They say, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking,” which I think is spot on but incomplete. The Oxford dictionary has two definitions of integrity:
1. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
2. The state of being whole and undivided.
We’re all familiar with the first definition of being morally upright. It’s when we’re able to show up as a good parent, neighbor, leader, employee—a good human being overall. It seems easy to understand, but living life with integrity takes daily practice, commitment, authenticity and diligence.
If we ask a thousand people whether they want to live a life of integrity or not, chances are a thousand of them would say yes. Because really, who wouldn’t want that? It’s like asking people if they want to be healthy or not. We all try, but it’s just that sometimes our integrity slips. And some people, for whatever reason, seem to lack integrity altogether. Why? My suspicion is that it has much to do with the second meaning—or lack thereof.
The State Of Being Whole And Undivided
The second definition of integrity may seem abstract, almost poetic, but what it means is quite simple: We’re whole and undivided when what we think, what we feel and what we do are in alignment. The moment one of these sticks out and opposes the other two, we’re “divided” within ourselves and no longer in full integrity.
Let’s say you’re very kind to your employees (what you do), but you’re often frustrated with them (what you feel) because they’re incompetent (what you think). Externally, you are kind and good to your employees. On the surface, anyone can say you’re a good boss. Internally, it’s a different story because you really don’t think they’re good enough. You find yourself frustrated with them and yet say or do nothing to change the circumstances. Sometimes, you may even find yourself venting about them to your family or friends just to blow off some steam or laugh it off. How you act with your employees is not in alignment with what you truly feel and think, so you’re actually at odds with them and with yourself.
How To Bridge The Divide
First and foremost, kudos to you for being kind despite your frustrations. Acting out of frustration is reactionary and can be harmful. Choosing to be kind is powerful. Don’t change that part. But if you want to live a life with full integrity, how you act and what you do have to be in alignment with how you feel and think to achieve the state of being whole and undivided.
There is a Buddhist saying, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” The example above will ultimately be hard to maintain because what you’re feeling inside will eventually show. So instead of maintaining, let’s make a shift.
Here’s how you can align what you feel, what you think and what you do:
1. Acknowledge how you think and feel.
Again, if you’re doing the right thing externally but you’re conflicted internally, you are divided and not whole. You can call it something else but it is not integrity. It can’t be.
It’s that pang in your gut when you acquiesce to a colleague so that you don’t upset the company culture or by working yourself to the ground when you know it is not healthy for you or for your loved ones. When you feel the pang or negative feelings, don’t dismiss them. Instead, acknowledge them. They are clues to how you can live your life in full integrity, undivided.
Say you are feeling guilty because of X, or you are feeling angry because of X. Ask yourself: What can I do to feel less guilty? What can I do to feel less angry? Acknowledgment allows for definition, and once something is defined, it can no longer hide in obscurity. You can choose to ignore it, but then you know and are aware that you are acting against your integrity.
2. Express and negotiate.
Once you’ve acknowledged a truth about yourself, not expressing it to those who need to hear it is considered withholding, and if you are withholding your truth, you are not living with integrity. Simply put, if something is off, do something about it.
Living a life in full integrity requires expression. You’re expressing something because you want what is best for yourself and for others. And that expression often takes courage and trust.
Once you’ve expressed your truth, allow space for others to express theirs. Their truth may be hard to hear, but you will have it, and you can choose what to do with it. The healthiest relationships of any kind are those that have a balance of give and take, negotiating and creating new agreements.
3. Make necessary adjustments.
Think of ways to further bridge the divide. In the example above, instead of pretending to be OK, make it a point to be OK. How do you do that? You do so by directly addressing your frustration. Namely, your employees’ performance. It’s simple enough to say, “They’re incompetent,” and leave it at that, but to truly shift the situation and outcome, you have to alter your relationship with them.
When you understand the issues that have been holding your employees back, you can then concentrate on the issues and not your employees. You can try to set up training workshops, automate certain processes, find ways to mediate or mitigate conflicts between your employees, etc. This allows your employees to do their best and improve.
Now being kind to your employees (what you do) is aligned with appreciation (what you feel) because you know they are doing their very best (what you think). You have become the full definition of integrity.