To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man. - Shakespeare
People who live life in accordance with particular virtues tend to be better adjusted and authentically happy. Modern research supports many old-fashioned beliefs. Today I will discuss the virtue of integrity. It can be defined in three ways: as behaving in a way that is consistent with your espoused values - that you practice what you preach; that you openly acknowledging your moral principles when those convictions are not popular; and that you treating others with care.
Integrity goes beyond speaking the truth. It includes taking responsibility for how you think and feel and what you do. It includes being sincere, being consistent with yourself, and also motivating others. Integrity also means having the courage to admit to one’s own weakness – one’s inclination to want to present oneself as better or more competent than one really is.
The opposites of integrity are clearly negative: deceitfulness and insincerity. In everyday life we all encounter people that we would classify as ‘posers’ or ‘phonies’ – people who try to assume a status they have not earned, who think they know-it-all and look down upon those they think are lesser, who are caught up in their own sense of pseudo-importance. Of all the human traits that I find most difficult to be around it is arrogance which is void of human integraity.
Benefits of Integrity
The "knowing thyself" component of integrity is essential to good living because it allows you to change your behaviour so that you are more effective in your life. When you are living with integrity you are not trying to be someone you are not, you are comfortable in your human inadequacy while striving for a moral and compassionate life.
Acting with integrity has social benefits. Research suggests that authentic people are well-liked, they benefit from social support, and enjoy close relationships with others. Research has shown that people who give balanced self-descriptions, acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses, tend to be perceived by others as being authentic.
Not surprisingly, acting with integrity can make leaders more effective. Political leaders work hard at trying to portray integrity and we often evaluate politicians on this trait alone. In the business world, workplace relationships are more effective when managers are comfortable "being who they are" rather than just filling a role. Acting with integrity can also help you attract and keep your romantic partner. When individuals are asked to list desired qualities in a romantic partner, honesty almost always is at the top of the list. We can forgive many things but it is particularly difficult to forgive someone for misrepresenting who they are.
Parents have one of the earliest opportunities to encourage integrity in their children. Children learn early on the importance of "telling the truth." A common parenting practice is to teach children that they will be in more trouble for lying about misbehaving than for the act itself. Of course parents may also unintentionally teach their children that inauthentic behaviour can sometimes make life easier. For example, parents who try to present themselves as ethically perfect are easily dethroned by the observing eyes of their children.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, it is a great shame that moral development courses are not taught at primary and secondary school. However, formal lessons about integrity should not end in adolescence. Ethics courses are taught in medical schools, law schools, business schools, clinical psychology schools, and other professional programs. Often these programs focus on what not to do. Many of these programs would be more likely to reach their stated goals if they placed a greater focus on what one should do to become an ethical practitioner rather than on what one should not do to avoid being unethical.
How can you encourage your sense of integrity?
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. You can find more articles by Dr. O'Connor in the Evening Echo every Wednesday.