Integrity: Making The Right Choice

in-teg-ri-ty [in-teg-ri-tee]

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.

3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

There are many things over which you don’t have complete, or sometimes any, control: your wealth, your health, the state of the nation, the culture in which you live, the fate of your children. But you do have absolute control over your moral character. This is one of the few areas in which you have complete control, should you choose to exercise it. As Russian dissident Alexander Solzenitzyn has said, seeing the truth is not very hard; people just choose not to do what they know to be right. We all know that certain foods are bad for us; yet we often choose to eat them anyway. We all know that “we should be honest”, yet we often choose to lie. We know that envy is not healthy, yet we often wallow in wanting what others have.

Being morally good is often not rewarded; not only do the good guys not always win, they don’t win any more often than the bad guys. Not so long ago, at least in historical terms, people chose to be good because they believed goodness would be rewarded in the life to come; many saw the threat of eternal damnation as quite real. For some this is still true, but for the rest of us, living in a thoroughly secular society, the question is not so much, what does it mean to be good, but rather why should I be good?

There are, of course, many different answers to this question, but one of the most convincing seems to be that some people are simply inherently inclined, for reasons of nature or nurture, to have a very strong, sometimes overriding, desire to “do the right thing.” For many, this means making a sacrifice for the good of family, the nation, or some cause in which they deeply believe. For others, it means sacrificing a present pleasure for the long term expression of their values.

Many men seem to just inherently know, and do, the right thing. Not being able to justify such actions in abstract, philosophical terms does not make such actions any less noble, or decrease the importance of them. Philosophy is a noble endeavor, but it’s much more important to do good than to understand good. In day to day life, one important reason for doing good is the feeling that to do some particular action is “just who I am”, and to betray that feeling would compromise some important part of themselves. The feeling of wholeness is very important to the idea of integrity; you can not be whole if you feel you have sacrificed some important part of your values. Being a good person when its easy or convenient is meaningless; being good means that you delay pleasure, or endure some sort of pain or loss, in order to accomplish some longer term goal; that goal may very well to be your best self. Your best self is the one that adheres to your principles, makes you feel whole, and is the version of yourself that you would like for the world to see, as well as the one you want to see in the mirror.

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