Minding the Integrity Gap


What would the world be like if we realized the integrity at the heart of our humanity? What if we could actualize the positively wise, compassionate, and powerful aspects of who we are no matter what the circumstances? What if we could create the conditions to catalyze these in others?

We human beings have a peculiar habit of dividing ourselves, each other, and our world in ways that perpetuate our partiality at the expense of our greater integrity. We divide our experience into bits and pieces, generally preferring the good bits to the bad bits—the pretty, pleasant, convenient bits to the ugly, unpleasant, inconvenient bits—even when these are essentially complementary. 

Our notions of identity—our very ideas about who we are—are fraught with fragmentation. We divide ourselves into facile categories based on age, shapes, and shades, religious and political affiliation, nation-state, economic status, occupation, ethnicity, gender, appearance, etc. We divide our world into nations and states, regions and territories, bits of landed and storied conflict. We divide eternity into chunks of time, and carve infinity into plots of belonging.

We exercise unwavering, albeit often unconscious, discrimination, comparing and contrasting who we are, how we feel, what we do, how we abide in what abode all the while longing to experience some greater wholeness that often eludes us. 

With such multi-faceted experience available to us, it is helpful, even necessary, for us to divide it all into more manageable chunks. Labeling, categorizing, and prioritizing parts of our experience is an understandable way of dealing with the magnitudes and vicissitudes of being human in an ever-changing world. Preferring some bits and pieces over others is only natural. 

Yet, when our preferences for particular aspects of our experience result in excluding or denying essential aspects of ourselves, others, and the world from being fully acknowledged and integrated into our understanding of ourselves and our reality, we undermine our ability to experience genuine integrity.

Partiality, by definition, lacks integrity. When we are partial, we favor specific parts of our experience at the expense of the whole. For example, if we are partial to “heart,” we may seek and find wholeness only in “heart” or emotional experiencing. If we are partial to “head,” we may identify wholly with intellectual experiencing, and so on. If we are partial to “us,” we may seek and find wholeness only in our affinity groups, which can result in divisive, partisan experience like “us” versus “them” politics that vilifies the perceived other and refuses to find common ground. 

Far too often our partiality obscures a much more meaningfully integrated experience of ourselves, each other, and our world, perpetuating the experience of incompleteness and fragmentation that we’re trying to overcome.  

When we think about integrity, most of us tend to think about it in terms of being honest, or aligning our values or intentions with our actions—say what we mean, mean what we say, walk our talk. While this is part of integrity, integrity is really about being whole. 

We must take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.
— Annie Dillard

Integrity is honoring the essential wholeness within, between, and all around us—the integrity of ourselves as individuals inhabiting unique bodyminds in relationship with each other given the conditions of our existence.

It’s living with an awareness of our interdependence—that who I amhow I feel, and what I do relates to who you are, how you feel, and what you do, and that who we are, how we feel, and what we do together contributes to what’s happening in the state of our world—our relationships, institutions, communities, and planet as a whole.

It’s a commitment to understanding what’s true not just from our own perspective, but from multiple points of view. It’s a commitment to being kind even to those we don’t particularly like or understand. It’s a commitment to doing what’s right or fair, even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable. 

Because it's not enough to know better. We also have to do better. With awareness comes the responsibility to act accordingly. We must become the best of who we are to address the worst of who we are.

Integrity is intentionally, consistently, and adaptively serving the greatest good as best we can as much as possible for ourselves, each other, and the world. 

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When we think of people lacking integrity, scam artists, shady salesmen, and corrupt politicians usually come to mind.

However, we are all integrity-challenged at times.

Even when we are committed to living in integrity, none of us is able to be true, kind, and fair to everyone in every situation all of the time. Our lives are fraught with habitual patterns of fragmentation that significantly undermine our ability to live in integrity. Sometimes, it is challenging to figure out what is true, kind, or fair. Even if we know, we don't always have the capacity to enact it.

We all have integrity gaps—particular moods, relationships, and situations—that compromise our integrity. 

Chances are that you have experienced more than a few of these situations:

By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.
— Parker Palmer
  • Advocated for a decision (or candidate) using only the facts that support your point of view.
  • Went along to get along against your better judgment.
  • Taken on a project because you didn't feel comfortable voicing your objections.
  • Failed to keep a secret.
  • Called in sick when you were really playing hooky.
  • Exaggerated about your experience, or expertise.
  • Broke a promise to yourself or someone else.
  • Remained silent when co-workers or friends gossiped about someone.
  • Neglected to care about a group of people because they were born under a foreign flag, speak a different language, or voted for another candidate.
  • Jumped to a faulty conclusion based on unchecked assumptions.
  • Misjudged someone based on hearsay.
  • Avoided someone's calls, or disregarded texts/email messages.
  • Used products that are produced in unethical ways.
  • Refused to apologize or admit a mistake.
  • Said "yes" to a social engagement because you didn't want to hurt someone's feelings or you felt obligated.
  • Taken more credit (or blame) than you deserve for something.
  • Complained about others to a friend or colleague instead of speaking directly to those involved.

Although we tend to think that people either have integrity or they don’t, the reality is that we all have it and we don’t. Integrity is not an end-state, but an ongoing process of responding holistically and dynamically to evolving circumstances. 

Integrity is a holistic, dynamic way of seeing and being. We move in and out of integrity depending on our ability to be with the whole of what is happening in the moment.

When we’re living in integrity, we’re able to be fluent and fluid in reality. We greet the full spectrum of human experience—the good, the bad, and the truly tragic—with greater clarity, equanimity, and courage. We are wiser, more compassionate, more powerful. We make better choices that lead to better better outcomes.

Notice, that I said “better,” which is not necessarily easier, but always infinitely wiser, more compassionate, and more powerful.

Interested, curious, intrigued?

Learn about Integrity Dynamics: register for an upcoming Course, explore one-to-one coaching, and/or bring this work to your particular organization or community