Monday, March 31, 2014

The Importance of Preserving Integrity

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"You are who you are when no one is looking."

Holding onto true integrity is a constant battle for most of us. Sadly, I think it might even be something that many people aren't very concerned with. Some of us think that as long as we're doing good in the eyes of others, that we are good, even if what others see is just a front. Some of us settle for others thinking we're the kind of person we'd like to be thought of as, instead of actively trying to become that person. One reason many of us might seem to lack integrity (other than the fact that we think it's good enough if others see us in a positive light) is that there seems to be a lack of good examples. Personally, as a 20-something year old woman growing up in modern-day America, I see very little integrity. Our government has no integrity, neither do companies making most of the food we consume, drug companies, large corporations, insurance companies, etc. Basically the majority of people/institutions looking to get ahead or make personal gains lack integrity. Their main desire is control, be it money or power, and integrity isn't their top priority. We're constantly exposed to these realities and therefore we're often left without positive examples. 

One of my favorite quotes regarding integrity is something Oprah said in an interview for Good Housekeeping. She said, "Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not." This is something that so many of us know deep down, but choose to keep in the backs of our minds. I think we do this at times because having integrity makes life more difficult in some ways, or less "fun'. The easy things in life aren't always the right things, and more importantly the right things aren't always easy.

If you're having a hard time finding out what choices would lead you to a life with integrity, spend some time coming up with a set of rules, morals, and principles that you think would make you a happier person. Find out what things would let you live a righteous and satisfying life, principles and morals that would make the world a better place if more people lived by them. Once you've set up guidelines for yourself, pay attention to every decision you make regardless of how small it seems and focus on getting closer to the living the kind of life you want and being the kind of person you want to be. 

I think it's common for person's integrity to be most in danger when it comes to relationships with those they care for the most because most people we care for are a big part of our lives, meaning we're faced with many decisions that could affect them. Ironically, most people lie to the people they love the most because they are most afraid of losing them or doing something they disapprove of. However, it seems as if they truly loved and cared for them that they wouldn't make these poor decisions in the first place. If we all held our integrity at a higher level of importance, lying wouldn't even be something we'd consider as something we "had" to do.

In my personal experience, I've learned over and over again that it takes less time and effort to do the right thing than it does to explain why you did the wrong thing. Lies will absolutely rot and ruin a relationship, but I think the biggest form of betrayal and loss of integrity is cheating. "Cheating isn't always kissing, touching, or flirting. If you gotta delete text messages so your partner won't see them, you're already there". The definition of cheating varies from couple to couple. For some couples, you can kiss other people and it's not cheating. For them, maybe cheating is only when you have sex with someone else. For other couples, flirting with another person is cheating. Each person in a relationship sets up boundaries or "rules", and makes agreements about what is and isn't acceptable to each of them. If one person violates the "rules" they have set up, or crosses boundaries...cheating has occurred. So many people mess around, get caught, and then say, "At least I didn't really cheat" or something along those lines. However, their partner is most definitely left feeling cheated. This is where the fact that we are all adults comes in. Just because your partner hasn't flat-out said what they consider cheating, you should know them and your relationship well enough to know what's acceptable and what's not. And we all know whether or not what we're doing is wrong, if you feel guilty about something you're know it's wrong. Like the quote above, if you're deleting text messages so your partner won't see them, having to clear your computer history every time you get offline, making sure you never leave your facebook open at your boyfriend's house in case he gets online, putting passwords on your phone to keep your partner out (not nosy coworkers, friends, or just because you appreciate privacy in general), you might need to take a step back and evaluate your integrity.

Of course romantic relationships aren't the only thing that can challenge or ruin a person's integrity, and I don't want to get too off-topic. I only touched on that because as I was researching different people's experiences with integrity, many of the things I found online were connected to people's experiences with cheating and lies between partners. As a person in my 20's, it seems to be a trend for people my age. Sometimes it seems like the majority of my friends have either cheated on somebody or been cheated on, and I find it extremely heart breaking because those wounds can last forever. Like I said, I think romantic relationships seem to challenge our integrity the most because they end up being such a huge part of our lives. That can also be a beautiful thing about committing yourself to somebody though. It's a 24 hour a day, seven days a week, every week of the year job that constantly keeps your integrity in check (or it should). And if you can't manage a relationship and having integrity at the same time, end the relationship and work on your integrity because in the end, how you view yourself is more important. And if you can't have integrity in a relationship you're just going to hurt yourself and your partner.

Basically any area of life you can think of leaves room for us to either build our integrity or take away from it. Integrity is at risk with absolutely everything from relationships with every individual we meet, our jobs, school, sports, and even situations where we're alone. When you make the right decision when could make the wrong one and literally nobody will ever know...that feeling is so great, there is no way to describe it. When you practice having good integrity, you're freeing yourself from so much self questioning. There's no more asking yourself "Am I a good person?" or beating yourself up for something you did. Life becomes much more simple when we do what we know is right and listen to our hearts. Imagine living a life where you literally didn't have to hide a single thing about yourself. You could have somebody watching your every move for every hour of every day and you wouldn't feel as though you had anything to hide because you knew you were living with integrity. That's the kind of life I want and that's what I'm working towards every day. 

I've gone on a long journey with my own integrity. I've gone from being a little kid who lacks it, like most young kids do, to a young teenager who starts to learn right from wrong and struggles to make the right decisions on a daily basis. Then I became adult who continued to strive to have good integrity and was feeling pretty good about the person I was becoming. At one point, I was an adult who briefly lost that integrity for various reasons; be it drugs, alcohol, or simply making the wrong choices at different periods in my life that I felt like I had to lie about or hide. Finally, I got to where I'm at adult who works everyday to do the right thing even if nobody would know if I did the wrong thing instead. 
"Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain" is a quote that I saw during the time where I had put integrity on the back burner and it really changed things for me. I asked myself if I'd rather get personal gain from something or if I'd rather become a person with good values. If I'd rather gain something temporary that likely wouldn't reap long lasting rewards, or put the extra effort in to do the right thing and become a good person, a person that I could be proud of. From that moment on, it became a lot easier for me to make the right choices. 

Integrity is something I consider very important because it contributes greatly to ones sense of self. If you're constantly pretending to be one person while being a completely different person behind closed doors, it takes a toll on you and can become very stressful. I've seen people try to manage a web of lies. Struggling to remember what lie they told this person, what lie they told that person, why they told their boss they had to miss work that day, where they told their boyfriend they were the night before. Now that I'm grown and I've learned my lessons, I can't imagine living such a stressful life. These people have continuously abandoned their integrity, probably because it was fun or easy at the time, and created an extremely difficult and not fun life for themselves. 

If you lose sight of the importance of integrity for a while, don't beat yourself up. Don't call yourself a "bad person" or give up on doing the right thing. Because you didn't wake up a bad person, you continuously made choices that maybe weren't the best and now you feel as though you're "bad".  If somebody you care about lacks integrity, be patient as long as you aren't putting your well-being at too much of a risk. Support them and always encourage them to make the right choices, and try not to criticize them harshly, as hard as it may be. Re-building integrity takes time but it's worth it. 

"Your reputation and integrity are everything. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Your credibility can only be built over time, and it is built from the history of your words and actions.” 

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