My most valuable lesson: Integrity

Posted: 9 April, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.   … one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the past recently, about how and why the past has affected me so much today.  Our past defines who we are and there is really no way of knowing how different we would be if we’d had different experiences. But I’ve been thinking more about all the lessons I’ve learnt from my experiences, both good and bad.  In fact, I shouldn’t really think of my experiences as good or bad.  If I’ve learnt any lesson at all from it, then it’s all good.

My greatest lessons have come, not so much from experiences, but from people in my life.  Most of the values and morals we have in our lives come from the people around us.  And it’s not just those dear to us who have something to teach. I’ve learned we don’t have to like someone to learn from them; some of my most treasured lessons have come from people I don’t like.

The lesson I’ve been thinking about recently is integrity.

The person who taught me the most about honesty and integrity is my former boss, whose complete lack of both values was the best lesson I could ever have.

I saw how she made life hard for herself with her dishonesty and lack of integrity in all her professional dealings.  Her constant need to lie, rather than stand by what she had said earlier. Her lies to cover over the real reasons a task was not completed.  Her constant habit of laying blame on everyone but herself.  Her actions made her unpopular with staff and her contemporaries and it made me determined to use her as an example of what I didn’t want to be.

To me, integrity comes down to a simple equation: let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Another great definition is to say what I mean and mean what I say. When you have integrity there is no reason to resort to using persuasive terms such as, “It’s the honest truth!”, “If you don’t believe me…”, “I swear I’m telling the truth!”  You don’t need to accentuate every statement with exclamations of honesty, such as “Truthfully” or “Honestly” (as in “Honestly, I didn’t know the appointment was at 5pm.” or “Truthfully, Brett said I didn’t have to do it until tomorrow”). The truth is in what you say and there is no need to convince or persuade your audience.

Someone once said to me the most liberating statement they could make is, “I don’t know”. Having integrity doesn’t mean you are expected to have all the answers. It means admitting when you don’t know as much as speaking up when you do.

Integrity is one of those great virtues that should be valued and encouraged. Having integrity can ensure improvements in our relationships, career, even health because it encompasses so much of what we are about and who we truly are – speaking honestly about who we are and standing by it, even when under pressure to be false to those values.

It may be ironic that the person who taught me so much about integrity had none herself, but it was a valuable lesson to learn that no-one else could have taught me so effectively and I will be forever grateful for it. To me, it would be the highest honour if someone spoke of me as having integrity and I work towards that ideal every day.


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