What is Integrity?

I was confused with the definition of integrity. To be honest, I never took that much time to think of what it really meant to me or how it could lead to making better decisions in life. Obviously integrity is not a concept that exists if we remove all sentient beings that populate earth, but it can help us find an anchor in an ever-changing world. After all, as soon as we are brought into this world we face decisions, each action echoes in eternity. That is why I believe that understanding integrity is an invaluable addition to our mental framework in effective everyday living.

On a side note; this is probably why we should be careful when we have an exchange that involves words. For example, I was listening to Sam Harris on his pod cast and he took about 10 minutes to go over the common mistake of confusing empathy and compassion and that it often led to conversations that went nowhere with fellow intellectuals. They had their definitions mixed up. Imagine talking to a foreigner about your love of beer. The next day the foreigner brings you a sampler of wine bottles. What the hell? Well, the foreigner thought that beer was wine. At least that’s how he calls it in his country. How frustrating… 🙂

I’d like to think that this is why ultimately words are inadequate to transmit the truth. My gut feeling tells me that truth is experienced and to a limit inherited by the universe upon birth. It takes a lot of hard work to alter our fundamental truths by the usage of words; unless we keep in mind that words are pointers to ideas and concepts. And again, these idea’s and concepts are often described in our conscious mind by more words. Therefore we are limited in our growth. I’m not the first to consider this or to point that out. It can be useful to remember this though.

Okay back to the main topic; integrity! Looking at it’s etymology, it is described as coherence, wholeness and completeness. How does that map to our thinking and our character though? Well, if an individual has multiple speaking archetypes in his mind, and if each archetype is proposing idea’s that are in opposition with the other ones we are in a situation where our mental or spiritual energy is pulled in different directions. In my opinion it is the main cause of tiredness and brain fog for individuals exhibiting depression. When a patient has incessant conflicted opinions on different matters running around in his head it’s no wonder he would gradually lose appetite, his passion, his vibrancy and his focus. For an example think of catering to kids who all want something different. It won’t be easy.

Now let’s turn to the antonyms of integrity. We have incompleteness and dishonesty, among others. The former is straight forward and reinforces what has been said so far. The latter is interesting and sheds more light on what integrity is about.

You see, if a lack of integrity translates to dishonesty it is because internal conflicts pull us into questionable positions. We creates chaos and have mood swings. These put us into shameful situations. In turn we make excuses and we stop being honest with ourselves. This eventually trickles down on the outside. Before we know it, we manipulate and lie to meet the social standards in place. For example, if we are caught stealing and we have been known as a peaceful person our action is in opposition to our image. Most people will demonstrate shame because they were conditioned by society to think that stealing is bad. Therefore, one archetype in our head might tempt us to alter our story as to what happened.

Thankfully, an absence of integrity can be seen in a beneficial way. You see, a lack of integrity invites suffering in the host as a mechanism for survival and expansion. For as long as we are not able to build a union, a common channel for all the archetypes in our head we will end up at the suffering end of the spectrum. In other words, this mechanism can be a radar that helps us steer our life to becoming who we were meant to be. This is certainly helpful in an ever-changing world where meaning to life is sometimes difficult to grasp in our individual life. It does involve paying attention to our archetypes though.

There is something else that is absolutely fascinating about integrity. I had purposely left out of the picture up to this point :

The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. — Oxford

Integrity is tied to strong moral principles? Why aren’t we talking of coherence and completeness now? Could we say that a serial killer has integrity because all of his beliefs are oriented to one vision?

Well, it could be; if our definition of integrity solely considered coherence(wholeness). But, if we combine the second definition which involves a moral component then it eliminates the serial killer as an adequate candidate. Simply put, morality is a display of good character, uprightness and honor. The line remains fine though. We are all able to think of an antagonist whom we learned to appreciate even if his actions are challenging our idea of good and evil.

I would have liked this article to be short, but since the definition of integrity showcases a moral component the question of what integrity is remains unresolved and the discussion must continue.

As a starting point, here is a simple definition of moral principles :

My broad definition of a moral principle is any decision rule, any consideration that decides how you’ll interpret and respond to a situation. If someone asks you why you made a certain choice, whatever you answer as the reason, that’s your moral principle. — Jeremy E Sherman PhD (Psychology Today)

Jeremy’s definition is simple and unfortunately it is ineffective as far as daily living goes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate. We can use his definition to question some of our life decisions. Why did I impulsively buy this new car? Why did I yell at my mother on the phone? Why did I blame my girlfriend last night? This is a good step towards understanding what drives us and can help us out in sketching a rough map of our current values.

So how do we develop integrity? It can be perceived as complicated and involves personal exploration. When we know what makes us feel alive, we get a good hint at what is right for us. This doesn’t mean we have to fall into abstractions and mystic definitions. I recommend watching the movie The Gladiator. Watch it objectively, evaluate the characters. Observe your emotions and detect what springs forward a feeling of “right action” in you.

As for determining what morality is. I will leave you guys with two idea’s. Hopefully it makes the moral aspect of integrity clearer.

The first idea is how Alan Watts describes morality, he said that human beings know which way is up and which way is down and that’s that. The second idea comes from Zen masters using the metaphor of a rubber duckling going down a stream. The rubber duckling is pushed around, hits rocks, goes under… and yet it seems to pop it’s head back up, no matter what circumstance it is exposed to… always going back to it’s center.

Phew! I think that’s enough for now. This was more work than I expected. I’m getting a good feeling though. It is by understanding ourselves that we can start understanding the world we live in. Cheers.

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