Recent years have given us much reason to despair at the seeming lack of integrity among our elected officials. Whether it involves questionable personal ethics, or a clear disregard for democratic processes, few politicians show a true commitment to ideals such as truth, honesty and openness.
Wiktionary offers three definitions of the word integrity — and I frankly find each lacking.
“Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” I do not believe stubborn or dogmatic thinking shows integrity. It takes little courage or talent to simply follow laws without any personal judgment or interpretation. The language of moral and ethical codes is far too inexact for our adherence to be so rigid as to not allow for unique circumstance, or for human weakness and frailty. No prescription can take into account every possible situation or demand on our dedication or compassion. True integrity lies in living morally and ethically — not adhering to rules carved in stone, or to the unyielding tenets of a particular person or group. Integrity demands individual application of human reason and relevant experience.
“The state of being wholesome; unimpaired.” Personally, I view life as a wonderful, but challenging crucible of experiences. The joys and delights of one day can only be truly appreciated in the perspective of the challenges and sorrows we face on others. Life is about impairment and how we respond to events and situations that make us face our fears, our limitations, our darker impulses. Wholesome is for milk; for human beings, give me good intent, effort and passion and the result will usually result in the presence of integrity.
“The quality or condition of being complete; pure.” Here, I imagine the dictionary is referring to integrity as it relates to a person possessing all of the requisite parts, to being integrated. But again, I believe that the most important element of integrity is the recognition that none of us are complete or perfect. We each possess unique strengths. However, we each also must own up to the gaps in our perspective, our thought processes. How can we really grasp and make most use of our strengths without a firm knowledge of our weaknesses? And when we understand our shortcomings, we are best able to work in community with those best able to help us overcome our failings.
So, when I look for integrity, I look for someone open to the thinking and experiences of others, and whose judgment is not up for sale to the peddlers of easy answers and single-mindedness. I look for a hard worker with a vision and the drive to strive for that vision whatever the cost. And I look for someone who makes the most of his or her strengths, but then also is strong enough to lean on others for help.