When I hear the word integrity, I simultaneously think honesty. And it’s true, honesty and integrity are Donnie and Marie of nouns. But like so many things in life, there is more than one definition of integrity and that expanded understanding of the word has important ramifications. According to our ‘ol friend Merriam Webster, integrity is the quality of being honest and fair, AND the state of being complete or whole.
Did that just blow your mind?
Being complete and whole is part of the definition of Integrity, too.
You are barraged with media, news, commentary and probably colleagues who complain about the lack of integrity or honesty in today’s world. And certainly that does hold true. There are some pretty crappy people out there. Or rather people who behave in a crappy way. I’ve experienced it first hand. And to be totally honest (since it’s a post about Integrity) I’ve been the person who has behaved badly before.
Do I think of myself as a dishonest or crappy person?
Of course not!
People make mistakes. People get scared. People act in self-interest out of fear. People put on masks to hide behind that can sometimes lead them to behave badly. I think people in general are pretty good. But we all slip, stumble and sometimes fall. It’s the choice to acknowledge when we’ve been crappy, to strive to right those wrongs and to move forward in integrity that matter.
So what then are the tenants of integrity that I can practice every day to make sure that I have integrity all the time in a crazy world?
If part of the definition of the word is wholeness or being complete, the first step to integrity is really yourself. Like all of life, it’s your inner game that is going to determine your outer game. When you feel complete, when you practice ways to increase your feelings of wholeness, you are less likely to act crappy. Because think about it. What are the top reasons people (YOU!) act crappy?
Jealousy. (The fear that others are better than you, which could only be true if you were incomplete. Otherwise, what you have to offer is awesome and enough)
Greed. (The fear that you don’t have enough and must act in a way that gets you more at the expense of others, because you aren’t enough so you can’t have enough)
Revenge. (The fear that you were badly treated and must act as God to judge others, find them wanting and enact their punishment. The fear that you won’t be enough until you dish out the punishment that you in your omnipotence must bring about to another).
If you cultivate a healthy love and appreciation for yourself, you look ever outward to help others. Which means you’re looking out for others. Which means your inner game is probably pretty whole because you got enough going on with you to be of use to others out of love, not fear. You have to always be working on your inner game, to understand your wholeness, in order to have real integrity. Sounds crazy but it’s true. When you feel like you’re enough, you’ll always feel like you HAVE enough, and that keeps you honest. If you have enough and are enough, you’re a lot less likely to act out of jealousy, greed or revenge. And that means you’ll be honest.
Inner game is the key to integrity.
This goes along with your cultivation of self, but here’s the truth. You want to believe that because you’re a good person, good things are always going to happen to you. That’s just not true. Even the fairy tales with the “happily ever after” endings teach us that as children. Cinderella was beautiful, sweet and married a prince. Did she have integrity. Absolutely. Did she ever have bad stuff happen to her even though she was a good person? Absolutely.
Try a dead mother, then a crappy (jealous!) step-mom and step-sisters, a life of doing chores after her father dies (now a young orphan) and even after she gets to go to the ball, still set-backs from jealous family. Dress destroyed, locked in a tower, you name it – bad crap happened to this Disney princess. But because she cultivate her inner game, she was able to act with honesty. Not because it was easy, but because she was enough and therefore had courage.
Want a non-Disney example? Okay, how about Nelson Mandala. I think most people would argue this guy is a pretty good dude. Understatement of the year, I know. But he’s a good guy, fighting for a good cause and the advancement of equality. Things should go well for him right? I mean, first black President of South Africa in 1994, started a foundation for peace and equality, good things happened to him. Sure, right after those short 27 years in prison (shortened from a life sentence) as a convicted terrorist and conspirator to overthrow the government. Ironic for a man that in 1993 would win the Nobel Peace Prize, serve as President and be showered with accolades after his release from prison.
Life is never black and white. Just because you’re the “good guy” doesn’t mean you’re going to have life throw peaches and cream your way every day. So what to do? Throw your hands up and your integrity away, because hey, only the liars, cheats and dishonest people rule the world, right? The only way to get ahead is to be a schmuck, right?
It might seem that way, but… it isn’t true. Cultivate yourself and you’ll have the courage to temper the storms of adversity without becoming a schmuck. Honestly always wins. Maybe not in the short-term, but it does in the long run game of life. And you’re playing this game of life to win, right? So be honest. It matters.
A lot of people might disagree with what I’m about to say here, but I’m saying it anyway. It’s okay to have crappy thoughts. I mean, you should strive to clean them up. But a guilt trip over the occasional thought of revenge, jealousy or greed is not such a bad thing. It’s honest. I’d be dishonest if I told you I’d never had thoughts of running into an old boyfriend who hurt me looking fabulous and happy. Or getting some kind of power-play revenge over an old colleague or boss that was a jerk to me. Or thought that some writer who got the gig over me, or co-worker who got the promotion instead of me wasn’t unqualified and unfair. We all have those thoughts and feelings.
The important part is the action.
The action of recognizing when we’re getting into the mud in our thoughts and letting them go. The importance of acting out of wholeness and integrity. That’s what is important.
I don’t think you need to banish every crappy thought from your mind. Mainly because I don’t think that’s possible. But it’s your actions that count. Take the action of building up your wholeness, and acting in little moments out of the courage of integrity, and that will build up a stronger and stronger connection to integrity that will guide your bigger actions.
“It’s not really what we think that makes us honorable, it’s how we act in spite of our thoughts.”
It’s human to err, right? But try to make your actions better than your thoughts. That goes for good things, too. It’s great to THINK about doing something nice for a friend, but it’s a lot better to actually DO something nice for a friend. Thinking about calling your mom isn’t the same as teh action of picking up the phone. Thinking of speaking out on a friend’s behalf isn’t the same as actually SPEAKING up. DO the things that back up a whole life, a whole person and a person of integrity.
It’s the doing that matters.
And when you work on step number one, I guarantee you that two and three will follow suit. You can’t feel whole and good about yourself and act crappy. You just can’t. I don’t care who you think you see that does, or who you think you are that you can live this double life, but it’s not so. You feel good about you, you act good towards others.
That’s the truth.