What is integrity...really?


As you just read that word, what is your relationship to it? To you, what is integrity…really?

I assert that you have integrity as some form of being honest, telling the truth — not doing the bad and doing the good, knowing what you should and should not do. To a certain extent, this is all true. However, I take a different, and much deeper, approach to this strength.  In my model, I say that we all must have, and practice, integrity to not only have power and have our life work, but also show courage.

In my work, I distinguish the six core commitments each of us needs to be able to show courage: integrity, generosity, curiosity, equality, vulnerability, and bravery.

As you notice, integrity is the first of these commitments and I boldly declare this: none of the other five commitments will make any difference without integrity. From this, I will also take a stand for integrity being the foundation for courage. Without integrity, courage is not possible.

So, what makes this particular trait so powerful? What makes it so vital?

According to Erhard, Jensen and Zaffron, integrity...

“provides an unambiguous and actionable access to the opportunity for superior performance, no matter how one defines performance.”

For the purpose of our conversation here, I am defining performance as our ability to go beyond being a passive bystander and stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right.  There are obviously other ways to define performance and you can certainly apply this conversation to those areas of your life that are important to you; however, we will limit this exploration to that of showing courage.

In this model, integrity is simply honoring your word. What word? The promises you have made — to yourself and others — for who you will be in life and what you will do (actions you will take). As Erhard, Jensen and Zaffron state it...

“Honoring your word is also the route to creating whole and complete social and working relationships. In addition, it provides an actionable pathway to earning the trust of others. Perhaps most importantly, it provides an actionable pathway to being whole and complete with oneself, or in other words to being an integrated person.”

That’s it. There is nothing more. It’s black and white — there is no gray. In any given moment, you are either honoring the word you have given — to yourself and others — or you are honoring your reasons, excuses, explanations and rationalizations for not doing so. You are either taking actions correlated to the word you have given for who you are and what you are committed to, or you are not. You are either fulfilling the promises and agreements you have made — to yourself and others — or you are not.

Integrity, as I am defining it here, exists in a positive domain and free of any normative content. In the normative realm, you will find morality, ethics and legality. In other words, integrity has nothing to do with good or bad, right or wrong, or what should or should not be. It is simply a powerful and authentic way to live your life.

When you are honoring your word and doing what you said you will do, then life works and you have power. When you are not doing what you said — not taking actions correlated with who you say you are — there is no power and you are left with guilt, shame, and regret. Just as much as you are not bad when you break your word, you are not good when you keep your word. Again, integrity is not moral.

So, what does this all have to do with courage? Why have I taken such a strong stand here for having integrity and declaring it as the foundation for courage?

First of all, I choose to believe that we have all committed — given our word — to making a difference for others.  I choose to believe that we all care and want people to experience being safe, cared for and honored for who they are. If this doesn’t speak to you, and for you, then it’s a miracle you have made it this far in this post. You are either tolerating everything I am standing for here or you are simply lying to yourself. I invite you to do some real soul-searching and see that you do have a commitment to making a difference.  Again, I believe we all do.

I assert that if you and I sit down, face-to-face, and I present you with some hypothetical scenarios where someone is being abused, harassed, violated, or worse, and I then ask you what you would do as an observer to the situation, you would say something along the lines of intervening. You would look for a way to stand up, step in, and speak out. Your answer would be perfectly correlated to the word you have given as a human being — to make the difference for others.

In reality — in your day-to-day life — you have real, not hypothetical, moments where your integrity is tested. You observe something happening, or hear something being said, and your soul tells you to live out the word you have given and so something, say something. Who are you going to be in this moment? Are you going to be who you say you are and take actions correlated to your commitments or are you going to sell out for something else? If you do what you have given your word to do, then you have integrity in that moment. If not, then you are out of integrity. Again, this doesn’t mean you are a good or bad person. You are not wrong for this. You simply have integrity or you don’t — in that moment. Then, the next moment will come and you will be tested again.

There is so much more I can say about integrity and I will expan further in future posts. I will close with this for now: Integrity actually empowers the other five other commitments we include in our call for courage.

This is integrity at its deepest form.

This is the foundation for courage.

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