Three Ideas for Living a Life of Integrity

Colin Roy

I recently had a pretty tough week that consisted of two experiences that shook me to the core. Although one of these experiences was personal while the other was professional, there were some similar elements among the two – both left me questioning the light in which others see me.

Ok, I’ll admit it: I like to be liked. However, it’s much more than that – what I really want is to be respected. The question I then ask myself is, Can I always ensure I will be respected? The answer to this is simply, “No.” What I learned during that difficult week is that I only have some control over whether others respect me. What I do have more control over is whether I behave in ways that promote respect.

We tend to view ourselves as good and ethical people, particularly when we identify as professional helpers. Indeed, I am someone who has done a lot of thinking about my values over the past several years, and I genuinely see myself as a good person. But what does it really mean to be a good person? When I ask myself this question, a word that comes to mind is integrity.

Integrity can be defined in many ways. Google “integrity,” and you will see words or phrases such as “honesty,” “strong moral principles,” “decency,” “sincerity,” and “trustworthiness.” Although these are all good things, I think we need to go deeper than that. In a blog post by So-Young Kang, CEO of an organization called Gnowbe, she expands on a dictionary definition of Integrity that describes it as the “’concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions.’”

Based on this definition, here are some tips to guide us in our quest for living a life of integrity:

Live with consistency of character.This means living with an inner sense of wholeness, balance, and stability. When we live consistently, others know what to expect from us in a variety of situations because we are the same person in all situations of our lives. I was relieved to read that this concept is extremely difficult to live out 100% of the time. I truly believe that those who know me would tend to describe me pretty consistently. However, just like anyone else, there are different “parts” of me. For example, I can talk about certain things with family members or friends differently than I would with others, as they may not necessarily understand my context or know my back story. Although I am not always mindful of every single thing that I do or say, I do try to be consistent in that regard, and a large part of living with a consistency of character means living mindfully and intentionally.

Because we are not always reflective enough before we act, the lesson here is to slow down – reflect on your intentions as well as potential perceptions before you act. Be sure to not react too quickly or emotionally.

Be honest. This one’s easy (or so I thought). I like to think of myself as the epitome of honest and direct. I’m kind of known as that person who will always let you know how she really feels, and I do think this is a strength of mine. I tend to find a good balance between confronting issues while remaining diplomatic and kind. This quality actually leads me to become quite frustrated when I don’t experience the same candor from others.

I have worked in a professional capacity with many folks who don’t seem to know how to raise important issues with others, and it’s often at the expense of a healthy work environment. I have been devastated when others have gone “over my head” to share concerns with someone else rather than approach me directly. I have worked in settings where leaders blatantly lie because they find confronting issues directly too difficult. Like I said, I don’t think of myself as having any trouble at all being honest, but in order to do so we need to go back to mindfulness, purposefulness, and intentionality.

Honesty requires intentionality and thought. Recently, I didn’t put enough thought into something I did in a professional capacity. I just went about my business without considering the optics around the situation. I acted without mindfully taking a step back and thinking about how others would perceive my actions. When I realized what had happened, I was mortified because I am an honest and ethical person. We need to be purposeful – to think about and anticipate the implications of our actions.

Admit when you’ve made a mistake and move on. This point appears to duplicate the last one, but admitting mistakes is not purely about honesty – it’s also about humility. I like to be right and good and to know that I’m an exemplary person, so humbling myself and admitting when I’m wrong can be difficult. At times, this has even caused me to ask myself, Can I still be a person of integrity? The answer is “Yes,” because I’ve recognized the mistake, owned it, and moved on. I realize that it’s easier to recognize and own a mistake than it is to move on, but it’s an ongoing process that takes practice and patience.

However, I am thankful that I understand the concept of secure attachment. You may be surprised that I’m bringing this concept up, but what we often need to move on from mistakes is to feel known, seen, and understood. We need to know that there are people out there who believe in our goodness and our worth and will support us no matter what. When we are exposed to attachment figures (in childhood and adulthood) who trust us and who are trustworthy, they are there to help us stand back up when we fall.

Act with inner wholeness, be honest, and let yourself make mistakes. When you do these things, seek out your people and keep going.

Watch your thoughts;

They become your words.

Watch your words;

They become your actions.

Watch your actions;

They become your habits.

Watch your habits;

They become your character.

Watch your character;

It becomes your destiny.

Poem by Frank Outlaw

Tricia Klassen, MSW, RSW
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.

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References
So-Young Kang. (2016, August 1). The True Meaning of Integrity [Web log post].