What does idealism have to do with integrity? “Idealism is having a vision of what is possible and wanting to make a difference…we put our principles into practice…” - (The Virtues Project TM ) The key to integrity is in your actions. Martin Luther King Jr. has always been an inspiration to me; he had a dream and took action for his ideal future. I have always admired his strength and integrity. Idealism is having vision, but it doesn’t stop there. True idealism inspires the passion to manifest your vision. Your ideals are uniquely your own. Be steadfast and realistic to what you can achieve without expectation. Even the smallest acts breathe life into your ideals.
“To put the world right…we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucius
“Our greatest responsibility to ourselves, to our children, and to the future is to create ourselves in the image of goodness, because the future depends on the nobility of our imaginings.” – Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
Despite the challenges of society, possessing the courage, determination and persistence to follow through and do what you know in your heart to be right is abiding by your heart’s deepest promise. “Nobility is keeping faith with our true value as spiritual beings…living up to the virtues…choose the moral high road, regardless of the cost.” - (The Virtues Project TM ) The road to integrity is not as narrow as you think. It does not mean to follow the rules and laws blindly, but to listen to your internal voice and live by your deepest values and what you believe to be right. Martin Luther King Jr is a prime example of exhibiting integrity. He took all of the necessary actions to obtain a permit to hold a public gathering, but was denied the right to obtain it based on the color of his skin. He was later arrested on a bogus charge for parading without a permit. Despite the risk, he stayed true to his cause. He considered if demonstrating in public for his cause without a permit was against his integrity and his noble cause. What he realized is that there are some rules or laws that do not uplift the human spirit, and to keep his integrity it was necessary for him to proceed for his cause. In Letter From the Birmingham Jail, Why We Can’t Wait, he very eloquently displays the difference between laws and integrity. His actions are the paradigm of integrity. He did not just talk the talk, he walked the walk and did so without violence or force. He inspired countless others with his integrity, exhibiting a quality of fairness that we all aspire to.
“[T]here are two types of laws: just and unjust…One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws… To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The noble acts of Martin Luther King Jr created a positive impact on humanity. He showed us that change does not need to come from violence, hate or force. He brought an awareness to the injustices inflicted on minorities. When the opposing majority tried to bring him and those of color down, he remained steadfast, remembering his, and all people’s true worth.
“Never do anything against conscience, even if the state demands it.” – Albert Einstein
“Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha
Thoughtfulness isn’t “thinking” by itself… it is showing consideration and an awareness of yourself and others. To have intention and belief in something is not enough, our actions are what the world sees. Our actions lead us to a fuller, richer experience than living in our heads dreaming of what we would like to see ourselves be. Another meaning of integrity is a state of being whole and undivided. King’s actions were not just a display of righteous integrity, but also a display of uniting all men and women as equal to all basic human rights, undivided. Witnessing the injustice of inequality and doing nothing about it was an issue King addressed. Many who supported his cause for equality remained silent and looked the other way, instead of standing with him and the minority in their fight for basic human rights. He viewed this as far worse than those who advocated racial segregation. If we are to show integrity, we must be thoughtful in our actions.
“Thoughtfulness is guided by empathy. It is carefully considering a course of action…We think about [others], observe what they need and offer our help.” - (The Virtues Project TM )
Thoughtfulness brings an awareness to the needs of others and to step outside of yourself and offer a helping hand. We are only as thoughtful as our actions. When I was in grade school, I remember, on several occasions, kids bullying other kids. I never could just stand by or look the other way. I’m the kind of person that will stand up for others being treated unjustly. At times it came with consequences of retaliation from the bully, but I was always willing to take that risk. Surprisingly, there were others that began to stand with me against the bullies. Leading by example, one voice can often motivate change and inspire others to do what’s right.
Endurance and Excellence
Even if you have integrity, doing the right thing may not always be easy. Martin Luther King Jr stayed true in his aim in the face of adversity. With each obstacle the world threw at him, with each setback, he displayed his excellence with integrity and endurance.
In contrast, I often find myself discouraged and overwhelmed and instead of completing a task or fulfilling a commitment, I shut down, hibernate and avoid my obligations. This often fills me with guilt and anxiety. When I am not doing right by others, I am also not doing right for my well-being. When I was a teenager, my dad often said to me, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like doing it, you do it anyway, because it is the right thing to do.” In other words, actions are the true voice of who you are. Even if it’s hard, not easy or hard work, you do it anyway.
