What is integrity?  It is a word that has been bandied about a lot recently during our National process of choosing leaders to be elected to the highest Political Offices of our Country.  Who has integrity?  Who does not have integrity?  Is integrity in our Politicians a good trait?  A bad trait?  An impossible trait?  Who is to say whether any certain Candidate or any person, for that matter, has integrity or not?  Can a person have integrity on one issue and not have integrity on another issue and still have Integrity?

So many questions.  Not such easy answers.

Let’s have a look at the word Integrity.

In discussions on behavior and morality, one view of the property of integrity sees it as the virtue of basing actions on an internally-consistent framework of principles.

This scenario may emphasize depth of principles and adherence of each level to the next. One can describe a person as having integrity to the extent that everything that that person does derives from the same core set of values. While those values may change, their consistency with each other and with the person’s actions determine the person’s degree of integrity.

Considering this description of Integrity, an Internally-consistant framework of principles would have to be viewed as a trait belonging to an individual.  Therefore, MY degree of integrity to MYSELF may be close too 100% if I stick to my internal principles at all times.  However, someone other than myself might see me as not having integrity because they do not understand my internal set of principles and therefore only have the ability to judge me by my words and actions.

Also, while my values and beliefs may change over time, if there is complete consistancy between those changes and my actions, even though I am no longer backing my previous set of values due to simply changing my mind, am I still acting with complete integrity?

Confusing, no?

Let me try to create an analogy here to help explain that idea.

Just one week ago today, my internal principles included a set of values that caused me, being a person of integrity, to uphold the ideal of “My country, right or wrong.”  I truly believed and acted upon that simple FACT.  Although it may not be a FACT to you, it was to me.  My country, I surmised, of course made mistakes.  However the good my country did overall was so much more substantive than any mistakes it might make AND if it did make any mistakes, they were never made with a negative result as the intended conclusion.  

I discussed this very issue with an aquaintance that disagreed with me, however my answer was always the same, as I KNEW this was the right answer and no matter the persuasion, my integrity would not allow me to stray from my core principles.

Over the past week, situations arose and information was gathered and disseminated that caused me to re-think this issue.  After carefully reviewing the information and weighing the truths of the matter versus the possible untruths, I came to the conclusion that there were times when my country actually went through with actions due to whatever reasons that DID allow a negative result to be the intended conclusion of it’s actions.  I now no longer could believe the concept of “My country, right or wrong.”  While I had changed my position on this subject, I still considered myself to be a person of complete integrity as I was now consistant with believing my recently aquired set of principles on this issue.

I discussed this very issue with the same aquaintance after I had this eye opening experience, and the person was quite amazed that I now agreed with them after being so very much opposed to their point of view only one week earlier.  Yet, I absolutely KNEW this was now the right answer and my integrity could not allow me to back my previous position any longer.

My aquaintance walked away thinking I had no integrity.  That I was in fact, in the current vernacular of the day, a big ol’ Flip-Flopper.  

My question to you is this.  Is integrity based on personal honesty and acting on one’s beliefs and values at all times, or is it something else, altogether?

What do YOU believe?


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    • brobin on July 10, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Tip if you know what the hell it really means   😉

  1. From Howard Zinn:

    When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.

    . . .

       I am reminded of the situation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, when the black delegation from Mississippi asked to be seated, to represent the 40 percent black population of that state. They were offered a “compromise” – two nonvoting seats. “This is the best we can get,” some black leaders said. The Mississippians, led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, turned it down, and thus held on to their fighting spirit, which later brought them what they had asked for. That mantra – “the best we can get” – is a recipe for corruption.

      It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington, D.C., to hold on firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. A few manage to do so. I think of Barbara Lee, the one person in the House of Representatives who, in the hysterical atmosphere of the days following 9/11, voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Afghanistan. Today, she is one of the few who refuse to fund the Iraq War, insist on a prompt end to the war, reject the dishonesty of a false compromise.

      Except for the rare few, like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis, our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be “realistic.”

      We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.


  2. “my country, right or wrong” was a bit of a trap in itself, don’t you think?

    but active integrity would seem, to me, to suggest that nothing gets a free pass when wrong…  a mistake, well that’s one thing. but countries, governments act on policies, formulated in rooms with others… so it doesn’t really fall into the realm of “mistake”… stupidity maybe. hubris. pride. greed. et al.

