Integrity = Consistency of Character.
I’ve written previously about integrity and I think it deserves more than one blog-post. I think integrity deserves more than a passing mention or an isolated conversation here and there. It’s an important concept to me, which is why I keep returning to it. It’s something that I aim for in my life and that I would like to be a hallmark of my reputation and character. But I also think it needs to be part of a wider dialogue in our society, because the Britain I see is sorely lacking in integrity. Trust in institutions seems to be lower than ever and integrity among politicians and public figures seems to be an increasingly rare quality. What might this country look like if there was more integrity at every level of society?
My former blog-post looked at integrity through the life and career of Joseph in the book of Genesis and how he conducted himself with the same values and uprightness in all circumstances, both the good and the bad, right throughout his life. I made the point that he had integrity because he was the same in the private as he was in public. There was no disconnect between his public persona and his private probity. Nor was there a difference between his behaviour down in the dumps, when it didn’t matter what he did, and his discharge of high-ranking duties. He didn’t lose his morals when he got to the top because they had been fused into him by his adversity at the bottom.
He had consistency of character.
That, I think, is what integrity is all about. Consistency of character. Yes it’s about good morals, as Wikipedia says, but it’s a lot more than that too. Yes it’s about being honest and trustworthy, but that isn’t the whole picture either.
The online Cambridge dictionary defines integrity in two different senses, almost as if they’re two completely different words:
- The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change
- The quality of being whole and complete
I think both these qualities belong together and are inextricably bound up with each other. If you try to separate the two you try to divide the indivisible. Take honesty away from wholeness and what you’ve got is not integrity, any more than if you take wholeness but subtract honesty.
You can be honest in terms of always telling the truth and still not have integrity. Just because you never lie verbally doesn’t mean that your whole life isn’t a lie because your public life doesn’t match who you are at home. Having strong moral principles is a component of integrity but that too doesn’t stop you being one person in one context and someone else in another. Moral principles come and go, what makes them add up to integrity is when they stand the test of time. Morality can be paraded in public life and then dispensed with in private, and they can be cherished in small groups but wilt under the limelight – integrity is when our values are the same no matter what context we’re in or who we’re with.
Likewise wholeness by itself does not guarantee integrity. You can be wholly dishonest, or completely unscrupulous. It’s at that intersection of trustworthiness and completeness that integrity lies. Consistency of good character. Good character that’s evident on stage and behind closed doors, in one-on-one conversation and in groups. Integrity means authenticity with exception.
Integrity can be spoken of in the sense of the soundness of a building or a uniformity of style, and this too adds something to our definition. A building can look great and seem secure, but one weakness in its design and its structural integrity is compromised. You never know when that flashy edifice might come crumbling down. So it is with a talented person who looks good but whose hidden struggles might one day spill over into their ministry or business with enormous damage.
Integrity is also closely related to the word integral, which refers to something that is essential for the proper functionality. It can be a mechanism, a product, a service, a team, an enterprise or a recipe, but the integral things are those components without which it just doesn’t work. Translated into a person’s life, this reveals integrity as the beautiful harmony when every part of a person’s life works together and pulls in the same direction. That person is functioning properly, there’s no discordant elements or contrary habits that detract from their effectiveness or reputation. Indeed, it might be said that integrity is integral to us serving something higher than ourselves.
When I look at Jesus I see perfect integrity. I see every part of Him honouring God and contributing towards effective ministry. He behaved the same way with everyone, not despising the lowly nor cow-towing to the rich. He could be relied on to be the same every time you met Him and in every situation. And if I see integrity modelled in Jesus, it means it’s something that God wants to see in me. He wants to see it in all of us.
But just because Jesus did integrity perfectly doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect to have integrity. And this is a message I think a lot of us need to hear. Maybe some of you are like me and quick to beat yourself up when you make a mistake or fall short of your own high standards. Maybe, like me, you’re quick to condemn every mistake as a lack of integrity. But if we only feel confident that we have integrity when we’re being absolutely perfect and above reproach then I think we’re setting ourselves up to fail and burdening ourselves with impossible expectations. And also, it starts to smack of self-righteousness.
Of course we should strive to be as much like Jesus as possible, but we need to recognise that we won’t be made perfect until He returns and restores all things. Until then integrity is surely within our grasp with a definition that allows room for mistakes. Integrity means owning our mistakes, recognising that they don’t fit with who we want to be, and never letting them become a pattern. Again it comes back to consistency. Consistent doesn’t mean flawless performance 100% of the time, it means doing something often so that it can be relied upon. If bad choices start to add up into habits then integrity falls by the wayside, but integrity blossoms when a mistake is used as renewed motivation to get back on course straightaway.
So that’s what I think integrity is. That’s what I try to live out. Consistency of character. I hope this has made some kind of sense. I hope it’s helped to broaden some people’s definitions and maybe reassure a few people that they can still have integrity when they’re not perfect. I hope some of this is what people see when they look at me. I hope this is what my son will want to emulate, even as I try to emulate my heavenly Father.