Integrity is something that we want others to have, but struggle to find it within ourselves. Society is built on the ‘handshake’ principle of integrity. Your word is supposed to be your bond. Corporate missions declare it and pastors are assumed to have it. But what is integrity and how do we develop it?
Look up integrity online and you find a multitude of pithy sayings, but they all seem to center on the idea that integrity is shown when our behavior, private and public, lives up to our beliefs and words.
We encourage you to embrace three critical practices in your life to reestablish integrity
1. Plant some guardrails in your life
We put up literal guardrails for our kids early in life so they won’t fall out of bed. We follow building codes and erect railings so that we don’t walk off of our deck or drive off the road. Our lives are full of guardrails to protect us from physical miss-steps.
But there are also unseen guardrails that you erect for yourself. Personal boundaries that act as acceptable limits to your behavior.
Your standard of behavior is a conscious choice. You set the line; you set where the rail is. We all do this whether there are laws in place or not. We decide what is appropriate to read or watch. We decide what is acceptable regarding lying and cheating.
We even set standards around what is an appropriate diet and how frequently we will exercise. And when we drive through a barrier and over indulge, we typically feel bad and recommit to behaving in accordance with our beliefs.
Where have you set up our guardrail when it comes to completing your taxes? Billing for jobs you have completed? Telling stories about your sporting exploits? Once a guardrail is up in a certain location it rarely moves. Is your guardrail in a place of safety or are you living in such a way that if you hit your guardrail it will be too late? Has it been planted so far into the danger zone that it is not much good to you?
Are you taking risks in your sexual life, at your job, or with your physical health and no longer living the life that you intended? If your behavior is no longer lining up with your words or beliefs, it might be time to reset the guardrails in your life.
2. Becoming Aware of Our Choices
Guardrails should be set up in an area of safety to protect us from danger. So that when we make a mistake in life and hit the guardrail we are able to carry on. While hitting the boundary might be frustrating or painful it should not cost us our marriage, our job, or other meaningful relationships with friends, parents, or kids.
Life has a way of sneaking up on us and pretty soon we are middle aged living a life that we never intended. It is easy to rationalize our behavior, “Every one cheats on their taxes” “Pornography is everywhere it is no big deal”. We tend to make excuses for our behavior and simply mimic the behavior of what we believe others are doing. Don’t use today’s test for honesty and integrity and believe that, “It’s okay as long as you don’t get caught.”
By spending some time reflecting and becoming conscious of your choices you will be better able to fight the integrity slip and slide.
The final and most critical daily practice for maintaining integrity is through the use of accountability. Having people in your life that will notice when you are driving dangerously and might add a guardrail or two in your life themselves. They should be able to ask the tough questions and be insightful enough to redirect your thinking so that you reconsider your choices.
It’s easy to lose focus and get distracted when we are driving down the highway of life. But it is so much better to have someone asking you the tough questions regularly than to have a guardrail be added too late: the spouse that needs to check your Internet search history because you have been distant and unavailable in your marital relationship: the boss that needs to do a surprise job evaluation because your work has become sloppy. These sudden guardrails can be painful as we slam up against them, but they are intended to protect us from getting even further off track. Having accountability in your life enables and encourages these guardrails.
We benefit from having someone who is looking out for our best interests, one who will remind us when we are in the rough gravel on the side of the road and heading for the edge.