Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Man Cave: Practicing Integrity

That phrase "man of integrity" is akin to "anything worth doing is worth doing right". It is one of those glib, grandpa-inspired quotes cheapened by overuse. Too often used, too seldom analyzed.

So let us go boldly where no man has gone before....

The root word of "integrity" is "integer". An integer is defined as a whole number, or a complete unit. A fraction is not an integer. A percentage of something less than 100% is not an integer. When the USS Enterprise is attacked by a Klingon Bird of Prey and you hear Captain Kirk announce that hull integrity is at 70%, he is full of crap. There is no such thing as diminished integrity. It is a pass or fail test. Anything less that complete integrity is not integrity.

Given that, is it actually possible to live one's life with integrity? Is it achievable? We all have weaknesses to work on, parts of our personality that can be shored up and strengthened, leaks that can be patched. Despite this, I believe that for those who really desire it, integrity doesn't have to be a carrot they chase their entire life. It will be a hard-fought and never ending battle, but it can be achieved. In my life I've known a few men with complete integrity. Interestingly, not one of them ever had to tell me so. Integrity is a self-evidencing trait, and declaring that you have it is an automatic disqualifier.

I think for most of us integrity exists mostly as an ideal, something to aspire to and work towards. The fact that we may never truly reach it shouldn't cause us to give up, or feel that our efforts have been wasted. Every step toward integrity is a step in towards being a better person. I've heard personal integrity defined as "doing the right thing, even when no one is around and no one will ever know." I like that definition. It's a good bar to measure every choice up against as we practice our own integrity.

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