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                               IntegrityCoupleText            “What about Integrity?”

Is that a question we ask when we’re making important decisions involving people? If not, what questions do we ask when considering which political candidate to endorse? Or which employer to select? Or which doctor to use? Or which person to marry? Or which friend to call? In terms of people-oriented decisions how often do we ask, “Does that person have integrity?” We often make life-altering choices with little or no thought given to the level of personal integrity possessed by the individual under consideration. In doing so we are typical of most people today for whom personal integrity is a lost value that is never taken seriously or is dismissed completely.

What about integrity? Is integrity a concept we should view as outdated and irrelevant to postmodern man? Or, would we do well as individuals and as a society to reclaim both the concept and the practice of personal integrity? Clearly, our world is fast moving away from a commitment to personal integrity and toward a mindset of “anything is okay.” People engage in lifestyles and behaviors with little if any attention given to the impact upon personal integrity. How would you respond if a friend observed your recent actions and asked you, “How do those actions affect your personal integrity?” I recall having discussions with individuals about some negative behavior and asking, “So, how does this behavior or this lifestyle affect your personal integrity?” The most common response I got was a puzzled look and the comment, “Uh, I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that.” Their body language usually told me that they preferred not to think about integrity as a personal issue for them. In contrast, other people still value personal integrity and are deeply disappointed in themselves when they violate or lose their integrity through unwise choices and inappropriate behavior. For these men and women the loss of integrity usually generates a combination of internal sadness, guilt, and frustration. Thankfully, most of these individuals commit themselves to the reclaiming of personal integrity.

In our search for good mental health and successful human relationships we would do well to consider the risks of lost integrity and the benefits of reclaimed integrity. Once gained personal integrity can be compromised or lost completely through inappropriate attitudes and actions. Once lost, personal integrity can be reclaimed through restoring its basic components. This reclaiming process is more effective when we understand both the meaning and the measure of integrity. In this article our focus is upon the meaning of integrity; the measure of integrity will be explored in a follow-up article.

                                                                                          Defining Integrity

In order to reclaim both the concept and the practice of personal integrity we need to understand its basic meaning. The term “integrity” is usually defined with words such as honesty, wholeness, sincerity, singleness of purpose, soundness, and sound moral principles. All of these terms appear to be characterized by a common theme: positive morality. Integrity could be thought of as a personal morality compass for life. A related definition involves anotheIntegrity2Themesr important theme:  practical function. Integrity is the ability of an object to fulfill its basic function or purpose. When integrity is maintained the object succeeds; when integrity is lost the object fails. Positive morality and practical function are intertwined in that a person’s moral value system motivates and maintains anIntegrityMoralityCompass individual’s ability to function successfully on a daily basis. Thankfully, integrity does not require perfection; otherwise, integrity would be impossible for any of us to achieve.

These two integrity themes of positive morality and practical function are closely related to personal spirituality. From a Christian perspective the Bible contains numerous references to integrity as a type of morality compass. As a sufferer Job was tempted by his wife and friends to violate his integrity. However, in the midst of heavy losses and extreme suffering Job declared, “Till I die I will not deny my integrity.” (Job 2:3, 9; 27:5 NIV). As a leader of the Israelites King David was a man of heart integrity. According to Psa. 78:72 David “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” As a teacher the apostle Paul understood the importance of integrity and thus instructed Titus, “in your teaching show integrity.” (Titus 2:7) As the Master Teacher Jesus was recognized for his integrity. Before asking Jesus a question about paying taxes to Caesar the Jewish leaders said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity.” (Mt. 22:16) Even though their actual motives were questionable it is apparent that the words that were spoken were inherently true. From beginning to end the Scriptures clearly emphasize the value of personal integrity within each man and woman.


