If there is one subject unconditionally relevant with every generation, integrity would be high on that list. But when it does become part of the conversation, frequently it is focused on how others fell short in their pursuit of achieving it. As with many human virtues, critiquing the deficiencies, misunderstandings, or lack in others is a much simpler task than uncovering it within ourselves. But let’s face it, integrity is something we deal with daily.
Merriam-Webster defines integrity as: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility. Throughout our everyday lives, many of us face these kinds of circumstances dozens of times. It’s as though we are in a continual game of “tug of war” waging a battle to become victorious and adhere to our morals and remain incorruptible.
A war of Olympic proportion
For those of you not familiar with this one-time Olympic sport, Tug of War pits two teams against each other. Consisting of up to eight players, each team is at opposing ends of a long rope with a red marker at its midpoint. Once the signal is given to begin the contest, the object is to pull their opponent until the red marker has passed a certain point, indicating the victor.
There are other rules such as not allowing your elbow to go lower than your knee, but it is a basic game of strength and stamina. For added enjoyment, sometimes there was a mud pit in the center causing the losing team to suffer an additional indignity besides losing the war. The sport was banned from the Olympics in 1920 because teams were often accused of cheating – lowering their standards of integrity.
The biggest difference between the actual sport and our own personal contest of Tug of War is that we ourselves, are pulling on both ends in the battle as it were, for our integrity. On one end is the part of us which knows or at least is fairly certain of the right choice and on the other end, typically excuses – searching for justifications why we can overlook our preestablished sense of moral values.
While the former Olympic sport generally took place in front of a crowd, our personal battle occasionally occurs in the shadows, hoping to conceal any signs of malicious or immoral actions.
Social media has provided opportunities for us to watch and criticize others for their lack of integrity while conveniently neglecting our own. Criticizing others is effortless and requires no change on our part. It also ascribes no penalties nor consequences on us for doing so and can lead to a false sense that our level of integrity is far superior to others.
Judging others on their level of integrity is too complex and complicated to examine here, but the one thing I can state is if you are caught in a precarious situation exposing your lack of integrity and your defense is unapologetic and accusing others of doing worse, you have just brazenly confirmed you tugged yourself right through the mud.
By Merriam-Webster’s definition, integrity ought to be easy to measure, especially if we took the one-word explanation, “incorruptibility.” But asking everyone to adopt your definition is where the bickering begins. Forcing our values on others makes as much sense as requiring you adopt theirs. But for some reason, we tend to believe our principles and beliefs are more than sufficient for the rest of the world.
When a conflict occurs, the goal becomes to defend your point of view and find as many faults as possible in your adversary. Rarely is there consideration for an alternate point of view and if someone disagrees, there must be something wrong with their thinking.
The memories which haunt me most are ones where I failed to keep my integrity. But they are also reminders to remain vigilant and not be enticed by some fraudulent gain. If in the future I find myself in a similar situation, I want to stare boldly into its figurative eyes and say, “not this time.”
A major cause for people to discard or neglect integrity is not seeing it in those around them. When so many people seemingly look to “get what’s theirs,” it initiates a foreboding feeling of why should I be the only one to bother?
This is precisely the time to tug hard on your rope. Drag any thoughts of greed or indulgence right through the mud and on to victory. Any person can surrender to temptation. It takes strength to endure and do the right thing.
Minding your own business
One of the most difficult times to maintain integrity is in business. Owners often struggle to keep their doors open and the allure of lowering one’s integrity is nearly impossible to avoid. Difficult questions along with the burden of paying employees can have tremendous influence over what decisions to make. While I am not suggesting anyone abandon integrity, it’s crucial to weigh these situations before they happen so you will be aware of the outcomes of the decisions you choose.
We often face situations where we are not entirely sure what the right thing to do is and consequently, make the wrong choice. In those situations where we have concluded the wrong choice was made, it is in those opportunities we should learn from those mistakes, resolve to do our best to maintain integrity, and if possible, make any needed restitution, confirming our commitment to personal integrity.
The one area in which you will almost always find yourself tugging with integrity is in the defense of others, and especially those who are being treated unfairly and taken advantage of. It is truly astonishing how our integrity is most often revealed when we show kindness, compassion, and love toward others.