“Happiness is when what you think, that you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi
If we find ourselves thinking about the "I" word, maybe it's because we’ve been noticing the places in the lives of others and in our own life where it's been out. The 'it' that's out is "integrity." When we aren’t paying close attention to our own integrity, we judge and react to others. When we discover the ways that we justify our own lapses of integrity, we are less apt to form negative opinions of others.
Co-incidentally, there seems to be a relationship between these two phenomena. The Buddhists have a word for it. They call it "karma”. Although an entire religion has been based upon this principle, it can perhaps best be summarized by the commonly known simple five-word phrase: "What goes around comes around." Or to put it even more succinctly, to quote a friend "Nobody gets away with nothing." There seems to be a pretty direct correlation between the degree to which we can live in integrity with our values, commitments, and agreements, and the degree to which we find ourselves reacting to those around us. Reactivity and accessing them as failing to be in integrity is particularly pronounced with those whom we are in close relationship. It seems that the degree to which we are disturbed by those who fail to act in ways that are consistent with their words has more to do with how innocent or guilty we are of that offense, and of how forgiving we are of ourselves for our own inevitable lapses of integrity.
Like the word "karma," there are some concise definitions of "integrity" that you won't find in the dictionary that captures the essence of what the word means, the simplest of which is "walking the talk." A couple of others are "practicing what you preach" and "putting your money where your mouth is." A slightly more elaborate definition of integrity is the “integration and alignment of your thoughts, feelings, words and actions”. However you define it, integrity is about wholeness. The root of the word is "integer" which refers to a whole number. So integrity has to do with living life in a way that promotes the experience within ourselves and in those around us of being whole and complete. It's a great concept, but as anyone who has ever tried it knows, it's easier said than done, particularly in the realm of committed partnerships.
Searching for the ways we justify being out of integrity
While we might think that this is the arena in which we would be LEAST likely to violate your word, it seems to be the place where these lapses are most likely to show up. For many of us it is easy to over-commit in order to accommodate our partner, or to agree to something for the wrong reasons, including the desire to avoid a conflict or a feeling of obligation, that can promote a desire to break our word. This is not to suggest that being out of integrity is justifiable for the right reasons, but merely to put it in context and see it as what is more often than not a relational issue rather than an individual one.
Making right effort to live in integrity
Regardless of the reasons that we’ve done what we’ve done, the consequences to the relationship must be attended to and if it has been damaged, repaired. The first step in the reparative process is to acknowledge the occurrence of a break in the agreement that had been in place. Then both parties can make an effort to identify any ways in which they may have contributed to the promoting of conditions that have given rise to the breakdown. Healing a breach of trust requires a willingness to listen to the impact that one’s actions have had on their partner. After this has occurred, both partners are more able to listen openly and non-defensively to each other and will accordingly be more able to understand and implement what needs to happen in order to restore integrity back into the relationship.
We can make our best effort to live in integrity with the truth of our experience, and even if we are not always successful, we can trust that it's the best thing that we can do for ourselves. It's the most direct path to our own heart and to the hearts of others. If in doing so others benefit, so much the better. This is called "enlightened self-interest". It's the ultimate win-win game. And by the way, the interest that you receive is compounded on a daily basis. Can you think of a better investment?
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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