                                                                       Developing Integrity
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The meaning of integrity becomes clearer as we understand more fully its developmental process. Is this process influenced more fundamentally by nature or by nurture? Clearly, there is no genetic force that pushes people into a lifestyle of integrity. No one is born with a built-in level of high integrity that endures throughout the person’s lifetime. Instead, a man’s integrity grows out of his personal belief system and his choices to practice those beliefs in a consistent manner. His chosen beliefs form his core values that in turn determine his decision-making regarding daily behavior. In other words, the individual chooses a positive morality that motivates practical function.

This developmental process can seem confusing and even contradictory at times. Over the years I’ve talked with thousands of individuals about their personal issues. On many occasions individuals would acknowledge the practice of a pattern or lifestyle that most people would view as “wrong” or “illegal” or “immoral” or “unethical.” Yet when I inquired about the issue of guilt I learned that the person felt no guilt. The behavior did not violate his inner standards. When I asked about integrity the person would claim good integrity: “Of course I have integrity. What I do is fine.” After hearing similar comments countless times I cannot help but wonder about people’s definition of integrity or their process for the development of integrity. Clearly, their approach to integrity allows them to believe and practice diverse and divergent patterns with no qualms of conscience or threat to personal integrity. Their understanding of integrity seems to be based upon standards that are very individualized and subject to revision and change.

Personal integrity that is positive and healthy is grounded in two vital values:  truthfulness and trustworthiness. Integrity requires truth, and truth creates trust. Without truth there is no trustworthiness, and without trustworthiness genuine integrity does not exist. These two components (truth and trust) are basic to the development of personal integrity.
 

Integrity Component #1:  Truthfulness

The first component of personal integrity is truthfulness. The individual with integrity is committed to the value of consistent truthfulness, and he rejects temptations to lie, deceive, or manipulate in order to advance his personal agenda. He believes in truth and truth determines the choices he makes in daily living.

As you consider this first component you might have a relevant question to raise. “Okay, so truth is essential. But how is that truth determined?” That question is extremely important to the development of integrity. Essentially we have two clear choices: absolute truth or relative truth.

Choice #1:  “There is absolute truth.”

The first choice is “There is absolute truth.” This choice is based upon the belief that absolute truth does exist and can be known by human beings. This belief raises important questions. If there is absolute truth what is its source? Can we know that truth, and, if so, how do we learn it? Regarding the issue of source let’s consider another question. Can absolute truth which is infinite by definition originate from the mind of a human being who is finite? The logical answer is “no.” That which is finite cannot produce something that is infinite. Finite man is incapable of generating absolute truth. For absolute truth to exist it must originate from an infinite mind that transcends the material world.  That infinite mind would have to be God. If we accept the cIntegrityTruth2Choicesoncept that absolute truth exists we must also accept the reality that an eternal infinite God must also exist who generated and embodied that truth. If we accept the premise that an eternal infinite God exists and that he created all material matter, including human beings, we must also be open to the reality that this divine being has revealed himself to his creation in terms of absolute truth. The existence of God and the reality of absolute truth must both be accepted if either is accepted.

If absolute truth exists where is it? How do we find it? Interestingly enough, the very book that many postmodern philosophers dismiss as irrelevant is the one and only book that is relevant. The Bible is uniquely relevant because it reveals the mind of God in the form of Jesus who described himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In the same Scripture Jesus declared “no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is presented as the divine Word that became human flesh in order to reveal the mind of God to his creation and to provide a means of reconciling mankind to its creator (John 1:1-18). Prior to his crucifixion Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, who held Jesus’ physical fate in his two hands. Pilate inquired of Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:36). The question was a relevant one to ask in view of the fact that Pilate was face to face with the source of absolute truth. However, Pilate was more interested in resolving his political need to satisfy the Jewish leaders than he was in resolving his personal need for truth. Pilate washed his hands of the situation and walked away from the very one who offered absolute truth.

