Integrity and Your Social Potential


SONY DSCPerhaps it is at times better to measure your integrity on the degree to which you are asserting your potential to best positively influence the community and to manifest your purpose as opposed to measuring your integrity by the degree to which you conform to an overgeneralized social value, an overgeneralized social perception, or a bureaucratic regulation.

In short, I am suggesting that integrity is often the noble attribute which keeps a person from manifesting their potential.

Integrity then becomes defined as the degree to which one asserts willpower to maintain adherence or consistency with a positive social image… the difficulty with this definition is that it seems to have unintentionally minimized the importance of honesty or authenticity.

I am well aware that this position (that integrity is subjective and relative) is often at the root of an operating system which can, and historically has, lead to severe social consequence.

It is not the purpose of this piece to minimize the importance of compassion and empathy when defining Integrity.

I am not suggesting an adherence to an “ends justify the means” dogma. I am not suggesting that one should measure their integrity based on the ends as opposed to basing it on the means…  (The means exists in the moment… the ends exist in the future, which is an illusion or at least not certain… the means is all we have to measure integrity.)

I am suggesting that there is a great diversity of socially compassionate ‘means’ that we can choose from as we progress through life’s continuum of moments.  By infusing dialectics into the investigation of integrity we will surely find that any action will be both positive and negative…

Let me get straight to an example I see quite frequently in my practice… very often people will stay in a job which is not best suited for them because they have too much ‘integrity’ to leave.

The value is something along the lines of, “I can do it and people count on me to do it… therefor to be a person of integrity I must persevere though the hardships of the job despite the sentiment that the job lacks positives or is the source of negatives.”

The trouble with this view from a mental health standpoint is that this form of integrity often encourages a person to continue in life without a sense that they are orchestrating their purpose… additionally, often there is an internal dissonance as they are making a choice in order to be viewed as having integrity, but they do not feel integrity as they there is an authentic void born of continually walking a path which is incongruent with one’s core self.

Further… when an individual finds themselves in the existential battle with helpless meaninglessness they become more difficult for significant others to attach to … this hurts the relationships which then hurts other individuals… and now we arrive at a point where integrity is actually the source of a family system’s discord.

This Discord can manifest in a multitude of ways… often a person will have no meaning in their vocational life and will therefor seek an unrealistic amount of meaning from a partner (this expectation then causes significant stress on the union). Other times the meaninglessness fosters a depression in the family system which demands a significant portion of the system’s energy thereby taking energy away from another person in that system’s ability to engage in their own purpose (creating an existential crisis feedback loop).

The solution is simple… simply add the variable of purpose to your definition of integrity so that being a person of integrity necessitates authenticity.

“Are your choices of action congruent with unfolding your purpose?”

Very often your chosen actions are congruent with the value of selflessly helping the community, and if your actions are additionally in line with your purpose, than the potential social benefit is higher.

Let me end with a story.

There was a man who was an unbelievably good gardener… so good in fact that he was able to grow plants in soil types which were not thought to be suitable for a given plant…

There was another man (we will call him the boss) who was in charge of the farming operations for the town… he had a significantly advanced understanding of geometry and was able to patrician the land in ways which were both easily accessed by the town farmhands and efficiently situated in relation to trade.

Unfortunately the way that the land was partitioned did not take into account what land was ideal for what crop… crops were then often planted in less than ideal soil. When the gardener talked to the boss about his observation that he could grow significantly healthier crops with significantly better yield for significantly less work the boss accused him of insubordination.

Many people depended on the Gardener as very few people could have grown much of anything in the current system in which land was partitioned to different crops without consideration to the needs of the relevant plants.

Integrity encouraged the Gardener to go to work every day and to continue on without ever again making insightful suggestions as to how to improve the system… The Gardener grew more and more emotionally tired over time and he found that it was taking even more energy for him tend to the fields.

The Gardeners partner softly approached him and asked him to remedy the emotional burden which had fallen on the family.

What should he do?

The Double bind is evident… if he continues on, he and his family system will fall farther and farther from wellness, but those who count on him to keep a broken system functioning enough will avoid the anxiety that would come from an assertive change.

If he leaves he will stop enabling the broken system and could potentially (though there is no certainty) involve himself in a functional system which was open to his influence… he would have the potential of manifesting his purpose but in the process many would suffer the anxiety inevitable in change.

What feels like the decision which is based on integrity?

It takes integrity to follow a rule … and it takes integrity to go against a rule.

Integrity, like an ethic, is relative… this is why dialectics are important when we are conversing about values.

Following a rule can often serve to minimize the anxiety of the collective… anxiety is usually an inevitable byproduct of change (unless one is devoid of attachments).

Anxiety is often labeled as suffering… without change suffering stays the same… and yet change causes anxiety which is labeled as suffering…

So then must you suffer to remove suffering? Or can we learn to hold a different relationship with change?

If you could have a different relationship with change what decisions would you make to live with greater integrity?














William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.