Honesty and integrity are often used synonymously, but a closer look reveals they are two different principles. Honesty is telling the truth. Integrity is more than this. Integrity requires living the truth. It is easy to say one thing and then do another. It is often harder to say and do the same thing. Integrity includes a doing component, while honesty is based on telling.
Based on this definition of integrity and honesty, what is most often viewed as honesty is actually integrity. For example, one might say that a child who finds some money and turns it in is being honest.
This action actually constitutes integrity because the child has lived according to what they know to be an act of truth. A parent, knowing their child failed to turn in money that was found might ask, “Did you find any money?” to which the child may answer, “Yes.” The parent might then ask, “Did you turn it in?” to which the child may say, “No.” The child can be considered honest because he or she answered truthfully to both questions. However, the child has failed to act with integrity because they have not lived according to what they know (assuming the child is old enough to understand that keeping the money is wrong).
Is it possible to live with integrity when not being honest? Consider the following: During WWII, many people harbored Jews against the dictates of the Nazi regime. In this circumstance, when questioned by the Nazis, they would deny they were doing so. In reality, this answer is dishonest. These people were, however, demonstrating integrity by living according to their value of humanity and the sanctity of life. When we live according to what we know, whether or not others know what we do, we are living with integrity.
When a car’s tires are aligned they pull in the same direction with equal effort, keeping the car on track. No resistance is required to keep it moving forward. When the tires are not aligned, the car is easily pulled off course and increased resistance is required to keep it on track. When we live our lives out of alignment we are in a constant state of resistance to our true self. When we live with integrity, our heart, mind, and soul are aligned and manifested in our actions.
Living With Integrity
How can a person live with more integrity? There is an activity I like to have my clients participate in that helps them evaluate whether they are living with integrity. I hand them a piece of paper and ask them to divide it into two columns by drawing a line down the
middle of the page. I then instruct them to make a list of their values on the left side of the page. When they have completed this, I ask them to make a list of their behaviors on the right side of the page. Once both lists are complete, I ask the client to evaluate how well their values match up with their behaviors. A client may value telling the truth but has a behavior of hiding an addiction. This behavior is obviously incongruent with the stated value. Perhaps someone values family relationships but stays in the bedroom after work in order to have time alone. This behavior is also incongruent with the stated value. (See Healthy Living – Value Based Choice)
In both cases, the clients are not living according to their values. When one’s values and behaviors are in conflict with each other, the client is experiencing inner conflict. We then talk about options to bring the values and behavior in line with each other. There are only three options:
1) they have to compromise their values in order to match their behavior,
2) they have to change their behavior in order to match their values,
3) they don’t do anything and stay in a state of inner conflict. I have never had a client say they want to compromise their values to match their behavior.
Some choose to do nothing and stay in a state of conflict. Most recognize the need to change their behavior so they are congruent with their values. The motivator for those who do not want to change anything is usually fear–fear of hard work, fear of failure, etc. The motivator for those who want to change their behaviors to match their values is usually love–love for self, family, mankind, God, etc.
Living with behaviors that conflict with one’s values is like dividing the Nile river so the left half and right half flow in opposite directions. The line where the two sides meet–where value and behavior conflict–will always be churning and boiling, never peacefully flowing. Living with integrity is like having every drop of the Nile flow in unison toward the ocean, all parts working in unison for a common goal and cause. How are you living?