Through his personal teachings and through the writings of the inspired apostles Jesus expressed in Scripture (the Bible) the absolute truth that God maintains for people of all generations. In terms of absolute truth the Bible is the only inspired revelation that we have from which we can understand the mind of God and his will for our lives (II Timothy 3:16-17). The inspired Scriptures are absolute truth; aside from Scripture there is no absolute truth. Only an infinite God can possess and reveal absolute truth. The Scriptures teach what is right and what is wrong. Morality grounded in the Scriptures is based upon absolute truth and is therefore enduring and unchangeable, regardless of political pressure or public sentiment. Biblical truth for personal morality cannot be modified or nullified by governmental legislation or by judicial rulings. When a person’s integrity is based upon absolute truth (as presented in Scripture) he will appreciate a statement made by William Penn, the seventeenth-century colonial leader for whom the state of Pennsylvania was named. Out of his personal belief system Penn wrote, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” * Essentially, Penn is saying what is clear to any discerning mind:  morality based in absolute truth is non-negotiable.

Choice #2:  “There is only relative truth.”  

The second choice is “There is only relative truth.” This choice involves the rejection of absolute truth and the acceptance of relative truth. According to this choice there is no truth that transcends mankind and is therefore enduring and unchangeable. Truth, if it exists at all, is relative to each individual human being and is therefore inherently temporal and changeable. When absolute truth is rejected categorically as non-existent or irrelevant humans are left to their personal devices for constructing individualized truth. Without absolute truth as the basis for core values each person is left totally to himself to choose arbitrarily what he wants his core values to be. He has no authoritative external standard for determining “right or wrong,” and therefore the values he chooses for himself are based upon personal preferences. The logical result is a system of moral relativism and situational ethics. Each situation in life determines what is “right” or “wrong” for that given circumstance. Morality is relative to each individual’s personal preferences. Relative truth is whatever he wants it to be. He sets his own standards. He makes his own rules. Then he declares, “My truth is my truth—period. You cannot question my personal truth, and because it is my truth you must practice tolerance for anything I choose to believe or practice.” Truth becomes an emotion-based reality. Thus he declares, “What I feel is what is real—that is my truth.” When the concept of relative truth is chosen one conclusion is clear: right is not always right, and wrong is not always wrong. What is right or wrong one day may well be the opposite a day later.

Implications for Integrity . . .

Our choice of relative or absolute truth has serious implications for the development and maintenance of personal integrity. For one thing, integrity that is based upon relative truth is by definition a relative integrity. The type of and the amount of integrity is relative to the particular system of truth that the individual chooses for himself. That integrity will vary to the extent that the individual chooses to change specific beliefs and personal values as circumstances and goals change throughout his lifespan. In contrast, integrity that is grounded in absolute truth is more likely to be constant and enduring, even though the person who chooses absolute truth is human and is therefore subject to shortcomings and mistakes. However, even with human weakness integrity is more reliable when the underlying belief system producing that integrity is based upon reliable absolute truth.  Integrity grounded in absolute truth can be consistent and enduring; integrity based on relative truth is inconsistent and changeable.  

Additionally, our choice of relative or absolute truth has implications for the role of the human conscience. For many people personal integrity is based upon conscience. The man who defines his integrity by conscience might claim, “I must have high integrity because my conscience never bothers me,” or else he will confess, “My integrity must be low because my conscience is really hurting me.” This dependence upon conscience raises an important question:  “Does the absence of a painful conscience reflect or prove the presence of personal integrity?” To answer this question we need to consider the development of conscience. At a basic level conscience is the inner moral compass that alerts us when we violate our personal belief system. A person’s conscience is developed and trained as he chooses his personal beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are based upon relative or absolute truth. As long as his behavior is consistent with his chosen belief system his conscience is no problem, and he, therefore, could feel a sense of personal integrity.

