What is integrity anyway?

Boris Johnson resigns yesterday

We’re hearing a lot about integrity in the news at the moment. But actually what is integrity? The dictionary definition says, “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” as well as, “The state of being whole and undivided.” Being honest sounds straight forward enough, but as we’ve seen over recent months truth can be manipulated, distorted and stretched in order to justify all manner of indecency and wrong-doing. 

There’s also the problem of interpretation. My truth might not be the same as your truth because we are filtering events through our own prejudices and expectations based on previous, unique life experiences. We all know how social media can disseminate and perpetuate fake news. What we see cannot necessarily be trusted. I am of the generation that has had their childhood heroes exposed as paedophiles and even church leaders and Christian writers and commentators have been found to have abused their power and positions of trust in the most diabolical fashion.

So where does that leave us? I have always considered integrity to be the consistency between what is said and what is done. I always try to treat others as I would like to be treated and to follow through with action when I say I will do something. This often leads me to initially turn down a request. This is because I need to go away and consider whether I have the time and emotional energy before I commit to the action. However, once I have agreed to act I will give my all to see it through to what I believe is a satisfactory conclusion.

Jesus says something similar in Matthew chapter 7, verse 15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” In my experience people will say almost anything to get you to believe they are decent and trustworthy. Yet, what about their lives? They might appear good and successful on the surface, but how do they treat those around them? And do they let people get close enough to see what is really motivating them?

I think culture has a big part to play in defining what is understood by integrity. We can easily assume we all mean the same thing by such an ideal, but I wonder if this is where self delusion can creep in. It’s astounding how individuals and organisations can say they abide by one set of values and then behave completely contrary to those values when presented with a particular set of circumstances! As Peter Drucker famously said, ‘culture eats strategy (or integrity) for breakfast.’

I’ll give you an example, we say every person is created in the image of God and therefore has equal worth. Yet our organisational structures are hierarchical and those at the top get paid more, presumably because we actually believe they are of greater value. I was so impressed with Traidcraft who following a restructure introduced a flat structure and committed to pay their employees the same wage. You might be a cleaner or the CEO but both are working to the best of their albeit, different abilities in order to bless others and bring glory to God. 

You could call me a Marxist, but I just want to challenge us to ponder whether we’ve really thought through what actions are required in the light of what we say are our values. And when we are quick to judge politicians for not living up to the standards we say we espouse, yet who the majority of citizens voted for, perhaps we should more closely examine whether there really is an alignment between what we say we believe and how we live in the light of that revelation. Or, in reality, are we continually compromising our values in order to accommodate an ungodly culture that we unconsciously perpetuate? It’s hard to make a stand and no one thanks you for it. However, it’s the role of the prophet to unmask falsehoods, as well as imagine a better future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s