Oftentimes, we say we should do things, but fail to actually do them. This could be for a few reasons. Sometimes, we are afraid to say no to others’ requests, and despite committing to them (albeit reluctantly), we don’t follow through on what we said we would. Because we think we haven’t fully committed, it gives us the license to not go through with our half-hearted promise.
Other times, we justify our lack of actions with other reasons. We make promises/commitments to ourselves and with others in our personal and work lives without fulfilling them. When we say one thing and do another, it makes us look like phonies. When we fail to keep our promises to ourselves, it lowers our self-trust. When we fail to keep our word with others, they lose trust in us.
As Samuel Johnson has said:
There can be no friendship without confidence and no confidence without integrity.
Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days that few understand and even fewer strive to live by. It is often used interchangeably (and incorrectly) with the word “honesty”. Honesty is saying what we do. Integrity is doing what we say. The word “integrity” comes from the word “integer”, which means a state of being whole, undivided, and intact. It is the essence of one’s character. A person of high integrity values all the correct principles in their life.
Integrity has to do with self. It is about keeping promises and fulfilling one’s commitments without giving excuses or blaming others. It involves being proactive (more below) and doing the right thing, particularly in difficult situations — not because we are being judged by others in that moment, but because of who we are as individuals and because it’s the right thing to do. That involves making difficult choices sometimes and trading our short-term popularity for long-term respect in our relationships.
Integrity has more to do with what we do privately than publicly. It involves having the moral courage to make our actions consistent with our knowledge of right and wrong and choosing truth or values over popularity without worrying about how we are being perceived by others (image management).
When our actions are consistent with our intent, we have integrity. In other words, what you see is what you get. Who you are inside is what comes out to others. You are not a phony; you are who you prove yourself to be (through your actions). When our thoughts, words, and actions are consistent with each other, nothing else matters.
Understanding integrity and being a person of integrity are completely different things. It is easy to understand it, but to become a person of integrity is a completely different ball game that few accomplish in their lifetime. It is one such virtue that if we have it, we value the correct principles in our lives. When we don’t have it, the other principles we value don’t matter because we lack the fundamental virtue that brings them all together.
So how can we strive to be a person of integrity?
Having integrity starts with keeping and fulfilling our promises and commitments without fail.
Because integrity is about self, it starts with being proactive and knowing (and internalizing) that our response (in any situation) is always our choice and our responsibility. That means doing the right thing in difficult situations when one may be tempted to take the easier route.
It also means that others’ (negative) actions/behavior should have no bearing on our own, despite the pain we may suffer through their actions. That could mean treating others right even when we are not treated right by them. That is true integrity.
Having integrity for oneself also involves self-leadership. It is about having a vision for one’s own life and working toward it. Unless we are committed to something, we are going to be distracted by everything. Once we have figured out those few things that we value in our lives in terms of our relationships and results, we work toward it through proper self-management, which requires the self-discipline to doing the essential as much of the time as possible whilst keeping everything else to a minimum.
Here are some ways that integrity can manifest itself in our everyday experiences:
Saying what we do and doing what we say. Honesty and integrity go hand-in-hand. Keeping our word (with ourselves and with others) at all costs. We should take as much time as possible before making a commitment. Once we make it, we should do our best to fulfill it. That said, life is difficult and there might be situations where it might be impossible to fulfill the commitment — not because of you, but because of circumstances outside your control. If this is the case, we should think long and hard before breaking it. Even then, we wouldn’t be breaking our commitment but renegotiating it.
When our actions are consistent with our intent, we have integrity. There are situations where we are quick to judge others’ actions without questioning their (positive) intent. But when it comes to us, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt by focusing on/judging our intent instead of our actions. We should extend others the same amount of leeway (in terms of intent and actions) that we are quick to give ourselves.
How a person behaves when one is wrong reveals more about one’s character than anything else. It is about owning up and taking responsibility for one’s actions, such as (particularly) mistakes and failures. In other words, our response matters even more after we have done something wrong.
Integrity is about treating others the way we would like to be treated. How we treat someone who can do us absolutely no good shows our level of integrity. That includes treating others right, especially when they are not treating us right. Examples that come to mind include Gandhi, MLK Jr., Mandela, et al. This goes back to not letting others’ actions affect our own despite the pain we may suffer in the process, all the while knowing that our response is our choice and responsibility. In short, this is proaction.
Practicing loyalty to those who are absent, as observed by Stephen Covey. By defending those who are absent, we build (and retain) the trust of those who are present.
Having self-accountability for one’s actions. We don’t have to be accountable to others for our actions because I believe self-accountability is the highest form of integrity there is. When we are truly accountable to ourselves, our standards are higher than those of others. We set our own benchmarks for action.
Integrity forms the foundation of our personal growth. It is the cornerstone of our character and only dependent on internal factors, not external ones. When you have integrity, people trust you more. You may or may not be liked/loved in the short term, but you know you’ll be respected in the long term, which is far more important. When we have integrity, our other values fall into place. When we don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.