There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience – French Proverb
“Never regret anything you have done with a sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born with the heart” – Basil Rathborne
If the world were to judge me by my intentions, I would be a saint, however, the world sees only my actions, not my intentions. Our actions of integrity are how we respect ourselves and others, and become an influence in how others respond to us. We are true to our being and not deceiving, manipulating or exaggerating to impress people. Integrity is a universal truth and a guiding force which leads us into harmony with ourselves and others. People can trust our words when we are sincere in our actions. Ignoring your inner voice, that internal moral compass, is not being true to your innermost being.
Reliability and Responsibility
“The only lifelong, reliable motivations are those that come from within, and one of the strongest of those is the joy and pride that grow from knowing that you’ve just done something as well as you can do it.” – Lloyd Dobens
When we give our word, we follow through. I can assure you, I do not exhibit a perfect example on integrity, especially when it comes to reliability. I often have my own personal battle with doing what is right. My challenge is follow through. As I mentioned, intentions do not equal integrity. I have high morals and ideals. I regard myself as being honest and sincere. I speak up for others; I stand up for what is just. I am compassionate and giving. However, I am also human and perfectly flawed. Where I am most lacking in integrity is keeping my agreements reliably. I often make plans with others, but I do not honor those commitments or the individuals I make the commitments to.
My other nemesis is my need to be “perfect” and at times taking on more than I can handle. This is a major hindrance. Often I am unable to meet deadlines, because I am over analyzing and overly critiquing myself or I have tried to squeeze more than is humanly possible to accomplish in a day. I often say, 24 hours is just not long enough, I need more time! I make the choice to do these things, therefore, I must own up to my choices and their results. I am responsible for the results of my actions and my inactions. Do your actions match your words; can others rely on you to be responsible.
“My life is an influence on every life mine touches. Whether I realize it or not, I am responsible and accountable for that influence.” – Ron Baron
““If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” – Henry David Thoreau
Integrity is not just how we conduct ourselves to the outside world; we must also have integrity for ourselves. How we conduct ourselves is the truest reflection of how we see ourselves. We listen to our internal voice and know right from wrong. We empower our self, without the need for others to validate us. We do not give in to peer pressure. If something is against our better judgment, we do not join just to be apart of. We think for ourselves and trust our own decisions.
The virtues give me more insight into who I am and how I conduct myself. It gives me an opportunity for growth, and to evolve into a healthier and more content human being. They help me to see my strengths and weaknesses, providing me an opportunity to awaken into my best self, beyond my intentions, beyond my limited perceptions. “It empowers me to be truly myself” – (The Virtues Project TM)
“Day by day what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny.” Heraclitis
Trustworthiness and Truthfulness
“Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues…When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved” – George MacDonald
Are you reliable? Do you make promises you can keep? Are you faithful and loyal? These are character traits we seek in our companions, family and significant other, but do you exhibit these qualities too? I have only one rule in my house, be truthful. Be true in your actions, be honest in your words, be true to yourself, and be true to your values. At times we withhold the truth or tell white lies. Personally, I believe there is never an excuse to tell a lie. A lie is a lie. However, there are times when we must discern whether or not to speak the truth if it isn’t necessary. There is such a thing as blunt honesty. Share the truth in a compassionate and kind way, as well as in a sincere and tactful way.
“Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?” - Sai Baba
Last but not least – you. Honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, fairness, respecting others, harming none, and being just- are widely accepted as integral values of integrity. Your parents, teachers, your religious upbringing and culture can determine many of your perceptions of what is right or wrong, but your conscience is what ultimately determines your core values of integrity. It’s that nagging pull that drives you to do what is right, even when no one is looking. Your core values, ideals, perceptions and beliefs develop your Integrity. It is standing up for what you believe is right, living by your own personal principles. Ultimately, integrity is not something you can teach anyone. You can lead by example, but your experiences and the principles you live by determine what integrity is to you. Listen to your internal voice and live by the moral principles and ideals that are uniquely your own. Integrity, along with all of the virtues, open the door for a more enriched life, with an abundance of acceptance and gratitude for all of the beauty that life provides.
Listed below are virtues that I believe are necessary to gain a deeper understanding of integrity and aid me in exhibiting this invaluable attribute. What are some of the virtues that aid you in practicing integrity? How do you exhibit integrity? Do you have the character traits that make up a moral life? What are your experiences with integrity or lack thereof? What are your ideals of integrity? Do we value integrity in ourselves the same way we value it in others? We would love to hear your experiences with integrity; please comment below.