Saturday, November 26, 2011

Integration and Integrity

I am fascinated by words, and fascinated most of all by familiar words that are unexpectedly difficult to bring into focus.  We know what they mean right up to that moment when someone asks us to explain. They are clear and then less clear.

Integrity is a word like this.  What do you think it means?

Most people will say there is a relationship between integrity and honesty, but if you ask them if honesty is the only measure of integrity, they will stop and reflect.  It doesn't seem enough. Three year olds may be honest, but do they have integrity?  If they do, how is that integrity the same as the integrity we expect from a CEO or government leader?

In training, I describe integrity as the quality that allows a person to withstand external force. If a person were a building, that would take equal measures of strength and flexibility. If a person were a building, it would be easier to define what stays standing when integrity is maintained.

Integration is a word that is obviously (if not clearly) related to integrity.  Integration happens when change happens in a person or system. It's a process by which the change becomes permanent.  This may or may not involve a testing of the change to see whether it seems to be worth keeping.  It's difficult to know if change is rejected because it is not useful enough or because the process of integration itself lacks something.

If I say we live in a world that threatens our integrity, most people will assume that I mean the world offers challenges and temptations to our moral code (whatever that may be).  That is part of what I mean.  More of what I mean, I suspect, is that it is so difficult to know ourselves that it becomes very difficult to know when we are changing in ways consistent with growth and identity.  If people fear change, it may be because they really, really want to know who they will be when they wake up tomorrow.

When I was twenty, these were easier questions.  Now I am fifty (and thirty five and twenty two and sometimes five) it is harder to be sure.  I am not even certain that being sure would build integrity.  Integrity seems to come from a willingness to face change with courage and to pretend with all our might that we can know the difference that we are making.

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