Living with Integrity
Flourishing by Maintaining Personal Values
BY: T. Franklin Murphy| July 1, 2017 (modified January 13, 2023)
BY: T. Franklin Murphy| July 1, 2017 (modified January 13, 2023)
Integrity creates a distinct life separate from others. The separating barrier is, however, permeable allowing for interaction without destroying the form of the self.
Without a moral compass, we aimlessly wander in the dark canyons of complexity. We need the strength of self to give direction. When we have no map, we bounce chaotically between seeking acceptance and boldly establishing independence, trying to force others to submit. Integrity of self identifies the personal boundaries that define where we end, and others begin. A clearer perception of the division between self and others softens and illuminates the complex dynamics in human relations.
With integrity of self, and respect of others, instead of endless efforts to appease or dominate, we interact with respect—and love. The integrity instructs instead of a map detailing the endless list of dos and don’ts in a relationship. Integrity binds beliefs, values and actions to create a foundation of character that guides. Without integrity, we lose direction, constantly confused by the conflicting pressures a complex world.
A Self Independent of Others
We live in a world with billions of other people, each experiencing life with individual feelings of sadness and joy. To fully appreciate this diversity, we must find solitude within ourselves first; a sense of our own life while living among others. Integrity creates one’s own reality with freedoms to give and receive from interactions with those around them.
When boundaries (of self) are compromised and our identity merges with the throngs of others, we lose capacity to create and experience the richness of living. We live as powerless automatons fighting the confusions of internal impulses and external pressures, not knowing where peace is enjoyed. According to David Hume this “consciousness of integrity is necessary for happiness.”
Integrity is a state of being strong, holding to moral principles.
The integrity of self as an individual, with distinct feelings and experiences, is essential for self-examination. When we feel, we must recognize the feeling comes from within. The sense of self, separate and distinct from others doesn’t distance us from others but provides an avenue for connection. Carl Rodgers suggests that a “person who accepts his own feelings within himself, finds that a relationship can be lived on the basis of these real feelings.” We only can bond intimately with others when we recognize the relationship consists of two human beings.
Need to Belong
According Eric Fromm, we are driven to unite with others. We may approach the drive to unifying in several ways. We may lose our sense of self, constantly submitting to groups and individuals by sacrificing the self to unite. Another avenue is through dominations, forcing others to become part of us, ignoring their individuality. Our desires dominate, and others are used to satisfy.
These methods to connect ultimately fail. They both weaken integrity, tearing down the boundaries that divide self from others by either ignoring the self or disregarding others. These approaches never successfully unite the self with others; both create dependence, leaving the pursuer of security constantly in fear. But love, Fromm continues is different. “Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self.”
Nathaniel Branden puts it this way, “the greatest compliment of love: our self-interest expands to encompass our partner.”
Relating to Others While Maintaining Integrity
Once we know our self, we can relate that self to others. The beginning framework for integrity is we recognize we exist in a particular spot within the universe, accepting responsibility to for this existence.
A modern writer, Daniel Goleman, agrees. In his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, he puts it this way, “a more healthy pattern, of course, is to balance being true to oneself with social skills, using them with integrity.” We recognize the self and we recognize the other, each as individual human beings. Instead of bowing or dominating we connect through interpersonal skills.
Emotions are involved in connection. We need connections for survival; therefore, interactions are infused with powerful emotions to protect wellbeing. We feel fear, anger, joy and shame. When connections fray, we feel sad.
The possibility of rejection is powerful, challenging the integrity of self. We feel shame for differences; and are tempted to abandon individuality or ruthlessly attack or ignore the individuality of others.
There’s no consistency of behavior without guiding integrity. The person lacking in integrity chaotically seeks security from the outside, constantly suspicious of others, creating stories of danger, and devising plans of attack; they are never at peace. When security is derived from outside, we are at the mercy of others.
Childhood Learning and Integrity
Many children arrive at adulthood lacking integrity. They grew up in homes where parents struggled with their own identity, forcing children to silently submit to authority. The invasive over-controlling environment stagnates the emergence of self. Instead of self-expanding, experiencing the joys of potentialities, the self-constricted person denounces integrity and relies on external factors for fulfillment. Joys and sorrows become dependent on outside factors.
The environment injures the protective barrier of integrity, self-respect is lowered, and the child becomes lost in the complex world of relationships, seeking connection but blind to his individual self that must be found before he can bond to another.
We can escape childhood deficiencies. Not immediately; but with patience we grow, we recognize feelings, and accept those feelings. We begin to draw simple connections between personal behaviors and felt experience. With the beginnings of integrity, we see ourselves in the world, affected by experience but separate from the world. We own our feelings. We recognize our existence. We correctly experience the world from the perspective of an individual within a much larger universe.
Integrity is a Congruency of Self
Integrity means congruence. The emerging self faces challenges—pressures to conform. The individual self, separate from the crowd, integrates values, convictions, and standards. When we live according to these self-professed rules, we have integrity. This is much different than blindly living to group ideals, defining rules, and rigid dogma. There is no self when the group dictates beliefs, actions, and goals.
