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What Does Integrity Mean to You?

by Scott Swain 
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.

My definition of INTEGRITY is more broad than the commonly understood definition. 

I'm reminded of this word often in regard to all the ways people think and act across the many types of relationships we have in our lives. We all wear SOME "mask" that shifts based on who we are currently interacting with. Typically, our masks change depending on context. Sometimes we don't even consciously see parts of our own masks. To some extent we are all constantly balancing adaptation, trust, compassion, and authenticity. For example, we might speak differently to a child than to an adult because (a) we know the child has less life experience; and (b) we know our words and actions will have greater impact on the more malleable mind of a child. 

Expanding on that, the ways I appreciate INTEGRITY are perhaps more broad than the commonly understood definition:

Having the same philosophy with work/client relationships as I do with self, lovers, friends, children, language, creation, and politics! 

For this to make sense and feel more real to you, I will bring two other terms to the story; CHOICE and FOUNDATION. CHOICE is necessary for many reasons. FOUNDATION is what all ideas, relationships, and objects are built upon. Each of us may value our FOUNDATION being comprised of different ingredients. While my favorites are fairness, authenticity, choice, and expression, your favorites might be trust, contribution, and health.
Following are a few ways that I strive to have INTEGRITY with CHOICE and FOUNDATION:

I value combining words and actions to create a strong FOUNDATION that much can be built upon. Having CHOICE for myself is necessary to create, contribute, be virtuous (virtue requires choice,, and enjoy life. So I seek for my words and actions to strengthen my FOUNDATION. If I express authentically in one kind of situation but in-authentically in another, then that is a breach of INTEGRITY and a weakening of my FOUNDATION. So, because fairness is one of my core values, INTEGRITY also means I want all whom I interact with to have CHOICE in their lives! 

I reflect this desire in my language by leaving out words like "should, must, have to, etc." and instead using words like "intend, want, and choose," which is one lesson of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). The FOUNDATION here is the underlying "CHOICE test", asking myself, "Do these words support or deny CHOICE? Do these words build or strengthen my FOUNDATION? How do these words affect those who hear them?"  More on NVC and how it can be liberating and empowering:

When I begin any project, I see the first steps as being the FOUNDATION, and thus the most important, because all else will rest upon and/or sprout from that. A strong FOUNDATION will have INTEGRITY and will take potential change into account, allowing for maximum CHOICE. This FOUNDATION may even have within it a manifestation of CHOICE by being designed FLEXIBLE enough to adjust to future CHOICEs. A simple example: When building a deck, you might value the ability to at some point in the future change the size or shape of the deck. So, to promote those future CHOICEs being possible, you might build your deck as many small pieces that are easily joined to fit together in multiple configurations.

In my politics it means I'm a Voluntaryist (no masters and no slaves, If my personal ethics preclude hitting and stealing for any reason or goal (except self defense), then for me INTEGRITY means it is not cool for ANYONE to hit or steal (remove the CHOICE of another) for any reason or goal. Just as I would never believe it is OK to force a friend to give me money so that I can buy myself something or even so that I can in turn give that money to a homeless person, I do not condone a person with a costume and badge from the Army, Police Department, or Internal Revenue Service doing the same. The FOUNDATION here is: stealing and hitting are not OK. Excuses do not make it OK. Grand goals or schemes do not make it OK.  If a majority of people in the world care enough about poor people that they are OK with forcing their neighbors to pay to help poor people, then without the option to use government force, would those same caring people just stop caring? Would they not CHOOSE to create a VOLUNTARY system (like a charity, for example) to assist the poor? Taxation, at its FOUNDATION does not support CHOICE. 

We are born with curiosity and authenticity. Learning is natural. Learning requires experimentation and mistakes, which requires CHOICE. For a child, FOUNDATION can be many things. It can be the way they see their parents navigate relationships and situations. As their sense of self grows, they mimic less and make more of their own CHOICEs. They begin building their own FOUNDATION. This is where INTEGRITY comes into play, in CHOOSING to allow children the space to make their own CHOICES when we are presented with the option to shield them from hardship or pain. Disclaimer: "hardship or pain" does not mean damage. This is a grey area that no one sees exactly the same and that is fine with me. Diversity of attitude and experience is necessary! Deeper: When we take CHOICE away from a child, we are influencing how they build their FOUNDATION and how much they will value CHOICE later when they interact with others. Children who are taught that it is OK for people to control other people will grow up to be victims and bullies.
INTEGRITY with our word

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INTEGRITY & CHOICE in hierarchies

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INTEGRITY & CHOICE in love relationships

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In my love life, INTEGRITY means never to obligate or control. I get great satisfaction in knowing ALL parties are present - in the overall relationship and in any activities within that relationship - because they both CHOOSE to be. Again, building a relationship upon a strong FOUNDATION that has INTEGRITY. Compromises, sacrifices, exceptions, obligation, and lies weaken the INTEGRITY of that FOUNDATION, affecting all that is built upon it. A strong FOUNDATION means more joy, CHOICES based on consensus, less dependence, and more interdependence.
INTEGRITY & CHOICE in parenting

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 Contact Scott Swain for mediation and Emotional Intelligence Tools training for business, love, and parenting.