“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching”

C.S. Lewis

Integrity is a BIG word and it means different things to different people. We all want and hope we ‘have’ integrity and that when the chips are down we’ll do the right thing i.e. make the right moral judgement based on sound values rather than looking good or saving our own skins.

There is however, another dimension to integrity which is extremely helpful when it comes to living a life you love. Rather than focusing on what you hope you’ll do when things are going pear-shaped, this aspect of integrity focuses on being complete and whole. What this means is recognising that things work best when there’s nothing left incomplete or broken. A simple analogy is a bicycle wheel. If all the spokes are in tact then the bicycle is complete and whole and you can pretty much ride it wherever you want to go. However, if some of the spokes are missing or bent, then the integrity of the wheel is compromised. You can probably still ride the bike, but won’t be able to trust it when you hit a pot hole in the road. The wheel just might buckle and throw you off. The way you ride that bike will be ever so slightly compromised, and you’ll be keeping one eye looking out for obstacles to avoid. Your experience of the ride won’t have the same carefree quality to it as riding the bike you know to be complete and whole. 

A similar analogy can be applied to life. This type of integrity can be applied to virtually anything and it’s interesting to notice that invariably the areas in our lives that don’t work so well probably have some ‘out of integrity’ in them. A particularly thorny area in human endeavour is keeping promises. It’s important to recognise that it’s not a moral judgement we are making here. There is nothing inherently wrong about an ‘out of integrity’ – it’s just that things work better when they are complete and whole. For example, if you’re at work and you promise to get a presentation done by 5pm, but then something crops up and you don’t do it and you don’t tell anyone you’re not going to do it – it will probably cause stress for your boss or your colleagues. You will feel guilty and your colleagues trust in you will be compromised. If, over time, you continue to break your promises, you will be considered as someone who is not that trustworthy and guess what? They’ll probably stop asking you to do things because you can’t be relied on. The impact of this on both your career and your personal standing with colleagues will eventually make working with them difficult. 

‘Being your word’ i.e. keeping promises and agreements is a pretty fundamental part of having a great life. That’s not to say that we can always keep our promises, life happens, things crop up unexpectedly and we can’t always deliver on what we said we ‘d do. Integrity in these situations calls for us to tell people that we won’t be keeping our promise and that we are willing to do what it takes to put the situation right because of that. Acknowledging ahead of time that the promise is going to be broken gives others the opportunity to adjust and not be left in the lurch. There are occasions when breaking the promise will cause major difficulties and we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way because of that without getting defensive! But the key thing is, that people won’t think you’re untrustworthy or unreliable (unless you do it all the time of course!). They know that life happens and they will appreciate you taking responsibility for your word. In a funny way you may even be regarded as more trustworthy!

An interesting exercise is to sit down and make a list of all those things that are ‘out of integrity’ in your life right now. Remember, we are not talking about moral judgement here – we’re just looking at those little niggly things that we know we ought to have done or need to do, those little agreements we have with others but perhaps aren’t keeping (like returning a call or an email) and fixing or throwing out those things that are broken around the house. There can also be bigger issues to look at, like if you’ve lied or cheated someone, or behaved in a way that caused damage or harm. It can feel extremely scary to make the effort to put things right by having a conversation to make amends, to ask for or give forgiveness or to express love where you have been with-holding it, but it’s so worth doing. My clients always get a major breakthrough, where the world starts to look like a completely different and more loving place, when they have the courage to see what promises and agreements they have broken and make the effort to sort them out. 

Bear in mind that it’s almost impossible to have everything in your life ‘in integrity’ – the nature of living is that everything is always growing and developing and things are always going ‘out of integrity’, so just approach this as a fun game to play. It really does make a difference!