About integrity

integrity shake hands This page is about integrity, we often use the word integrity to judge the character and behavior of someone. The word integrity is derived from the Latin word "integritas" and can be translated as wholeness, honesty but also decency. I wrote some articles in Dutch about this subject, but I had to rewrite a lot because in English there is no adjective form of the word integrity and in Dutch there is. People of integrity generally have the characteristic that they "do what they say" and "say what they do" and they act in accordance with their principles even in difficult circumstances even under pressure. They show consistent behavior. A person of integrity is being consistent at different times and in different situations and most of the times they show honesty, openness, sincerity, loyalty, dedication and harmony. Regards, Hein Pragt

Integrity is staying true to yourself

In this age where self-interest and self-enrichment is so common, is there still room for something as old-fashioned as integrity? In the years after world war II in the last century, integrity was something that was self-evident. Is was common to be a honest and decent person and the social control and dependence of individuals on the group, often including the church community, was very strong. The punishment for not being honest and decent was the social exclusion and the loss of social safety. With the increase in prosperity, increasing individualism and the social security, people were not so depending on the group and also the social control faded and it became much easier to be a little less honest and decent.

Nevertheless, integrity is indispensable in this society, sometimes there is a whistleblower who dares to announce abuses with the risk of losing a lot, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Som people even believe that being honest is equal to being naive and stupid. They say the world is tough place and you have to be just as tough to survive and principles and values are for stupid, naive and poor people. I recently heard a comment from a twenty-year-old boy who said: "why would I do a whole week of hard work if I can earn the same in two days dealing drugs?" And I could also understand his position, why live with integrity, honesty and decency if the alternative is much more attractive without too much risk?

But people who do not have inner values often attach great importance to externalities and their status in order to feel good about themselves. Unfortunately, they won't develop their inner self-esteem and achieve personal growth. Self-respect and a clear conscience are the pillars of your integrity and form the basis for our relationships with others. Integrity means that you act because it's the right to act and not because that is "popular", "politically correct" or for your own benefit. A life in which you stick to your principles and you can resist the temptations of easy ethics will ultimately prove to be the most valuable.

Personal integrity

personal integrity

The main reason that many people consider integrity to be important is that we have all have an interest in the reliability of others, in general or in specific roles. In a society like ours we usually deal with people in certain roles. So we only pay attention to a limited part of their behavior. We don't care if a shopkeeper cheats on his wife, as long as he doesn't cheat on us during his work. We want to be sure that we can trust someone in a certain role. Civil servants depend a lot on integrity. If a garage sells a bad car, you can reclaim the injustice through a trade association, the consumer association or court. Citizens are often dependent on civil servants for all kinds of facilities and services. If someone is treated badly at the Tax Authorities he does not have that many options, he cannot go to a competitor for better service. We therefore place higher demands on the integrity of civil servants than on retailers.

Personal integrity as a way of life, is a conscious choice that you can make to organize your own life. It is not an easy choice but it is a choice that can give your life stability. If you want to be honest, you realize that you have obligations towards yourself and others. You could say that you're determined to not do bad things because you are not that kind of person. Someone who is honest realizes that there are values that play a central role in life that you cherish and identify yourself by. Personal integrity has to do with standing up for your beliefs, without imposing this on other people, you believe you can convince others by being a good example.

Personal integrity is also strongly connected with self-respect, courage, faith, loyalty, steadfastness, honor and pride. For some people (who are usually not so of integrity) integrity is equivalent to being naive, but to protect you against all kinds of pitfalls that can endanger your integrity, a realistic view of your environment and the world is necessary.

Integrity means:

  • Do what you say and say what you do;
  • Stick to principles and beliefs, even under pressure;
  • Act consistently according to your own values;
  • Keep yourself to your agreements even under pressure;
  • Trust yourself and others until proven othewise;
  • You are not bribable or deviate from your principles for your own benefid;
  • Speak freely and express your opinion when necessary and possible;
  • Have a sense of healthy self-esteem. (This is something else then narcissism or self-interest)

Personal note: In our society where in my opinion hedonism (the trend that takes pleasure as the highest principle) is celebrating, a tide of integrity would be very welcome in my opinion. Fortunately a lot of companies become aware of the importance of integrity of their employees and the company as a whole and this is often clearly propagated.

Why is integrity so important?

