In search of integrity

We’ve all failed at upholding our integrity at one time or another — it’s what we do after that counts.

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”

Several years ago, my daughter asked for my advice about whether she should marry a certain young man. I told her I didn’t really know the young man very well since they both lived in South Africa where they worked as missionaries among the poor. I had only talked with him a few times. I told her as much, but gave her one principle with which to decide: “Does he have integrity?”

I defined integrity for her as not making promises he couldn’t keep — being honest. Did he make promises where he followed through? If not, then my answer was “no”. If yes, then the marriage would likely be a success.

It’s easy to talk about integrity, but not so easy to actually carry it out. Acting with integrity can only be seen when there is a cost to it. The example below was shared with me recently.

Use this example to ask yourself the question about your own level of integrity:

You are a high school teen whose parents have given you the use of their car to drive back and forth to school each day. You are strictly told by them to not go anywhere else. But your friends come to you since you have a car and want to go out to lunch. What do you do? You take them to lunch because you want to be popular and look good. These trips go on daily.

One day your parents ask you whether you have been going out to lunch. Do you lie in order to maintain your image of integrity with them, or do you tell them the truth? What would a person of integrity do? It is ironic that we lie to protect our reputation of integrity.

The answer that demonstrates integrity is, of course, to tell the truth and suffer the consequences. Lying demonstrates that your integrity is weak, but you have also maintained a level of trust with your parents, at least for the time being. Is this easy? Of course not! If you were this youth, would you have acted with integrity?

All of us have lied. The problem with lying is that once a person is caught in a lie, the betrayed person now encounters uncertain boundaries. What are the limits of the liar’s morality? If they lied once, how can you know whether they are lying or not? Trust is destroyed in the process. It will be a long and difficult, if not impossible, journey to restore it.

The problem is that all of us have failed the integrity test sometime in our lives. Integrity is keeping your promises and doing the right thing even though nobody might ever know. Integrity informs our decision making in all aspects of our lives.

There are few things that are certain in our lives; one of them is that we have all failed to live up to our stated goals. The sane and honest among us have deep regrets for the decisions we have made that we wish we could go back and change. The problem with life is that there is no reverse gear where we can back up and undo our previous decisions, no matter how much we would like to.

So, what is the solution? First, admit that we are fallible. Be honest and suffer the consequences of our lack of integrity. Become aware of the times when our integrity is being tested and be prepared to tell the truth and to make decisions based on integrity, no matter the consequences.

My daughter benefited from my advice. She and her husband have been happily married since 2008. They now live nearby.

All of us know people who have acted with integrity. Copy their behavior. Work to spend time with such people. If we can see someone we admire, who acts with integrity, it is easier to develop integrity ourselves. Here are some proverbs to memorize to bring to mind in times of moral crisis:

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” – Proverbs 13:20.

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence” – Frederick Douglass.

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

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