My Favorite Word: Integrity

Integrity: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

That is the literal definition of the word. A man of integrity is honest with himself and others. So what does that mean exactly? A man of integrity does what he says he is going to do. If he says he will meet you at 7pm, then he will make a concerted effort to keep that promise to you. If he is five minutes late despite his effort, does that mean he is no longer a man of integrity? No, I wouldn’t go that far, but it is certainly a broken promise and a breach of the mans integrity.

I use this example to show that we breach our integrity on a regular basis. Any time you said you were going to do something, and didn’t, you have broken a promise either to yourself or others. There are varying degrees of an integrity breach, of course, but that statement holds true regardless: any time you say you are going to do something, then don’t do it, you are compromising your integrity.

You say:
“I’m going to the gym at 9am tomorrow.”
You do:
Go to the gym at 10:30am.
A small breach of integrity

You say:
“I’m going to clean the bathroom tomorrow.”
You do:
Clean the bathroom two weeks later.
A small breach of integrity

You say:
“I am going to eat healthy.”
You do:
“Order pizza, burgers, and fried chicken wings with chocolate ice cream.”
Still a small breach of integrity, but it’s starting to add up…

You say:
“I am going to be faithful to my wife.”
You do:
Have an affair after a drunken night at the bar.
Breach of integrity

You say:
“I will not raise taxes.”
You do:
Raise taxes
Significant breach of integrity

You say at your wedding:
“I will love you and be with you till death do us part.”
You do:
Leave her for a younger woman after she is wheelchair bound
Significant breach of integrity

The more often we allow ourselves to be in breach of our integrity, the easier it becomes. The reason I used a variety of examples of integrity breaches is to illustrate how often, even in very small ways, you break your word to yourself and to others.

Being a man of integrity doesn’t mean that you will never break your word. What’s important is how much it matters to you when you do? If you break your word regularly, it becomes easy to continue to do so in all domains of your life. What if integrity was a central part of how you view even the most miniscule decisions in your life? What if you always did what you said you were going to do? How would your life be different?

Integrity is my favorite word in the dictionary. I certainly am not claiming I don’t breach my own integrity, I know I do it too. It matters to me. I make it a habit to NEVER be late, but on the rare occasion it happens. When it does, I stand responsible for it no matter what the circumstances. If I said I was going to meet someone at 7pm but a car accident had me there 15 minutes late, while that’s a legitimate excuse, the fact remains that I didn’t show up when I said I would.

I’m sure most all of us could easily forgive someone for being late due to a car accident, but that’s not really the point. If being there at 7pm was the most important thing in the world to me, an event that was very meaningful for me, could I have made it on time? Yes. Of course. I’m not suggesting that you should plan to be two hours early to meetings, but the point is, if I wanted to make sure I kept my word and was on time, I could have left the house earlier to account for traffic.

If I’m supposed to meet someone at 5pm I typically plan to arrive at 4:47pm! I’d rather be early and keep my word than be there at 5:04pm and break it.

Many might see it as mostly insignificant whether you get there at 4:58pm or 5:02pm and sure, it’s really not that big a deal, but when I practice keeping my word in every domain of my life, it’s much easier to both sleep at night, and also keep my word on more important things. For example, if someone asks me, “Hey, you paid me that $20k I loaned you right? I’m pretty sure you did.” If I knew that I hadn’t paid him, I have a choice to breach my integrity and say, “Yup all paid,” or do what I believe to be right and honor my debt and say, “Actually no I haven’t, but I will get it to you tomorrow by 5pm.” Then, of course, if I’m keeping my word, the debt would be paid ON TIME. If integrity didn’t matter to me, then telling the truth would be foolish and cost me a free $20,000!

The more we breach our integrity, the less we care about all of the broken promises we made to others and to ourselves. As I said, it becomes much easier. Your word is already pretty worthless, so what’s one more lie to add to the pile?

So what are the prices you pay? There are prices. If you continually show up an hour late to meet friends, will they respect you and your word? If you keep saying you are going to go to the gym and get fit, but never do, can you even respect yourself? The more you lie to others and to yourself, the more difficult it becomes to look in the mirror and love what you see.

The good news is, you can always start fresh. If you spent the last 20 years being the type of person others can’t count on, you can change that immediately. You can start with small wins and work up from there. While every time you break your word it damages your character, the opposite is true as well. Every time you keep your word, it builds character and as far as I’m concerned is one of the most important aspects to living a life of joy.

“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
Bob Marley

 
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