We can belong to a group but maintain our individuality, questioning when appropriate, and deviating from norms when internal principles are violated. Groups often challenge personal integrity. Individuality threatens their strength. They spread fear, demand loyalty and slyly suggest sacrifice of thought.
I sadly interact with many people who jump from religion to religion; group to group; desperately hoping to find themselves. They miss the point. The longing for acceptance will never be discovered by abandonment of self, blindly following the demanding rules or practices of a group.
Integrity demands strength. By acting in opposition to our proclaimed values, we weaken our boundaries, losing self-respect. The thief or the liar tragically destroys their own soul, dissolving the boundary between self and others, depriving the self of healthy connection, and forever chasing security that cannot be found.
When Values Clash
As with all human characteristics, we must process conflicts where values clash. Where proper direction isn’t self-evident. We recognize these conflicts as part of the complexity of life. We do our best to decide a direction within the limitations of uncertainty. We may make a wrong choice without damaging integrity. We do the best we can, making repairs when necessary.
When words and actions conflict, we are self-invalidating; the world inside fails to integrate with the world outside. We sacrifice one or the other. We ignore the reality of others or the reality of self.
See Living a Virtuous Life for more on this topic
Openness to New Experience
We can maintain integrity of self and still be open to learning. Integrity allows for the differentiation between the self and experience. This separation creates resilience. We feel experience but are not overwhelmed by it. We integrate new experience, gaining deeper wisdom. The experience doesn't batter pre-conceived ideas of self but invited curiosity when those ideas and experience conflict.
The self becomes dynamic and responsive to experience, observing emotions, changing environments and consequences without being swept away, blinded by the entirety and lost in the moment, scratching our head and wondering, “What just happened?” The integrity creates a core awareness giving a small space, lifting us above the whirlwind long enough to live by internal values instead of blindsided by external circumstances.
“Integration is not a function of the self, it is what the self is.” ~Daniel J. Siegal
Lacking integrity, the self is indistinguishable from others—the bond connecting behaviors and values is weakened—outside needs excuse deviations from life goals. Values, goals, and purposes must be individual to drive behaviors in the face of outside opposition. But when the lines of differentiation fade, we act according to impulse, bowing to the moment and blind to the future.
Lies, deceptions, and chameleon like relationships have no course, blowing in no predictable direction. When there is no integrity, promises are flat, commitments breakable, and values excusable.
Commitments and Integrity
We act, say, and promise when prompted by the moment; but without the strength of integrity, the promises have no substance. Future actions depend on future moments, not commitments. Without integrity, any excuse suffices; we guiltlessly back out of the promise because keeping it no longer seems expedient.
Integrity of purpose isn’t perfect. Human behavior is motivated by complex internal and external factors. We never know with perfect clarity the underlying causes of action. Values conflict, present enjoyment contends with future costs, and integrity of self is challenged by needs for acceptance.
Freedom of choice, in the face of uncertainty is burdensome. We seek strict rules, join movements, ignore conflicting data to alleviate the mental challenges of ethical action supported from integrity of self.
Integrity Builds Self-Esteem
Integrity of self becomes the foundation for growth. To achieve, we must trust in our abilities, having confidence in our fitness to face the challenges. The internal qualities that empower action deviating from society norms are rare. Instead of safely marching with the crowd, we slow, look around and analyze the possibilities. Sometimes we follow; other times oppose.
Trusting our abilities should be based on realistic examinations, not on fantasy and self-delusion. Self-esteem boosted with deception easily collapses, harming us mentally, emotionally and possibly physically. We must carefully examine reality before crossing the ropes into an arena to face a ferocious and skilled opponent that we are ill prepared to meet. Upon the first strike, our self-esteem is shattered by the fists of reality.
Grounding Respect for Reality
The shouts of well-meaning guides echo loudly; building the illusion of strength without respect for reality. We cannot achieve security by implementing methods that do not work. We may temporarily diminish anxiety but soothing our fears while leaving essential characteristics unexamined is a fool’s game.
Nathaniel Branden suggests we build self-esteem through consciousness, responsibility and integrity. I agree. We acknowledge our individuality, take responsibility for our lives, and examine experience.
Lack of integrity carries significant challenges. We don’t live in a just world—often the social chameleon can rise to powerful positions. Sometimes, especially in politics, honesty of purpose may harm wide spread support. But the lack of self, external successes aside, still injures the soul, detaching words from actions, and commitments from actuality.
The self is blurred to be accepted. But the self that is accepted is undefined and without borders. There is no concrete self to known. Without the anchor of self, actions are excused; we chaotically adapt to whichever color best fits the situation. Security in any relationship remains in flux since one or both individuals lack stability of purpose, the involved always stand flustered, waiting to see what will happen next.
When values are situational, we have no guide. We are not free to act because we have no foundation—we are blown to and from with each situation. Pay attention to what you do and say. Are your actions, thoughts and words in line with proclaimed values? If they are not, correct them; don’t make an excuse. When we are people of integrity, people of honor, we create the foundation for growth. Our possibilities, our relationships, and our futures create the joys and security of knowing ourselves and of being known.
Other Flourishing Life Society articles of interest on this topic: