Integrity is living in the way we believe to be right. It’s doing the most right thing we can possibly know to do in any circumstance, in the most right way we can think of, with the best ability and skill we can muster to bring to the situation.
Over a lifetime integrity includes recognizing who you are and pursuing your calling through actions that are based on your design. This would mean setting goals according to your deepest passions, and developing skills that are aligned with your basic design, in the process of, and in order to pursue those goals.
The word “integrity” comes from the same root as “integrated.” A life of integrity would be a life where all these are integrated into a strong, single, coherent whole. When we integrate all these elements into the definition of integrity, then the effort of living a life of integrity is guaranteed to be worthwhile and deeply fulfilling.
It is very difficult to build a life of integrity by design
Pondering all this, I could not help but realize how difficult it is to build a life of integrity. Mostly we can only see in hindsight if something really fits into our lives. Similarly we can only tell whether something suits our design when we try to do it, and then take note of our failures and successes, and the emotions and inner experiences these create for us.
The result of this is that we build our lives mostly haphazardly. Even when we try very hard to be goal oriented, intentional and deliberate about it, we find that time after time our lives seem to consist of a bunch of randomly attached pieces, rather than being a well-integrated whole.
Most of the time when we make decisions that violate our values (or am I the only one who sometimes does this?) it is because we’ve slowly painted ourselves into a corner, and we were too slow to let go of what was busy taking shape when we saw the first danger signs. We become attached to something, or some outcome, and it is when it looks like we’re going to lose it, that suddenly, without us noticing it, this “thing” becomes for a moment more important than whatever is the right decision in the heat of the moment.
Build integrity through loss
For every step of growth, we have to lose something of who and what we thought we were, to prepare us for the next step.
It would appear to me that the art of building a life of integrity is found in building a life of constant and regular loss.
This will help you to get rid of the things that don’t really fit. In fact, I think it is more important, in building a life of integrity, to get used to loss, than to get better at planning and living deliberately. Trying something and discarding that which didn’t work, or ended up not serving a purpose, seems to me to be easier, simpler, and probably a whole lot more interesting, than constantly fretting over whether we are making the right decisions or not – just as long as we discard regularly – almost constantly.
Good wine comes from well pruned vines.
The benefits of being a loser
I can see several immediate further benefits to building a life of constant loss:
– It will make you used to loss – which will enable to you be more willing to take risks that might cause loss.
– When you face losses you didn’t engineer yourself, you’ll be much better equipped and well exercised in the art of dealing with loss – enabling you to bounce back faster, and more effectively.
– When you are facing a situation where making the right decision has a very high risk of significant loss (e.g. refusing the compromise your values and thereby missing out on some big opportunity), you will be much more comfortable with the idea of that loss – knowing that loss is a normal, good, and productive part of your life.
I’m sure you can think of more. The point is this:
Embracing loss is one of the foundational principles of building a life of integrity.