What it Means to Have Integrity

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Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. — Oprah Winfrey

Do you have integrity? Doing the right thing is not always easy. Harry Potter fans know “integrity” by another quote:

Sometimes we must choose between what is right and what is easy. — Albus Dumbledore

It’s easy to ignore someone in need on a street corner. It’s easy to lie about a mistake we made at work, or try to lay the blame on someone else. And it’s easy to save our own skins instead of trying to save others, despite the cost.

But what’s easy isn’t always what’s right.

I think extreme integrity is rare. When I say “extreme integrity” I mean people like Christian martyrs, both ancient and modern, who stand firm in their faith even in the face of a terrorist about to kill them.

Integrity is hard.

But choosing what’s right is more important than skating through life, choosing what’s easy.

The Dictionary Definition

A quick Google search brings up this definition: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”

A surprising thing about the word “morals” is that its use has been declining since the year 1800.

I’ve heard (and to me, it makes sense) that morals have a Christian root. Before the Scriptural and Biblical teachings, the ideas of doing what’s right, being chivalrous and honest—those were seen as weakness.

And if I think about it, even today it feels against our human nature to take responsibility for mistakes, to stand up for the oppressed, and give away our time and money.

What are your principles? I wrote about mine in a three-part series, starting with part one. What are your values? What things do you consider deal-breakers, whether in a relationship (romantic or otherwise), a job, or anything else?

Integrity is sticking to those principles, values, and not compromising on the deal-breakers.

We All Have 5 Different “Personalities”

Have you ever heard that? I saw it on Tumblr years ago, which means it must be true. 😉

But think about it… We act differently around different people. How we act subtly changes based on who we’re with:

  • Ourselves
  • Spouse/partner
  • Families
  • Friends
  • Work (or school)

Who I am by myself is slightly different from who I am around my husband, my family, my friends, and my coworkers. Most of it overlaps, but I don’t talk about politics or religion at work. I don’t discuss family stuff with coworkers or some friends. Heck, I kept this blog on the DL for a year and a half from my (amazing, supportive) boss.

Integrity means shrinking the differences between these personalities into one cohesive person. Who I am with myself should be the same person I am at work. Does this always happen? No.

When You’re Alone

A good indicator of your integrity is how you act when you’re alone. Do you stop for all the traffic signals and signs? Or do you do the California rolling stop if there’s no one (especially a cop) around?

What about when pursuing your goals? Do you do the things you need to do, even when you don’t feel like doing them? That’s not just discipline, it’s also integrity.

Doing what you say you’ll do, even when others aren’t looking, shows that you’re taking it seriously.

When You’re With Others

Do you stand up for what’s right, or do you follow the crowd? Social conformity is a powerful force, but it’s not always right. If “everyone” in your company is fudging their expense reports, does that mean you should too? No!

A lack of integrity is one thread of many that ended Enron.

And if you want a more fictional example, in Harry Potter, Peter Pettigrew’s utter lack of integrity helped him betray his friends for promises of power.

Do you avoid confrontation and arguments with friends because you don’t want to upset them or lose their friendships?

What if their values have drifted so far from yours that you’re wondering if you should even stay friends with them? What then?

What Integrity Means to Me

To me, integrity means that…

  • I am conscious of the differences in how I act with different people, and try to close those gaps.
  • I’m honest with my accountability partner about what worked or didn’t work over the past week.
  • When I see injustice that I can address, I address it.
  • I choose the right path instead of the easy path.
  • I won’t bullshit myself about my goals, reasons, beliefs, values, or principles.
  • My spiritual and personal needs are more important than what other people think of me.
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What Does Integrity Mean to You?

Is it “wholeness of character” or an “unwavering moral compass”? Can you look deep inside yourself and see integrity there? If not, what do you need to change about yourself to get there?

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