If I were to conduct an informal poll of the audience and ask, “Does integrity matter?” I think I would hear almost all affirmative replies. Of course integrity matters. However, what is integrity truly? The word acts as some ideal — it appears in company value statements across the world— but it sometimes escapes easy explanation.
The etymological roots give some hint as to what integrity means. In the Latin, the root of integrity, “integer,” means wholeness or completeness. The more common understanding defines integrity as the “quality of being honest” or adhering to strong moral and ethical principles.
The definitions help, but they still lack a concreteness. Wikipedia actually aids in this regard. (Please note the skepticism. Wikipedia never was and never will be a credible source in my mind.) The site explains that “integrity,” within the context of “integer,” refers to “the inner sense of ‘wholeness’ deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character.”
Integrity seems to be a good, if not essential, quality to possess. It relates to how we view the world, how we view ourselves, and how we act toward others. It prevents the divided self and secures a sense of coherency.
Integrity in Business
However, the current business culture seems hesitant to embrace integrity as an integral value. A recent study from IBM, which surveyed more than 1,500 global business executives, finds that creativity (sixty-two percent) outweighs integrity (fifty-two percent) and global thinking (thirty-five percent). Perhaps more interestingly, the numbers differ by region. In North America, sixty-five percent of CEOs view integrity as a top quality as compared to twenty-nine to forty-eight percent of other CEOs.
Does integrity matter then? Andy Moore, a Chartered Accountant in England and Speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, would argue it does. In his talk on integrity the other week, he first presents a case for integrity via the most laudable of institutions, the stock market.
He compares the aftershocks of the terrorist attack in 2001 to those of ENRON. With the former, the stock market declined sharply but staggered back to normal conditions within a couple of months. The latter situation produced different results. The stock market tanked and took more than a year to recover. To Moore, the data suggests the stock market can manage external threats. It falters when faced with internal rot, with a lack of integrity.
Worldview in Action
After sharing corporate information, Moore turns to the second part of his argument: the need for a worldview that informs the private and public selves. Moore finds, as I do, that worldview in the Bible. God’s words define what is true, beautiful, and good. They give purpose and meaning to life. His definitions, not mine, create boundaries in which to walk. They show me who I am without him, a sinner without hope in this world or the next.
This worldview concerns not only myself but also others. It dictates how I ought to act: loving God, loving others, and making God’s name known. It says that how I think and feel matter because those two things make their way out of my mouth and hands. Jesus explains in Matthew 15:17-20:
Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.
Private and Public Selves in Alignment
James, too, speaks of worldview and hints at what would be termed the “private” and “public” self today. He says in James 3:9-12:
With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
James words show the disjunction that occurs when the outer man acts in contradiction of the inner one. It is like a fountain issuing forth both fresh and bitter water. It should be impossible, but humans bless and curse all the time. What they believe inwardly fails to transmit outwardly.
They divide themselves, private and public, and they sometimes do so for all sorts of seemingly good reasons. Employees might desire a promotion, so they stay quiet when something fishy occurs. They want to do the right thing, but the work environment pressures them to survive—it’s a dog-eat-dog world, after all. The company’s value statement may call for “integrity,” but the employees hear the rumors of a whisper: “It’s okay to believe in God and have values at home, but don’t bring those things to work with you.”
Integrity gets quite messy and difficult when set within the real-world context. What keeps me grounded, consistent, and whole, though, is the worldview. It reminds me of the God who suffered everything and died the cruel death I deserved so that I might live with him forever. When I think of that, how can I not act with integrity? Jesus certainly did. He lived his whole life on earth in submission to his Father. He calls me to follow in his footsteps, so I will, no matter how many times I fail. I will pursue integrity because it does — it does! — matter.
Image: Andrew Sutherland (Creative Commons)