By definition, integrity is adherence to moral and ethical principles. It also conveys a sense of wholeness; a wrapping of the entire package of human character into a representation of personal conviction. Integrity is more than just another character trait; it is a reference to the entire expression of upright character in a person.
In spite of its significance (for those who care about such things), it does not come pre-installed. It has a place of origin, a birth place, an identifiable environment suitable for growth. Just as the earth displays its unique, blue and white hue through the spectrum of light in an otherwise, comparably barren universe, so also integrity has a unique environment for developing a life of righteousness.
This place is not a reference to its source, for as Christians believe, righteous character finds its source in Jesus and not in our own efforts at decency. That said, Scripture does point to that unlikely womb of development.
Attempting to develop a moral compass outside of this environment will produce a counterfeit character. Under such conditions, those who want to be generous, will do as their circumstances allow, but as soon as storms rock their boat, the character trait of giving will quickly fall by the wayside as a result of a lack of consistency. In similar fashion, those who value honesty, faithfulness, or reliability, will find them fractured and replaced by the necessity of the trials of the moment. In other words, efforts at character development not rightly birthed from within this special environment will result in a moral still birth.
That makes this environment not only essential for lasting character formation, but of great importance to any serious student of ethics.
This birth place of integrity is not in public encounters, familiar relationships, or social arenas. Nor should we look for it in churches, classrooms, or work environments. As much as our character impacts all our relationships and choices and its diversity of expression cuts through all those connections, integrity develops its lasting form in complete privacy.
Regardless of the specific character trait which contributes to the overall assessment of integrity within a person, it is in the privacy of our hidden choices within which integrity develops permanency. When no one else is looking, when no extra benefits can be attained, when no cameras are rolling and no return address is attached to our deed, that is the place. That is where enduring integrity is formed.
When we do what we do because we believe it is best, not to garner favor, not to earn points, not to ease guilt, and not to fit in, but simply because we know it is right, that is the environmental core of lasting integrity.
Such convictions are only as enduring as the standard upon which they are based, and so believing that something is right can only endure as long as that standard remains uncontested. As a Christian, I believe that eternal standard can only be found in Jesus, but the point here is to highlight the environment within which true ethics within a person are formed.
It is in the simplicity of the private moment that our underlying character is birthed. There are no competing motives, no ulterior benefits, only a solitary moment to choose good over other. more self-benefiting alternatives. It is a matter of consistency no matter who is aware, no matter what the potential return benefits, and no matter the negative consequences.
Those who are willing to persist in expression of rightness, contrary to impulses or benefits to do otherwise, simply because their standard dictates such a course, are far more likely to sustain that character under more complex circumstances. Not even loss or persecution will deter such conviction because it never formed with the soft clay of personal gain or public acknowledgment.
To this Christians read not to let their giving be done under the motive of letting others see our actions, instead to allow our private choices in what we believe to be right to be recognized by God “who sees what is done in private”. The commitment to express ourselves with integrity when no one else knows either what we do or why we do it is why such character is so translatable to all other circumstances, no matter how difficult, big, or complex they may seem.
“He who is faithful in little, will be faithful in much” (Jesus).
The crucible of trials will test the staying-power of our character, but when the motive is unselfishly consistent and the standard is eternal, the package of character we call integrity endures all storms. Genuine integrity comes from the consistent translation of private character into public life.
Amazingly, the birth of integrity can occur at any time along the spectrum of our lives. Even for those of us who have not started well, we still have the invitation to establish ourselves upon that eternal standard and begin anew with choosing what is right in the privacy of our own transformation.
Those who wish to develop such lasting character are encouraged to found their beliefs on an unchanging standard and then to apply adherence to that standard not only in the public sphere or in relationships with others, but especially when no one else is looking.
That is where you will find real integrity.
Are your commitments as reliable in private as when others are around?