In a society that honors power, money, fame, and success, there is a desired quality which is often overlooked–integrity. If I had to pick one thing for my children to have, ranking higher than health or wealth would be the presence of character in their lives.
While an absence of integrity has always been present, we may have never experienced a time in which the concept of character is so overlooked or downplayed. We have grown to expect corruption, deceit, and dishonesty from politicians, co-workers, companies, institutions, churches, spouses, and friends. Pessimism and cynicism so defines us that we aren’t even convinced integrity is possible any more.
It is. On a regular basis I interact with people of amazing character. It doesn’t mean they are perfect. It doesn’t mean there aren’t times in which I’m surprised or disappointed by a poor choice of someone I admire. It does mean people regularly make hard choices, do noble things, and show an internal strength which many others assume doesn’t exist. (See: You Control What Matters Most)
The problem with society’s present view of character is that because we no longer believe it is possible, we do not teach it to our children. We don’t train character. We don’t demand integrity. We don’t model how to have a strong reputation. In this failure of parents, churches, schools, and society, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. We assume good character can’t happen so we fail to create integrity in ourselves and our children.
Thankfully, our assumptions are wrong. Strong character still exists. It can be taught and learned. And we aren’t being hypocrites in demanding it from our leaders and others just because we are not always perfect. As a matter of fact, integrity is not perfection. In some ways, it has more to do with how to deal with our imperfections.
4 Signs of Integrity
1. Say no when you mean no. I don’t know anyone who wants to live with integrity who believes lying is acceptable. However, I know many people who want to have character who regularly lie. They say “yes” when they mean “no.” They stay quiet and give the appearance of consent, when they actually disagree. They don’t say “no” with their mouths, but they do so with their actions by failing to do what they have agreed to do. Integrity means truth. If you mean no, say no. When you fail to do so, it’s a failure of integrity. (See: I Still Believe Character Matters)
2. Do what you say. Integrity means being complete. When something has integrity, it has no divide. The most common way a lack of integrity is revealed is when our words do not match our actions, like when we say one thing, but do something else. If we are seeking to have a strong character, it begins by matching words with actions. When a person consistently does what he says, he proves to everyone around him that he is whole…without divide.
3. Respect people’s time and decisions. An often overlooked aspect of integrity encompasses how we interact with others. If having integrity is being a complete entity, not only must one not have internal divides, but they must also have a clear distinction between themselves and others. Whenever we fail to respect another person, we are showing an absence of strong character. Respecting another person’s time ties into me doing what I’m going to say. If we are going to meet at a certain time or for a specific length, I must honor that. To respect someone’s decision does not mean I agree with what they decide, it means I respect their right to make the decision. Without control, manipulation, or co-dependency, a person of integrity will understand what decisions are theirs to make and what decisions are under the control of others.
4. Admit mistakes. Integrity has less to do with perfection and far more to do with how we handle imperfection–both ours and others. No one is perfect. Because of this imperfection, we should expect personal failures. When they occur, a person of principle is quick to recognize them, admit them, and correct them. Integrity is often displayed by sincere apologies, true remorse, and a concerted effort to correct a wrong. A person who lacks integrity downplays their faults, denies their failures, and dismisses the frustrations of others. When someone has a strong character, it often displays itself in how quick they are to admit failure and attempt to make it right.
Being a person of strong character is made up of more than just these four things, but they are a good start. Bad character can be hidden for a time. We can deceive ourselves and others, but make no mistake, an absence of integrity will eventually reveal itself. When it does, the consequences can be overwhelming. But few things are as stabilizing–to a community, family, business, organization, or country–like a person of strong character. (See: Communication Reveals Character)
Imagine if I gave you a choice of who your child could marry. One person was rich, famous, powerful, and outwardly very successful. The other was poor, unknown, and had little influence. But the first person had no character and the second person was someone of tremendous character. To whom would you want your child to marry? Without question, I would choose the person of integrity.
As we desire for our children, so we should be for ourselves. Character matters.