When you hear the word integrity do you confuse it with morality or ethics or think it is about some kind of value judgment? When someone calls you on your integrity do you shrink back, take offense or feel ashamed? I learned about integrity from Landmark Education, and I admit, it took me a long time to really grasp its meaning. At first it was brought up around arriving back to the room for whatever seminar I was taking on time from breaks.
These breaks often included quite a bit of homework, some of which involved calling people in my life, and those calls were often unpredictable so it seemed unreasonable to me to always be expected to arrive exactly on time. Guess what? It WAS unreasonable. Life is unreasonable. It is going to throw stuff at us when we least expect it, and those situations are going to throw us off our game in unpredictable ways. Can we act with integrity when that happens? Of course. Is it our natural first instinct to do so? Not usually.
Let me begin by distinguishing between a few terms. Morality is defined as principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Your morals may be very different than mine depending upon the background you grew up in and the teachers you had. Morals are a more personal set of values, while ethics are systematized, societally-focused guidelines for behavior. So morals are the individual guidelines that govern our ideas of right and wrong and ethics are society’s rules for what is and isn’t acceptable. Beyond that are laws, and some of us even believe it is ok to break those for the right reasons, but that is another discussion.
So, what is integrity? It’s actually quite simple. Integrity is workability. That’s it. There is no moral judgment, your ethics aren’t called into question, and you’re probably not going to be arrested for being out of integrity. So what are the consequences of lacking integrity. It’s simple. Your life just doesn’t work very well. It may not work for you, and it may not work for other people either. Or perhaps your integrity is high with others, and low with yourself or vice versa. How about an example?
Let’s say integrity for you is getting eight hours of sleep a night, exercising three times a week and drinking lots of water. You have just found that this is what works best for you from lots of trial and error over the course of your life. For one of your friends, however, having lots of social interaction is one piece of how they work best. If you spend a lot of time with this friend, it’s possible that late nights at the bar or just playing cards could eat into your eight hours of sleep and perhaps your exercise routine. If that happens regularly enough, perhaps you call in sick to work, and then your personal lack of integrity begins to impact your employer as well. You can begin to see how this isn’t workable for long.
It used to be really uncomfortable when people called me on my integrity because I would take it personally and get defensive. It became easier when I realized there was no judgment about ME involved, but my behavior in a certain situation was unworkable, either for me or for others in my life. That’s it. I really got this one day when I was frustrated for the eight-thousandth time by the lamp next to my bed. It was a touch lamp without a switch. You just touch the metal to make it go on and off. Only the touch feature hadn’t worked since the first time I changed the light bulb years ago. Since then the lamp has had to be plugged in and unplugged to turn it on and off. Because I use it daily, and often needed to plug it in while it was dark, this got to be incredibly frustrating for me.
Each time I plugged the lamp in, I would experience one or several of the following emotions: frustration, helplessness, annoyance, anger, consternation, and probably about 57 more that I can’t name or think of right now. These emotions led to a whole slew of thoughts including:
“This is ridiculous. It should work.”
“WHY doesn’t it work? How can I fix it? Who do I know that might be able to fix it?”
“I paid good money for this lamp and it’s a piece of crap. No one cares about quality anymore.”
“These companies put out junk that will break in no time and then we just have to go buy another piece of junk that will break in a month. It’s such a scam.”
“I don’t have the money to keep throwing at new lamps every week. This sucks.”
“I don’t make enough money. If I had more money, I wouldn’t care. I’d just treat myself to a new lamp. I’m worthless.”
Ok, so these are extreme examples of my thoughts, but you get the idea of how wildly out of control such thoughts can get. Now, imagine having these thoughts and emotions every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I mostly had these thoughts right when I woke up or as I was going to sleep because this lamp was by my bed. Not the healthiest way to greet or end the day, huh? It would have been easy to continue having those thoughts forever and getting more and more mad about it, but as soon as I saw it as an integrity issue, I was able to shift it.
When I didn’t have to moralize and bring the ethics of the manufacturer and sales people into it, I could see that the lamp just lacked integrity. It just wasn’t workable. I still have the lamp, and I still use it occasionally, but it is on the other side of the bed where it gets used much less often, and the lamp that was less than six feet away is now on my side so I can easily use the switch to turn it on and off, and don’t have to deal with the swirl of emotions and thoughts that lead to no where good multiple times a day. Wow! Is it really that simple?
When there is no judgment attached, integrity is just integrity and we can stand up for ourselves with others when their integrity is out, and we can apologize and clean up our own lack of integrity when it affects other people. It’s impossible to be in integrity all the time, (though it’s a great goal for us to have) but we can mitigate those times that we aren’t by owning our lack of integrity with no judgment for ourselves either. Pretty cool, huh?