In my reflection on values of importance to me, it is fitting I include a post on integrity, perhaps the most righteous virtue to aspire to. Integrity is consistency of behaviour based on values or beliefs. The emphasis is an honest adherence to a value or belief; rather than any specific value or belief in the first place. The truth is you can make up your own code and not all are admirable. If you really want to live righteously and fairly, then ultimately your own code should include moral and ethical concepts.
Some of the beliefs I personally aspire to are: do no harm, compassion, fairness, fidelity, honesty, privacy, freedom, justice, democracy, human rights, proactive civil society, utilitarianism, use of science creatively not destructively, creativity, and pacifism.
However, integrity is more than beliefs. Integrity is acting on your beliefs, consistently.
One of my greatest beliefs is being part of a “proactive civil society”. I strongly believe I should contribute to society – give back. More than that, if there is something ‘not quite right’, then I should speak out or act to change it.
As a couple, my husband and I lived by that code. We were active on community issues. We acted in tandem, with me being the quiet yet determined researcher, the gatherer of information, the planner of strategies. My husband was the negotiator, the ‘voice’, drawing in supporters and believers by his gregarious nature. We believed in measured, well-delivered strategies by negotiation and community participation. One thing was for certain though, if it was an issue we believed in, we did not let it go. One could even say that on some social justice and environmental issues, we were a “formidable force”.
All of this belief system crumbled and was lost on his leaving me. Part of my deepest despair was trying to come to terms with ‘what did that all mean?’ I thought that it had been our strong family unit and us as a steadfast strong-minded couple that gave me the energy to speak out, the courage to make a difference. I thought that is was our professed family values based on fairness, dependability, tolerance, keeping promises, not lying or deceiving, and respecting others; that gave me my warm inner core of strength. So strong I was able to give back. So strong I was able to stand up for my beliefs, for people’s rights.
What happened to those values, those virtues, those morals, those beliefs that we stood for together? When he walked away from me, from our partnership, did he walk away from that belief system as well? I was the believer, the unshakable one. He was the voice. Was it all an illusion? Did I only act the way I did, did I only believe what I thought I believed, because he was beside me?
His leaving me rocked my belief system to its core.
If I truly believe (as I thought I did) that one should absolutely contribute as much as one can to society, to right the wrongs, to stand up and speak out; and if I truly believe (as I thought I did) that I have so much still to contribute; then if I have now been crumpled down to a dithering mess, unable to even think straight long enough to remember to take my green bags to the shop, let alone try and save the planet; then what has happened to my own beliefs; what has happened to my own integrity?
Over the past months, I have read other people grapple with this same issue. ‘What is wrong with me?’ they ask, as they care for sick loved ones, as they recover from surgery, as they grieve the loss of friends or family. I understand their plight and am able to assure them “you are going through a difficult time… be kind to yourself”. I am less kind to myself. I feel I have lost my own inner compass.
It is time to reassess my own direction.
In order to do that, I need to accept my true self for who I am now as a single person, my strengths and my limitations. I need to affirm my own individual beliefs and choose a level at which I am prepared and capable of acting on. I need to accept that until I have regained my inner strength, I may not be able to make a difference globally, nationally or even at a community level. However, l can still act by my own code within my own home, within my workplace and with my friends, family and acquaintances. Then, if I keep acting within my own belief system, I may say once again that I am living with integrity.
“In matters of principle stand like a rock” Thomas Jefferson