Living in Integrity

Integrity is a word I have heard off and on throughout my entire life. Never really giving it much thought, but also believing that I was a man of integrity.  I was wrong for a good part of my life. Partially due to some poor decision making, but mostly because I never thought about what it really means to live in integrity. So in response, I have spent time to read, research and interview others on what the word means in one’s life. I desire to truly live this in my life.

For many the word “integrity” is simply being honest or balanced in life. For others is is being “who you are”.  As I have listened and learned, neither of these really describe what “integrity” means as a way of life. In truth it goes deeper. Let’s start at an easy place, Google defines integrity with two statements:
  1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness
  2. The state of being whole and undivided

Both definitions are something to aspire to. Being honest and having high moral principles seems easy on the surface.  But I challenge you to consider how honest you really are at all times and with all people, including yourself. The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous has been adapted by many different recovery programs, but really can be used to improve anyone’s life. The word honesty doesn’t show up in the steps but to really live them, one must be rigorously honest with yourself and with others. The steps include a detailed self examination, a moral inventory where you identify your positive and negative character traits. This exploration into one’s life and soul can be taxing but it will offer great benefits as well. The journey also helps you acknowledge the impact of your life and decisions have on those around you.

Richard Rohr OFM is an American author, spiritual writer, and Franciscan friar based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has spent many years working with those who live in the margins of life, including those lost in addictions.  He believes that going through the twelve steps would benefit everyone, not just addicts. The step process includes surrender to one’s Higher Power, open acceptance of others on the journey, self examination in the form of a moral inventory, making a list those harmed by your actions and making amends, and finally a commitment to a process of continual re-evaluation and improvement. As I see it, these steps embody the first definition of integrity.

As I consider the second definition, wholeness, again I go back to Rohr in his book, Falling Upward. Rohr writes that as children, we instinctively develop a mask called “persona” over our true self to protect us from harm and make our way in the world. Our persona helps us know and do what we sense is required to please our parents, to fit in and relate well to our others, and to get our basic needs met. As we grow older, many people develop more masks.  We may have a mask for work, another for church, maybe even one at home with our spouse or children. What do we need to be to find acceptance? These masks begin to trap us and prevent us from living as our authentic self.

The following is from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward.
“Your stage mask is not bad, evil, or necessarily egocentric; it is just not “true.” It is manufactured and sustained unconsciously by your mind; but it can and will die, as all fictions must die. Persona and shadow are correlative terms.
“Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see. The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will need to do. Be especially careful therefore of any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion. The more you are attached to and unaware of such a protected self-image, the more shadow self you will very likely have. Conversely, the more you live out of your shadow self, the less capable you are of recognizing the persona you are trying to protect and project. It is like a double blindness keeping you from seeing—and being—your best and deepest self.”
“The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting  on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.” - Friedrich Buechner

If I am to secure a life based on wholeness, then I need to dispense with the masks and live my true self.  I need to be the same person all the time, regardless of the situation. Dr. Brene Brown a research professor at the University of Houston said, “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”  So it is not a goal to be perfect, but simply to be my true self and to be consistent in that. I acknowledge my worth and my failings; my value and brokenness. I have surrendered to God, my Higher Power to help create in me that which is whole and undivided.

So how can one live in integrity?
  • First, you have to understand what it means. I didn’t for most of my life. But now I have and am still learning more as I journey.
  • Second, you have to know your true self; the good and the bad. Let go of the bad and hold to the good. Find who you are under the masks. Understand that the way you live affects those you encounter.
  • Finally, you live with intentional authenticity, being your true self regardless of the situation, yet constantly seeking to improve that self.

Living in this way is a risk. You will make yourself vulnerable. Dr. Brown says “I believe that vulnerability – the willingness to be “all in” even when you know it can mean failing and hurting – is brave.” There will be some who do not respond well to your true self. Don’t let this hamper your journey. But if you can give yourself to this goal to Live in Integrity, you will find your life enhanced in so many ways. I am already seeing a difference in mine.


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