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Thinking About Integrity

We can all be fair, especially when it suits us. We can all have ethics when we have nothing to lose. We can all be moral when it serves our interest.
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Who has it? Who doesn't? What exactly is it?

The dictionary cites that the origin of "integrity" are the words "entire," "whole," or "complete." So if you are a whole, complete, an entire person, it stands to reason you will have integrity. So are we born with it? Do we forget? Can we acquire it? Do we learn what integrity is? Can we think we have it when we don't? Do we fool ourselves, or have we managed to integrate our internal conflicts into a whole -- a person who lives, acts from heart consciousness and from truth?

An easy test: Do you say what you mean and mean what you say? Do you practice what you preach or do lip service? Do you tell white lies, half-truths, incomplete truths, shades of the truth or just down and out lie when you think it serves you to do so? Do you keep your word? Can others count on you? Can they take your word to the bank? Do you call something truth even when you're really not sure? Do you exaggerate? Do you correct yourself? Do you apologize and make amends? Is there a price, a number, something that may cause you to relax, compromise, or forget your integrity?

I am not talking about honesty, fairness, ethics or moral character because we can all be honest about some things, then skirt the line on others. We can all be fair, especially when it suits us. We can all have ethics when we have nothing to lose. We can all be moral when it serves our interest. It's like the old joke: If you will sleep with him for a million dollars (maybe a few million, given today's state), then why haggle over price? Integrity has no price. Integrity is always. Integrity is pure, no excuses. If you are madly in love with someone, so you discourage, thwart or block another person from them because of your jealousy, you don't have integrity. In other words, it doesn't matter what reason you have and it may be a good one, but it's never good enough.

My father must have been a complete entity, but it has taken me years of reflection to come to that realization. He didn't lie, cheat, steal, talk about others, gossip, criticize or brag. He did the right thing. My aunts, avid churchgoers, would harp on my parents that I was growing up without religion if I didn't attend church with them. (In hindsight, they were right, thank God.) My parents let me decide, and never told me I couldn't go into a synagogue, a place I dashed into for their water fountain and the friendly rabbis. I went to mass a few times with my aunts, but I preferred the after-church Sunday socializing. When my father broke down and paid what was to him a small fortune so we could attend Christmas Eve midnight mass and be social for me, my mom, a non-drinker, consumed a Brandy Alexander before, and when kneeling in our pew, left something more than prayer in the pew in front. After that, my father stepped foot into a church only for weddings and funerals. I kept going to the synagogue, no problem.

In any case, my aunts would come home from church and gossip, complain about everyone (they called all the in-laws in the family "outlaws," just to give you an idea), and they weren't kidding. They had nicknames for all -- "horse face," "green horn," you get the idea. My dad would laugh and chide them to be more kind. They insulted him because, well, he didn't go to church, so what did he know? They let me go to the synagogue, and besides -- he was an outlaw.

My mother once dragged me back on the subway to travel to a department store to return a purse. She discovered it on her arm in the house. I didn't want to go. It was late, the subway was crowded and the store was far. They wouldn't miss a purse. It was a big store. She didn't mean to take it and not pay. We went back. Years later, I realized why she was so adamant. On her honeymoon, my mom wanted a souvenir or two from the hotel. When the police stopped my parents' car on their way home, my dad opened the trunk and luggage without hesitation. Three vases were packed in with the clothes. No one prosecuted. No, not even my dad. He never brought it up aloud or silently.

Integrity is doing the right thing -- no matter what, no matter why, no matter how it might damage you or set you back. You can fool many people with hypocrisy, but you can't fool yourself. You know if you spout words of love to all with little correlation to how you actually feel. So maybe we are born whole, entire and complete, but we forget all that, and test the waters. We weigh what's more advantageous to us in our minds, then try to ignore heart speak saying that's not the way to go. You know, the angel over one shoulder, the devil over the other. And sometimes we do the right thing, and sometimes we don't. If this world is a classroom, then I guess that's the way it's supposed to be. We learn. When do we graduate?

I like this quote, attributed to John Demartini, a doctor of chiropractic: "When the voice and the vision on the inside become more profound and more clear and loud than the opinions on the outside, you've mastered your life." Mastering your life, becoming whole and complete, you have integrity. A tall order. Simple, but not easy. No small feat, but then nothing that matters ever is.