4. Integrity: The Foundation of A Transformational Life
Integrity: The Foundation of A Transformational Life
The absolute foundation of everything that we build in the world is who we are as people. If you build a house on a crooked or cracked foundation, you will wind up with a crooked (and then cracked) house. The definition of ‘integrity’ is ‘complete, undivided, unblemished’. If we want to create a world that is complete, undivided, and unblemished – this is how we need to be ourselves. If our intention is to create (through our vision and our actions) a world that is interconnected, whole and in balance, we need to be whole and in balance ourselves.
We have all heard stories of people who seemingly accomplished great good, while being severely lacking in their own personal character attributes: The guru who manipulates and sleeps with his students; the preacher who gets rich from the contributions of his or her congregants; the genius who treats his/her family members like a cruel and petty tyrant. This stereotype is so common that we have come to think of it as the norm – giving rise to the expression ‘the bigger the front, the bigger the back’. This, however, is a paradigm that perpetuates the broken state of the world. When someone reaches for greatness while at the same time failing in their basic integrity, they wind up creating equal amounts of light and darkness in the world (hence – ‘the bigger the front, the bigger the back’). The overall equation remains unchanged. When, however, someone makes the conscious choice to live their lives with integrity, the equation changes. Their actions give rise to light, healing and unity in the world without creating a commensurate amount of pain, brokenness and division.
The decision to live one’s life with integrity is not an easy one. It requires a certain amount of courage. It requires effort. It requires the willingness to consider the needs and feelings of others. It requires truth-telling when telling the truth is not easy (on our taxes, for example). It requires not using others for our personal gain in ways that are harmful to them. Above all, it requires our powers of reason. For example: When we see a ten-dollar bill on the street – can we just pick it up? Is it possible to see who lost it? If it is an envelope full of money or piece of jewelry, can we try to find its owner? When someone makes a mistake in our favor, are we quick to correct the error? In what situations do we fully disclose, and in what situations is it better not to say everything? What are our motives in those cases? These questions can be answered, but they require an unswerving commitment to living with integrity, along with the willingness and ability to examine each situation for its outer elements and for our inner motives. A life of integrity is not handed to us spelled out in black and white, but rather lived and figured out in carefully considered shades of grey. This does not imply compromise, but rather the challenge of living with character in a complex and confusing world.
Integrity is a muscle that grows stronger and more powerful the more we use it. Things that we would do in the past, we would never even consider doing now. The standard that we adhere to grows ever higher over time. Nonetheless, even as we judge our actions ever more carefully, we learn to look at others with ever more acceptance and compassion – true integrity is exacting only with the self.
When a person lives his or her life with consciously chosen integrity, their face changes. They radiate a certain light – a light that is recognized by others. It changes the way that they walk in the world – they carry themselves with an intangible sort of grace and presence. Others respond to them differently. It inspires in others a willingness to risk, to extend, to open, to trust. To create transformation in others (and by extension the entire world), one needs to operate from a strong and stable foundation. That foundation is the foundation of integrity. On an even higher level, if the essence of creating transformation is the ability to see (and draw forth) greatness in others, one must first be able to call forth that greatness and nobility of character within oneself. This requires living with integrity.
Next Week: The Root of All Evil