As we ponder the connection between conscience and integrity let’s consider four examples. Mr. “A” is a man who has lived a lifestyle of moral promiscuity. When asked about the impact upon personal integrity he responds, “Yes, I have integrity. I feel okay with my lifestyle.” He believes that sex before marriage or outside of marriage is right, and thus he suffers no problems with his conscience. Mr. “B” has chosen the belief that physical violence is the right thing to do toward anyone who is interfering with his preferred behavior. He tells himself, “I’m entitled to get what I want. If you get in my way I will hurt you or even kill you to get your cooperation or to get you out of my way.” Thus, when he practices physical violence, including murder, his conscience does not hurt him nor does he violate his personal integrity. His behavior is consistent with his inner belief system. Miss. “C” has internalized a belief that telling lies is permissible and even desirable when the deception serves her personal interests. She tells herself, “There is nothing wrong with lying and deceiving as long as I accomplish my personal goals.” Thus, she practices a lifestyle of deception and falsehood yet has no qualms of conscience and does not violate her integrity.  Mr. “D” is an inmate at a maximum security prison following a conviction for felony theft. He was reared to believe that stealing was an acceptable behavior if he wanted or needed something. Thus, Mr. “D” could say, “The jury convicted me and I was sent to prison, but I did nothing wrong. My conscience is clear. My integrity is intact.”

The moral system used by these four individuals reflects an acceptance of relative truth, and therefore the individuals in question have no problem with conscience or integrity. The ultimate example might be the sociopathic individual who has no moral compass at all to convict him of wrongdoing. His personal belief system permits any and all behavior, however harmful his actions might be toward other people. Because of his “anything goes” belief system the sociopath is never bothered by his conscience; as a result, he possesses his own sense of personal integrity based upon his self-determined sense of “truth.” On the other hand, if these individuals believed in absolute truth (as revealed in the Scriptures) they would have a different belief system regarding behavior and would therefore violate their conscience and integrity through their behavior. A man’s conscience depends upon the specific beliefs in his personal belief system, and his belief system depends upon his personal standard of truth—relative or absolute.IntegrityRelativeTruth02

What happens to personal integrity when absolute truth is rejected? Without absolute truth each person creates his own truth. He gives himself the right to redefine anything if the redefinition will accomplish his personal agenda. Thus, people continue to redefine morality, redefine marriage, and redefine murder because the new definitions allow them to practice lifestyles and to commit actions without having to deal with any loss of conscience and integrity. Without absolute truth the new “norms” provide fertile soil for the emergence and growth of a society characterized by amorality and anarchy. There would be no logical basis for holding anyone accountable to legal, moral, or ethical standards; each person is his own self-created “god” living by his self-generated behavioral code. There is neither responsibility for nor accountability to any standards outside of or higher than the individual’s own self. Genuine personal integrity is sacrificed on the Altar of Relative Truth. Without absolute truth we are sailing the Sea of Life with no oars or anchors, drifting aimlessly with no sense of direction or destination, blown without mercy by the winds of political and public pressure. Without absolute truth we are traveling on the Highway of Life with no trustable roadmap or reliable rulebook to guide us safely and successfully toward our goal. A dependence upon relative truth is an open invitation to individual and national disaster.

In contrast, consider what happens to integrity when absolute truth is accepted. The man who accepts absolute truth (as revealed in the Scriptures) has a secure foundation for positive morality and practical function. He has a roadmap for life and a rulebook for behavior that are inherently trustworthy because they are grounded in God’s absolute truth. This man’s personal integrity is reliable because the truth is reliable upon which his integrity is based.

Integrity Component #2:  Trustworthiness

The second component of integrity is trustworthiness. The man of integrity possesses credibility and can be trusted by his peers. They know that this man will be truthful with them. He will be honest and fair. He will be loving and compassionate. He will be strong and firm when truth-based principles are involved, and he will be open and flexible in regard to issues that are matters of human preference. The man of integrity is inherently trustworthy who accepts and practices truth that is grounded in absolute truth.

Tragically, now we are living in a society in which trustworthiness is not a valued moral trait. In current culture trust is difficult because truth is different. Relative truth has replaced absolute truth. The concept of an infinite Being has been dismissed as illogical and immature. Postmodern man has outgrown the need for an infinite God who transcends time and space. Without belief in an infinite God contemporary man has redefined truth as something relative to each individual. Then each individual further redefines truth relative to each circumstance or issue. As a result truth is never constant but is ever-changing from person to person and from issue to issue. In our world today truth is what each individual wants it to be based upon his personal agenda. How can we really trust any person whose definition of truth is not constant but rather is constantly changing? Relative truth that is subjectively generated and constantly changing creates a great deal of uncertainty in regard to trustworthiness.

