1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
2. the state of being whole and undivided.
We determine our own set of core values and morals. Having integrity means that we behave consistently with those morals and values – especially when no one is looking.
Deviating from your own code can have some serious costs. When I was in high school, I got in a lot of trouble. It was typical teenage stuff, but one of my problems was that I had friends who were older and out of school already, and I didn’t want to go to class. I would make the argument to my mother that I was going to get more hours in at work – and I usually did. Or I would go to the beach or spend time with my boyfriend. At that point though, I was in the last semester of my senior year, and I had turned 18. And my first period class was history, which I found boring at the time. Ironically, I married someone who loves history and now I love learning about it.
Anyway, long story short, because I had missed so many history classes, my teacher was going to fail me, and I needed that class to graduate. So, we made a deal that if I passed the final, I would pass the class and graduate. Now, I am a firm believer in when you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences. But my 18-year-old self was scared. And really scared of not being able to graduate.
I had started to study for the final, when a friend approached me with a copy of the exam. It was all pretty much multiple choice. She said all we had to do was look up the answers. I rationalized it to myself that it was kind of like studying and I was using it as a study guide.
Well, for someone who hadn’t really gone to class that semester, I soon learned that trying to memorize a bunch of historical events wasn’t easy. So did my friend. So, we ended up researching the answers and carving the answers to the exam into our pencils.
I had never cheated on a test and the day of the exam; I was a mess. I was convinced that I was going to get caught, and I thought about how embarrassed I would feel and what my family would say. Whenever the teacher walked past me, sweat beaded up on my forehead and I was convinced the he would see the etchings in my pencil and grab it out of my hand. I was also convinced that he would pick up on my nervous, strange behavior and suspect that I was cheating. It was awful. But nothing happened. I finished the exam and handed it in.
I ended up passing and I graduated. But I can honestly tell you, that YEARS later – I have nightmares of being in high school and being unable to graduate. And it is because I know in my core that I didn’t earn the right to graduate. My teacher made a deal with me that was more than fair, and I deviated so far from my own morals and values, that my guilt from it manifests itself in the occasional nightmare – years later.
Obviously, I was young and when we are young, we make a lot of mistakes. And my husband and I laugh when I have a dream about not being able to graduate. Because it is still haunting me! And it’s kind of funny. But the lesson here, is that when we lack integrity, there is a consequence to our psyche. And honestly, I am grateful for this experience, because it taught me how live with more integrity.
When you look at your own set of morals and values, do you feel like you are living with integrity? If not (or if you’ve just cheated on a final), what can you start doing today to start being more consistent with your beliefs?