If you lived in an arid land, imagine your disappointment when the dark clouds you saw and howling wind your felt brought no rain. Is the disappointment no less when the people in our lives fail to live up to their promises? That's why it is written in the Book of Proverbs, "People who promise things they never give are like clouds and wind that bring no rain." (Prov. 25:14) This lesson in the Book of Proverbs deals with INTEGRITY. When what people think, say, promise, and do all coincide, they have integrity. They have unshakable character. They have our trust and respect. They also have a good reputation because they are reliable and responsible.
A building without integrity may receive structural damage, or even collapse, in a storm. Similarly, people without integrity are blown about by the winds of misfortune and destroyed by catastrophes, for they lack the firmness, solidity, and strength of character to weather any storm. Dr. William Menninger (1899 ~ 1966) called integrity one of the six essential qualities that are the key to success. (The other five are sincerity, humility, courtesy, wisdom, and charity.)
Integrity is about principle centered living. It is about doing what is right rather than what is expedient. We have integrity when we are the good person we appear to be. For this reason Socrates (469 ~ 399 BC) taught, "The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be." And Socrates was an exemplary example of integrity, for he placed his life at risk by refusing to carry out orders that were immoral. Finally, when he was accused of "impiety," he was sentenced to die; however, as was the custom at the time, he was given a chance to make a counterproposal. He suggested his death sentence be replaced with a fine of thirty mina (3,000 drachmas), but insisted he lived an honorable life and was an excellent role model. His 'lack of repentance' infuriated the court, which then condemned him to death. While waiting in prison, before given the poisonous hemlock to drink, friends visited him and planned an escape. But Socrates refused to flee, explaining that although the charges against him were unjust and bogus, they were made by a legitimate court and must therefore be obeyed.
To remove any doubt of what it means to live with integrity, let me cite two more examples. After the U.S. Civil War, General Robert E. Lee (1807 ~ 1870) was offered $10,000 a year to become President, in name only, of an insurance company. He declined the offer with these words, "Excuse me, sir; I cannot consent to receive pay for services I do not render."
Here's the second example I promised. Bobby (Robert Tyre) Jones (1902 ~ 1971) was a lawyer and amateur golfer. He was also the first to achieve the Grand Slam - winning in a single year the four major tournaments.
From 1923 through 1930 he won 13 championships in those four annual tournaments. His record was unmatched until 1973, when it was finally broken by Jack Nicklaus. The above attests to his athletic skills; now let's move on to a testament of his integrity. In a national championship, he drove his ball into the woods, and accidentally nudged it. Although no one saw him move the ball, he penalized himself one stroke, which caused him to lose the game by that margin. When praised for his integrity, he said, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."
Now that we have some examples of integrity in action, it's time for an example of what integrity is not. Lance has much to like about him. He's energetic, curious about life, and an avid reader. But others think he is obnoxious. You see, although he's interested in self-improvement, his focus is on OTHERS improving themselves. He loves to be 'brutally honest', with the emphasis on brutality and the neglect of honesty. He doesn't hesitate to tell others any of the following: "You're too fat and need to lose weight!" "I have never heard of such a stupid idea; you're completely wrong!" "Sick? You're not sick; it's all in your mind!"
When asked why he is so hurtful to others, Lance simply replies, "I can't help it. I'm honest and say whatever is on my mind. If others can't handle the truth, it's their problem, not mine." Integrity is noble, Lance's behaviour is not. Integrity springs from the desire to do what is RIGHT. Lance's conduct is an attempt to prop up his falling self-esteem. Unable to think of something good to say about himself, he points out the 'weaknesses' of others with the hope it proves he is superior. Integrity inspires others; Lance's actions demean others. Integrity is about honesty. Lance is not honest because he lies when he says, "I can't help it." Of course he can help it, but he chooses not to change because bolstering his ego is more important to him than freeing others from the pain he inflicts.
When we commit to integrity we empower and free ourselves. Unencumbered by the fear of ridicule and rejection by others, we do what we believe is right. The rewards for doing so are many and include a growth in self-confidence and courage. The exhilaration of doing the right thing is like experiencing the joy of reaching the other shore by victoriously swimming against the current. Don't be afraid to be different. How can we be ourselves unless we are unlike others?
Tasks become duties to those who embrace integrity. At the workplace, they don't 'put in time,' but cheerfully carry out their responsibilities; they don't engage in destructive gossip, but build confidence, teamwork, and morale; they don't abuse their privileges, but respect their employer's property and reputation.
Integrity is the cornerstone of every marriage. The honesty and respect both partners bring to the relationship builds trust, confidence, and love. And when children arrive, they act as role models, displaying how their thoughts, words, and actions remain consistent. And because they keep their promises, their children lack the resentment found in many other homes.
Integrity should also be the centerpiece in our circle of friends. For example, consider the words of St. Francis of Assisi (1181 ~ 1226), "Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face."
"The Paradoxical Commandments" that I am ending this article with were written by Kent Keith in 1968, when he was 19 and a sophomore at Harvard. They were part of his first booklet for high school student leaders. Although just 30,000 copies of the student leadership booklet were published, his "Paradoxical Commandments" spread widely, endearing themselves to many. In fact, they were found hanging on the wall of Mother Teresa's room. There is no better way to lead a life of integrity than by following Kent Keith's Paradoxical Commandments:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.