Am I a man of integrity? I would say I am. Some others have and will say I am not. Still others who know me will say I am. How can this be? Is it really possible that one person can and cannot be a man of integrity? Is integrity that gray? That fluid? What then is integrity?
Integrity is not a place we come to. Integrity is not an end. It is a process. If integrity were not a process, there would less judgments of mine or others’ integrity or lack thereof. Not only that, it would be nearly impossible to actually be a man of integrity if it were the end we think it should be. In effect, integrity is more about the journey than it is about the destination. Stephen Carter writes that integrity is, “an effort to live according to one’s sense of duty rather than a sinlessness reserved for a handful of saints—precious few of them.” If integrity was the destination of perfection in word and deed, the integral life would be impossible to the normal person. Now if it really is the destination rather than the journey, how can anyone possibly say I am a man of integrity. Moreover, how could ANYONE claim anyone to be a man of integrity?
But what of the journey of integrity? What of the life of integrity? The process? If we look at Carter’s explanation of integrity, we have to understand what he means by ‘according to one’s sense of duty.’ Could integrity be so fluid as to depend on each person’s individual idea of duty, of right and wrong?
Yes and no! The important question is in how we come to this ‘sense’ Carter writes about. A life of integrity is exactly that, a LIFE. There must be a journey. Integrity is not just believing whatever our imagination can concoct. This sense we are to live according to must be acquired…not just made up. A life of integrity absolutely must be a LIFE of discernment. There must be a process, an active search for discernment. We must always be searching for the sense of duty…of right and wrong we are going to live by. Integrity is fluid in that it is a process, but it is not fluid in that we can believe whatever we really want to make up. There must ALWAYS and FOREVER be wrestling. A life of integrity is never a life of contentment.
What of those who do not believe I am a man of integrity? Well there’s one of two things at hand here. Those people, one, are understanding integrity to be about the end or the destination rather than the journey, and in so believing realize I am not sinless or perfect, and thus must not be a man of integrity. Two, they may understand integrity to be a process and a journey, but my sense of duty does not match theirs and thus I am not a man of integrity to them. Are either of these correct views? No!
The problem with the second option lies in the fact these people are making integrity still about a destination. The destination may not be perfection, but the destination they demand of ME is their own sense of duty…their own sense of right and wrong. If I am not meeting that sense of right and wrong, to them I am no longer a man of integrity. Carter calls it a trap we often fall into: “the trap of assuming that all the arguments were on my side, so that anybody who disagreed was not only wrong but willfully blind to the plain truth of the matter. We have to be wary in assuming that those who are not like us cannot possess integrity.”
Integrity is not a destination but a journey. Integrity is not making up a sense of right and wrong. It is always wrestling to refine and discern a sense. Integrity is not assuming those who disagree with you are not men of integrity.
Call me a man of no integrity, but not because I do not agree with you. Call me a man of no integrity, but not because I am imperfect and sinful.
If you must call me a man of no integrity, do so only because you do not see a man who always wants to discern and refine a sense of duty, right and wrong.
But I know myself a man of integrity.