Which quality do you think is the most important to bring to a relationship – any relationship. Is it love? Sincerity? Perhaps, if you have a teenager, it’s patience?
For years, I felt that it was honesty. I thought that if I were completely open and honest in my interactions with people, they would sense that honesty and learn to trust me, which would, in turn, lead them to be completely open and honest with me.
My friend convinced me at some point that it was respect, because if you respect someone, you will not only be honest with them, but you will bring other things such as patience and sincerity to your interactions with them. After all, you don’t lie to someone you respect.
A while ago, though, I came across a quote by Steven Covey, author of several motivational books in the business realm – most famously, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – that made me revisit this question:
“Honesty is conforming our words to reality.
Integrity is conforming reality to our words.”
Interesting. Before discovering that quote, I considered honesty and integrity to be almost synonymous – slightly different, yet somehow the same. But Covey’s quote made me think that honesty may in fact be equal to, if not umbrellad by, integrity. After all, his perspective suggests that integrity goes one step further than saying what is true: it means doing what you say – walking the talk.
So, what is integrity? I explored the dictionaries, and I found one of Merriam Webster’s definitions to be the most compelling: the quality or state of being complete or undivided. Etymologically, integrity stems ultimately from integer, which comes from “in-tangere,” or “untouched,” and literally means “whole or complete,” or figuratively means, “untainted or upright.”
All of this suggests a wholeness that includes all of the positive character attributes, including not only honesty and respect, but also non-judgement, patience, compassion, kindness, sincerity, and love.
And what does it mean to act with integrity? How does one live a life of integrity?
Have you ever seen a teenager with his pants halfway down his legs, someone of a different race, or perhaps someone begging on the street, and felt prejudices or pre-conceived notions creep in?
Or claimed to be a patient person and then gotten all worked up when someone takes too long to make a left turn at a light?
Or perhaps asked someone how they’re doing, but then not taking the time to look them in the eye and hear their response?
Now, these acts of judgement, impatience, and insincerity are not a regular part of my life, and I am always striving to eliminate them, but they pay unexpected visits once in a while. To me. To you. To all of us. Despite our best intentions.
These are all times when I’ve felt that I haven’t acted with the integrity that I wanted to. Of course, there is no real measure of these things – no honesty-ometer or kindness-ometer – to let me know when I’ve gotten it right. The people who are closest to me are able to give me a sense of where I’m at and where I need to improve, but the ultimate measure of this completeness comes from within. I know when I’m not acting with integrity. I can feel it.
But I try not to be too hard on myself when this happens: I try to simply acknowledge it, accept my misstep as a personal lesson – a reminder – about who I am and who I want to be, and then move on with the intention of getting it right the next time.