well as the things that we will aggressively defend. These codes and principles can be inspired by society, religion, our families, or created by us based on a confluence of internal and external influences. As unique individuals we get to choose the codes and principles that we will consistently and aggressively defend. Thus, all of us are capable of having integrity. It is said that even the mafia has integrity because there are rules that its members live by – like not shooting a person in the back – allegedly.
Integrity also complements or enhances the other virtues in our lives. In many ways, integrity is like salt – you can mix a lot of good virtues together; however, without integrity, the concoction becomes brackish. In the end, I believe one of the greatest things a person can say about us is that we lived our lives with integrity. In short, integrity is the bible that life allows us to write. As with all bibles, however, writing them is one thing, living by their edicts is another. While no two individuals are identical in how they conduct their lives or in which complement of moral codes and guiding principles they will uphold, here are three important actions that will enhance our level of integrity:
- Standing up for something when others are seated. Oftentimes, we are reluctant to get involved in “other people’s business” primarily out of fear that we might endanger our lives in doing so. In reality, the biggest opportunities to stand up for what is right, fair or just is generally not life threatening. We demonstrate great integrity when we commit to plowing past our fears and rise to the occasion of defending others in need who are not bonded to us by blood and to whom we have no fiduciary obligations. We simply defend them because we witnessed injustice and they need our help. Our gut will let us know when injustice is taking place. Our integrity is what compels us to respond appropriately. It could be as simple as hearing someone at work, or in our circle of friends, spread lies about an innocent person and calling the perpetrator out on it; or fighting for an important cause that others ignore; or helping someone, who is clearly in need, while countless others ignore him or her. Our integrity rises when we rise up to defend others who cannot defend themselves – like the many children who are being neglected or abused every day. The key is to keep our eyes open for opportunities to stand up for something. As Alexander Hamilton would say, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” In the end, we should seek to commit to doing the right thing and to “say something if we see something”.
- Respecting the rights and freedoms of others. This might sound like a slam dunk attribute; however, the disquieting state of our world emanates from the lack of mutual respect, particularly when people are different from us. In many ways, respect and integrity must walk hand in hand. It is difficult for one to exist without the other. On a daily basis billions of people’s freedom and human rights are being violated by individuals who do not respect others. When we disrespect others our integrity level plummets because we are violating the important universal code of conduct and guiding principles of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. The ultimate manifestation of mutual respect is when we leave our homes being mindful of the adage: “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you.” While we might not be able to fix all the disrespect in the world, we can ensure that we do our simple part by waking up every day focused on doing everything in our power to be respectful of others in our thoughts, our words and our deeds. This involves actively biting our tongues and to say nothing unless we have something good or constructive to say. Respecting others also involves a commitment to not physically, emotionally or financially harm or degrade others. When we consistently make and keep this commitment to respect others, our integrity level will rise.
- Being Trustworthy. Our words and deeds become golden when we are trustworthy – i.e. when we can be relied upon to be honest, fair, and to do what we say we will do, including guarding secrets and other confidential information. Despite having seven billion people in it, the world is still short of trustworthy confidants. Hence, when we want to spill our guts, many of us struggle to find the right people to do so with. Becoming a person who others can trust is one of the most undermined services in life. Being trustworthy does not have to involve being a therapist or a problem solver. Rather, it primarily involves listening and allowing others to navigate their own truths and discover their own solutions. When asked for our opinions, integrity allows us to respond without compromising the truth and to provide honest and fair feedback. In our lifetimes, we should seek to be that person who at least one or two people feel they can completely trust.
My challenge for you is to think about what you want to stand for in life and what you will defend. Remember that integrity is a sturdy house that never crumbles. Nevertheless few of us have integrity on our bucket lists. If integrity is, as I believe it to be, the last virtue standing, then it needs to be higher on all of our to do lists. After all, who are we if our children, friends, families, bosses, colleagues, community cannot trust us because we have no integrity and because we are not committed to do what we say we will do? Also, remember that integrity is not about being perfect. It is a lifelong journey of trying to be better people. Success might be a team sport but integrity is a solitary activity. Our integrity rises or diminishes based on the choices that we make about how we will act each day. The only thing life cannot give or take away is OUR integrity. We must create the rules of our engagement in this life and once we’ve created them, they stay with us because they become etched in our history books. Sounds like a lot of responsibility? It is. But as long as we are getting better at it, we’ve moving in the right direction.