Throughout the years I have often thought about what integrity is. I have always admired people with passion and ethics. For me, integrity consists of the core principles of a human being, their very own believe of moral uprightness. Of course, the sense of integrity varies from person to person, but I tried to understand it, digest it from those I believe have it and integrate it in my very action.
I could never say for myself that I am a “good” person, that I always keep my promises or my principles. But I try my best. And I do succeed more often than not.
Yet, I think people are not plainly black and white. They have nuances, shades (Maybe exactly 50 and grey) depending on their state. So, there is also no real definition of “good”, “right” or “moral”. It all comes from our unique view on the world and the situation in which we are in.
But this is how I have been raised – to be honest, give to the ones who need it, to love and be there for the people around me, emotionally, financially and physically. This is what my integrity consists of. And, whenever I am in a situation requiring those things from me – I cannot say no. It is often stronger than my reasoning.
However, when we are thought in our childhood about the basic human principles – not to lie, cheat or steal, no one thought us our principles have costs. Only later in life did we find out the downsides of doing what is “right”. There are costs. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But our integrity never comes without a charge.
And I have experienced my fair share of costs – fights, betrayals, hurt and broken relationships. Along with these consequences I often felt that trying to be “good” and to help is not worth it, it takes to much of me. Too much of my energy, too much of my emotions, too many of my tears. It was never appreciated. I never understood why my “good” is not bringing me such. Maybe this is why people often chose to suppress their principles. To keep them deep inside and not confirm their mistakes. To never regret, never consider their rightfulness.
Remember the last time you did not feel pressured to lie to your boss, as the truth will get you fired? The time you were completely honest with yourself and others about your thoughts and intentions? You kept your promises? You fought for what you believe in? You chose your morality over money?
So, we get into this circle, in which we keep telling ourselves that what we say is a white lie, that we do bad things out of love or to protect ourselves. What irony is this, our integrity, our core believes and what we are made of can build us up and take from us in the same time. The more you protect yourself and astray yourself from your principles the more you lose from your identity.
In this case, what is the meaning of integrity? I guess this answer will differ from individual to individual. But I did find my answer to it.
I found that often we take our virtues as something external – in the manner of how we treat others and what we project to the world. Yet, the truth may be the opposite. Integrity starts with yourself.
Think about it. You say a lie for which no one finds out. Everyone else thinks you are honourable. You however know you are a liar. You will remember it next time you say a lie. Maybe even justify the next ones, you are already a liar anyway and it did not affect anything. But you are lying again – it affected the way you see yourself. How can you trust another human being, when you know you cannot even trust yourself?
Integrity starts with your self-image, with knowing who you are and what you deserve. It starts with fighting for this individual and its believes. Even if there is a price tag on your values.
You should not wait for appreciation, the true benefit is the freedom you fought for – being yourself, with nothing to hide or regret.
Of course, I am not a blind believer that you should always do the “right” thing. We all know it is not that simple. Nor is the “right” thing so evident. I often ask myself is there even such thing as “right” thing.
But in this world full of horrors, integrity is something precious and much needed. So why are we so afraid of the costs that we are willing to forget everything we believe in? Everything we are made of? And can we forgive ourselves for this? Can we live with the people we have become?
I choose not to. And I will keep trying to hold on to my integrity, however the things it takes in return. I naively believe every good action, every good thought will bring some change, whether you realise it or not. I may be lying to myself, but I prefer lying than loosing myself. Because friends, success and money come and go, but you will have to live with yourself at the end.
So, try keeping your integrity, fight for your believes, no matter the costs, because as Lao Tzu beautifully puts it “If you want to awaken all of humanity, awaken all of yourself.”.
I leave you with the question – are you willing to do the same?