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by Jacob Ninan
We all seem to understand what integrity implies, even though we may find it difficult to define it in a precise manner because it comprises of several different aspects. A man with integrity is honest, upright, sincere, saying what he means and meaning what he says, a man of his word, reliable, trustworthy, committed to his responsibilities beyond selfish considerations, etc.
Some people define integrity as consistency between what is inside a person and what is shown outside. This is fine as long as everyone understands the spirit of this statement and does not take it literally. Prudence requires that no one should express everything that is inside, and therefore the best of people will not meet this kind of a requirement. However, it does imply that there should be no guile or hypocrisy in what is being shown outside compared to what is inside.
Looking at it in a different way, we can see that a person with integrity will be one whose character is consistent in every sphere of life, and not just in one or more areas which he chooses. In other words, integrity is not compartmentalised, but it is a pervasive characteristic of the person. It is the same uprightness and dependability that come through wherever and whenever you meet him.
On a practical level, we may fine tune the definition by stating that a person with integrity is one who consistently works towards integrity and who picks himself up and resumes this pursuit whenever he fails, rather than one whose integrity has no points of failure. This gives hope and direction for all of us, and does not permit us to excuse ourselves thinking that integrity is only for some rare individuals.
Genuine integrity is not directed towards those who observe us, but a virtue we seek for ourselves. It is not something where our strategy is to impress others with this trait, but a characteristic which we ourselves value irrespective of what others think about us. In this way, it is strictly between us and God. When God called Abraham, He said, “Walk before Me, and be blameless” (Gen.17:1). In fact, there is no other way we can walk if we genuinely want to be blameless. Of course, while we are still on this earth we never get to that place where we will be completely blameless, but this is the direction towards that goal. When we find ourselves ‘missing out’ at times, we have the opportunity to set things right with God, people and ourselves, and then go forward again.
Being a person with integrity is not easy, because there are pulls from different directions within us and also from outside, and priorities are many times blurred in practical situations. For example, those who proclaim a strict order of ‘God first, family second and work last’ would know that while it is a good overall concept, it cannot be rigidly held to. We recognise we would need to be flexible in applications depending on the dynamics of real life situations. Once we understand that, how we handle the dynamics will depend on our integrity because there is scope for cheating ourselves.
Is it not true that now and then we meet someone from another faith who appears to have more integrity than many Christians we know, perhaps including ourselves? It can be someone, for example, who will not take or give bribes, or who will stand for their principles even at great personal loss. We can be sure God notices that. But many times what spoils the show is their personal pride in their integrity—which should teach us that true integrity goes along with genuine humility before God. In other words, we can conclude that genuine integrity is not possible without God enabling us inside our heart and mind. It is this kind of integrity that can stand the test of differing circumstances coming at us with the pressure to compromise. It is something that begins to grow within us as a part of the transformation when we are born again and get into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
There are some people who seem to be driven by principles in their nature and others who are moved more by pragmatism. It would seem as if the first group has an advantage with respect to integrity. (This would account for the fact that people with integrity can be found in any religion.) But, as we have seen, this ‘natural integrity’ is not the same as the one generated by God in one’s heart and mind. In fact, both groups need to learn something from God.
While generally there is respect in this world for people with integrity, it is also true that there is great discomfort and even fear when people come across such persons. People fear that such persons will hinder or oppose their own compromising or corrupt pursuits. Such persons are many times kept out of responsible positions in organisations or shunted off to places where they will not ‘get in the way’. There are very few people who are willing to stand and fight for what they believe is right, and unfortunately, many compromise. Some succumb to taking a position that if we have to survive in this world we should be willing to accommodate some level of deviation from our ideals.
Those who want to be upright sometimes get into a legalistic approach to life just like the Pharisees, and then they make themselves obnoxious to the people around them. They nit-pick on the others with regards to matters that are really non-essential, and end up with judgmental or despising attitudes that are much worse than the things they were ‘standing against’! Of course, there are issues on which we cannot budge or compromise. But there are many other things that are merely based on one’s own culture, personality, or upbringing, and here we need to give a very broad margin for others who are different from us and who do things differently. Surely, it takes wisdom to recognise what are negotiable and what are not.
Integrity is its own reward, giving us a free conscience and the satisfaction of knowing that ‘it is well with our souls’. It earns the respect of others and gives us a position to serve them in the process of their transformation. God takes great delight over those who are upright in heart and He will reward them here on the earth as well as in the world to come.
-- Published in the Christian Manager magazine, Oct.-Nov. 2013
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