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Integrity is more than honesty

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

Businesses and governments like to claim they have it. Politicians often say their opponents don’t have it. Individuals, for the most part, aspire to it. Integrity.

Many voices today passionately decry the lack of integrity in all arenas of life. Religious fundamentalists and terrorists are certain their opponents have abandoned integrity and are engaged in corrupt practices. We need to be concerned about that deficiency in our families, our churches, our schools, our nation. Just as our bodies need water, so our souls need integrity. As a society, we are in a desert of deceit, and we need the oasis of honesty and courageous action.

We can easily list specific examples of the lack of integrity. Reports of politicians and their aides making shady deals and being unfaithful to their spouses are rampant. Persons hired to care for our children, at home or at day care centers abuse the little ones. Wall Street fund managers manipulate the investments of their clients. Commercials and telemarketers tempt us with products and prizes they can’t deliver. Athletes take performance enhancing drugs. College students (at least 70 percent) admit they cheat on exams. May I add the 'reality' television shows which applaud devious behavior?

We crave integrity, which also means integration, wholeness
We must love each other, trust each other and have a generosity of spirit. All these qualities come together if we are persons of integrity.

What is integrity? One of the leading voices calling for integrity is a Yale law professor, Stephen L. Carter, African-American and an active Episcopalian. His first best-seller was The Culture of Disbelief. He has written another book (integrity) [1996] which I highly recommend. For him, integrity is more than honesty, which many of us equate with integrity.

Integrity has three components
First, Carter says we must have the ability to discern what is right and wrong. Doesn’t everyone know right from wrong? Don’t assume that today. Gangs and television, rather than parents and schools, are the primary value trainers, some argue. One might add that many children of the world, in nations having extreme hunger or genocide, are so busy just surviving that discerning right and wrong in what we consider traditional circumstances isn’t possible. Granted, that could be debated by some who do research of the brain who argue humans are ‘hard wired’ for good. For now, let’s just assume most of us have learned right and wrong.

Then, for Carter, once you can discern right from wrong, you will act upon it, even when it may have a high cost personally. We should be able to understand that, from stories we read and see on ‘whistleblowers’ in the federal government and business. Despite legislation designed to protect such individuals, what I read suggests whistleblowers still pay a heavy personal and professional price.

Carter says that the third mark of integrity is that one acts openly and is willing to explain to others why he/she acted the way he or she did. A person of integrity will have no embarrassment or shame about what has been done. It is better to act rightly, than just having the right rhetoric and not act. We must move past theory into practice. The faith perspective on integrity is that we will act not in our own self-interest, but in the interest of what is best for others. A secular version of this is the Rotary 'four way test'.

Watch for the conclusion, We need to be a people of integrity, tomorrow.