My father could abide almost any transgression except for a lie. Knowing this, I definitely minimized the trouble I got into as a child by not lying. It was less about integrity than intelligence. I knew that the quicker I could fess up to something I did wrong, the quicker I got out of trouble.
What was integrity in those situations? The simple honesty that came from fear of punishment? I believe that integrity is more than being honest to avoid trouble. Honesty may, in fact, just by a byproduct of integrity.
“Integrity is like the weather: everybody talks about it but nobody knows what to do about it,” writes Stephen Carter in the Atlantic Monthly. “When I refer to integrity,” he continues, “I have something very specific in mind. Integrity … requires three steps: discerning what is right and what is wrong; acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.”
In other words, integrity requires discernment, action, and openness. It’s not confined to an inner state of being but is a public manifestation of one’s disposition toward concerns that matter to them.
I’ve been contemplating what it means “to be a people of integrity” these past few weeks, not just a “person.” “To be a people,” means there is something to what we build beyond individual enlightenment or support. We gather to nourish the individual lives in our community, yet being a people of integrity requires more of us.
There is a lot we can do this month to express our integrity. We can show up to the Faith in Action Assembly on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — a public manifestation of our belief that showing up to learn, listen, and express solidarity matters. We can volunteer in the church or community because we know that for us integrity is enhanced by our collective outreach. We can be welcoming to visitors in an intentional way by seeking out newcomers, because we know that people don’t get connected by themselves. Somebody has to be that person of integrity who shares a story of hope and fulfillment. Why not that it should be you? A person of integrity.