Why is integrity so important to me and to many organizations. The original meaning of the word integrity is something like: complete, perfect, undamaged and intact. Integrity can therefore be seen as wholeness, being undamaged or not being hurt. Acting with integrity is therefore "in what I say and do I want to remain whole in relation to others". In other words, being open, honest, acting with strong believes, without prejudice or condemnation, not having wrong intentions, not wanting to offend, not lying, not cheating or bribing. You can learn what integrity is but to really acting with integrity says something about your basic attitude and your own inner deepest convictions. Integrity is important in all aspects of life, whether it's about work, dealing with friends, associations or in love.

The current media unfortunately often teaches us something else. If one should believe the soap series that many people regard as a reflection of our current society, then cunning and deception and the law of the strongest is common practice. Integrity seems to be for the wimps and ethical behavior is certainly not "cool." Non-ethical behavior is interesting and attracts viewers ratings, sometimes I get tempted to watch a program like "big brother" or "the golden cage" only to feel substitutionary shame and disgust. If this is the shining example for our youth, I don't have much faith in the future of mankind.

Unfortunately, our politicians, artists and other people who are in the public view also give many bad examples. Bringing each other down, fooling around, lying, cheating, offending each other seems to be the way up for many successful celebrities. When these people get away with it or even gain success with this, they unfortunately set a bad example for the youth. Politicians who are relaxed about their prostitute visits, civil servants who get bribes from contractors, mayors who don't keep their private lives and jobs apart, civil servants who leak information to get their way or misuse their office to get away with something, these are all cases of integrity violations. The big danger is that when it happens so often that people will see this as common practice and an excuse for their own misbehavior.

Concepts such as integrity and decent values are becoming increasingly important, certainly in big companies and politics. But unfortunately many politicians approach it the wrong way. Many discussions are just shows for their own benefits. Being more strict, compensate injustice with other injustice, compensate evil with other evil, enforce respect, spy on each other (camera surveillance), force the other's opinion with a hard hand or accusing everybody that disagrees as liars or fake news, is not an expressions of integrity and certainly not a solution to our current problems.

Then how can we solve these problems? I think by teaching integrity and respect, by setting a good example also in leadership style, by honest and clear laws and rules, fair control and enforcement, punishments that are appropriate to the offense, guidance and especially rewarding good and honest behavior. I think that well-known people, politicians and the media should play an important exemplary role here and I think that our attention should also be focused on giving a good example for everyone, especially our children.

A short story: throw the Bums Out!

By Loa Stewart Bridgeport, California, USA

It's a small gas station that has snacks, things to drink, cigarettes, and candy. The young man behind the counter wears boots, and a baggy t-shirt under his vest. He's quick with a joke, knows his customers by name and what they normally want to buy. He treats children and adults with equal respect, but once decked a guy for slugging his wife right there in the store. He's the kind of guy who will take a day off without pay in order to appear as a witness to a traffic accident. He reads science fiction or mysteries behind the counter when business is slow. And he's my son.

One day, less than a week after the place had been broken into overnight, the store was suddenly invaded by three people grabbing food off the shelves as fast as they could, obviously not intending to pay for it. He hit the "panic button" and then went over the counter and locked the front door. It was obvious they were homeless, and equally obvious that they weren't going anywhere with their ill-gotten gains. They dropped the loot and simply huddled together, knowing the police were on the way. Imagine what they must have felt like when, instead of being cussed out or told they were headed for jail, they were told they didn't have to steal if they were that hungry. "We have food in the back, expired but still safe to eat, that we plan on giving to a homeless shelter. If you need food, you can have some."

They were told to pick up what they had dropped and put it back, then asked to straighten out the mess they'd made of the store. They were doing just that when the police arrived. The officers were told the situation was under control and the police were no longer necessary. This wasn't what they had expected. They were being treated as human beings who had screwed up but could right the wrong they'd done. Shocked, because they knew that the homeless were never welcome to use "public restrooms" in private businesses, they quickly followed orders to take turns and use the restroom to clean up.

Soon three cleaner people, standing just a bit taller than before when they came in, walked out with all the food their arms could hold. They were reminded that, if they needed to come back again, they were to ask and not just grab. And then the young man went back to reading until the next customer came in. He would be the last person in the world to claim he was a hero. But that day, when it would have been so much easier just to hand three "bums" over to the cops and be done with it, he gave three people something they were in desperate need of, a small amount of selfrespect and a little bit of hope.

Last update: 20-08-2021

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