Trust is indeed difficult when we doubt the truthfulness of the person we’re trying to trust. The truth of yesterday may not be the truth of today, and today’s truth may not be the truth of tomorrow. A “truth de jour” approach to trust will make the growth of trust a very difficult process. The “relative truth” person could state his position on an important issue one day but could change that position the next day, causing his peers to live in confusion and uncertainty about his real beliefs regarding important issues. Yet, surprisingly, he thinks that his peers should view him as trustworthy and choose to place their trust in his type of integrity. Just as surprisingly many people will blindly choose to trust him.

In summary, the reclaiming of personal integrity requires two vital components:  truthfulness and trustworthiness. Clearly, the individual who believes in absolute truth and lives by that truth will possess a high level of trustworthiness. The combination of being truthful and trustworthy provides a firm foundation for personal integrity.

 
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS . . .

IntegrityHighwayTextHow important is personal integrity to you?  Upon your death would integrity be mentioned in your eulogy or engraved upon your cemetery headstone? Picture your funeral and consider the implications of the eulogy statement “He was a man of high integrity” or “She was a woman of high integrity.” Certainly a reference to “high integrity” would speak volumes regarding the kind of life you had lived. You would indeed be highly complimented when it is recognized and acknowledged that you had purposely traveled through life on the Integrity Highway.

So, how much consideration are you giving to your personal integrity? Perhaps you’re grieving the loss of integrity, and you’re feeling uncertain and worried about the process of reclaiming your integrity. Regrettably, we may not be able to undo past mistakes and the loss of integrity that resulted from our behavior. However, we can learn from these mistakes, and we can start a new pattern today with a sincere commitment to personal integrity that is characterized by consistent truthfulness and trustworthiness. We begin the reclaiming process by accepting personal responsibility for our violations that caused the loss of integrity. We make apologies with amends and restitutions that are appropriate. We recommit ourselves to the daily practice of truthfulness, and, hopefully, we will regain the quality of trustworthiness. As other people observe our daily behavior they will see our reclaimed integrity and will choose to trust us again.

As individuals and as a society we need to reclaim the concept and practice of personal integrity. A reclaimed integrity will generate new attitudes that will motivate new actions. With reclaimed integrity we will relate to other people with honesty and respect. Because of that integrity we will develop a strong work ethic with which we will provide for ourselves instead of expecting other people or government programs to take care of us. We will choose a lifestyle of responsible behavior instead of abusing chemicals to escape reality or instead of misusing people to satisfy our selfish urges. We will practice sexual self-control instead of pursuing sexual promiscuity, and we will stop impregnating women and birthing children outside of a stable marriage environment.  We will stop our foolish spending and learn to be content with what we can afford. We will work extremely hard to get out of debt and to live a debt-free lifestyle. These positive changes will be difficult to achieve but, led and motivated by personal integrity, they are certainly possible for each one of us.

The reclaiming of personal integrity will resolve many of the individual, family, and national problems we currently face. Therefore, let’s hear—and heed—the high calling to reclaim personal integrity that is securely grounded in truthfulness and trustworthiness! Life will be better for us all when we choose to journey through life on the Integrity Highway.


                                                                                        (Miscellaneous Topics #1506)
 

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*Penn, William. “Some Fruits of Solitude.” Green Forest, AR:  New Leaf Publishing Group, 2012. (Part I: Truth)

Note:  The measurement of personal integrity will be explored in a follow-up article entitled “Reclaiming Personal Integrity:  The Measure.”

 

 

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Video:  To see a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses “Reclaiming Personal Integrity” please click on the image to the right or click here.







 

 

 

 

NOTE:  The first minute of this audio version might be missing. The remaining minutes are okay. My regrets.-- BJB

 
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