  3. Thanks, brobin.

    an internally-consistent framework of principles

    is what I have been seeking to maintain pretty much my whole adult life.  I’m a mathematician by training, and I tend often towards the abstract.  But that’s the method of mathematics.  Mathematics is the search for structure and pattern.  In doing so, we try hard to understand what makes those structures work, what are the provable logical consequences.  

    So, I try to look at life this way.  In my behavior and my politics, I try to understand what the axioms are (the foundational assumptions I make), and what results must flow logically from those.  Perhaps this sounds cold and passionless, but it’s not.  If we don’t attempt to understand our emotions, we can be taken off in damaging directions by them.

    Okay.  so to what I believe.  I believe personal freedom is what people want, fundamentally.  I also believe that people seek to balance personal freedom with positive relationships.  Maintaining relationships requires some suspension of total freedom.  I also believe that cooperation is stronger than competition.  If we can find topics on which we cooperate well, we can change the world.  Perhaps only in small ways, but lots of small ways add up to a big way.

    Thanks, brobin.  Thought provoking stuff!

    • Edger on July 10, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    say what you mean and mean what you say.

    Maybe I’m too simple minded.

  4. from my own personal experience.

    I run a non-profit organization where we work with mostly kids of color who are headed for the prison-industrial complex. A big part of my job is to raise the money we need to accomplish this.

    On occasion, I’ve had to meet with some pretty distasteful rich white republican power-brokers in the area to ask for their money. First of all, even asking them goes against my grain. But then, I also know that if I were to speak honestly with them about the situation these kids and families are in, how they got there, and the role rich white republican power-brokers have in that, I would surely NOT get the financial support we need. So I keep my mouth shut.

    Do I lack integrity when I do that? I say yes. Do I do it anyway when I have to? Yes.  

    This balance of integrity and priorities is a very difficult line to walk perfectly all the time. And I’d say that we all have to make tough choices most every day. Its the times that we don’t even think about how tough they are that we loose our integrity completely. JMHO  

    • Robyn on July 10, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    …can be just as important to integrity as re-evaluation of the way we have applied those principles to situations that have arisen and conclusions that have been drawn.

    We are mutable creatures living in a sea of change.

  5. that integrity consists not in one’s actions, be they consistent or the opposite, but in the internal struggle that informs those actions?  Not a concept I’ve given a lot of thought to, just happened to occur to me (as a rule, I give as little thought as possible to anything).  But try it on.

    There’s been a good bit of talk about Obama’s loss of integrity in voting for the FISA bill, etc. ad nauseam.  Some folks have suggested that McKinney or Nader would be a better candidate to vote for because they have maintained their integrity.  But let’s take a look at it:  one has to assume that Obama, whom I am comfortable in describing as a reasonably moral human being, struggled with the decision and, in the final analysis, chucked the moral/principled alternative under the bus in order to gain some (in my opinion illusory) political advantage.  McKinney or Nader, in the same position (which they are not, to begin with, because neither is in office) might uphold her/his principles BUT, in the final analysis, the carrot of political advantage is not there because both are no-hopers.  So one concludes that Obama struggled and ultimately blew it.  How about the other two?  Well, I would contend that they did not show integrity because, ultimately, there was no struggle, no down-side, involved — you end up with a moral argument like Mark Twain’s, who, as a boy, purportedly swore never to steal watermelons when they were out of season.

    Let’s try a more personal example.  I am a strong believer in fidelity within a monogamous relationship, both because that’s the way I was brought up, and because it strikes me as the only way human beings can operate without all hell breaking loose.  That said, I spent a good part of my adult life as a philandering SOB, utterly bereft of integrity in that regard at least (I’d like to blame my drinking, but, damn, I knew precisely what I was doing).  Am I better now?  I’d say, probably not:  I no longer mess around, haven’t for a couple decades, but there’s no struggle involved, except for the one that involves staying religiously out of circumstances where I might be tempted (the good news is that I’m getting old and ugly enough that even that struggle is becoming superfluous).

    NL has the better example:  raising money for a non-profit from the very people who help create the problem that the organization strives to address.  My own solution would be to run like hell from any such circumstances, just as I have always run from sales positions:  success is practically impossible without compromises that look and feel like betrayals of one’s principles (provided, of course that one has any).  Net integrity, zilch. I’d contend that NL, on the other hand, shows tremendous integrity:  the struggle is obvious and brutal, yet she perseveres in doing what she knows is right, despite the pain.

    I could go on, but I’m not a diarist.  Net-net, I think, is that integrity and consistency don’t really have a lot to do with each other (hell, Clarence Thomas is consistent).  What think?


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