Spiritual Tools - Principle: Integrity

"You must have enough Honor to keep any promises you make whatever the consequences and enough Wisdom not to make too many promises like that!"

"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

     from William Shakespeare's character Polonius in Hamlet
"You don't know if he was breaking the rules until you know what the rules are about following the rules."

     from Integrity, Stephen L. Carter, 1996, p.13

"To thine own self be true", is often cited as a maxim of integrity. But the character Polonius is a schemer and a "foolish prating knave" who gives his son Laertes advice he himself does not follow. The second part of this is not often cited possibly because it does not "follow" that simply by being true to myself, I "canst not then be false to any man". Hitler may well have been true to himself but he was false to many men. I do not consider him a model of integrity. There must be more.

A mantra of Quality Management is:

"Say what you do. Do what you say. Be able to prove it".

This is integrity at the second level. Keep my commitments and build Trust. Trust is a requirement of any quality relationship. Trust with Love are two of the bonds of any spiritual relationship. But this mantra says nothing about the quality of the commitments I make. I can commit to helping someone rob a bank, be there on time and follow through with the act but would that be integrity? If what I am committed to only serves me, is that integrity? There must be more.

"This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...
...And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ..."

    lyrics from The Impossible Dream from the musical "Man of La Mancha"

This is a song of integrity. But it is sung by a character, Don Quixote, who is the poster child of the delusional mind. He does have integrity at some level. A consistent set of principles is a requirement of integrity. If I change my principles based on circumstance, I am unpredictable and therefore untrustworthy. Quixote's principles are universal in nature. He errs in seeing reality as he wishes it to be rather than as it is intuitively recognized in the others around him. It is his relation to reality that makes his action untrustworthy. He lacks awareness or presence of mind. (see Jousting with Windmills)

Consistency applies inside and outside the self. The opposite of Integrity is Hypocrasy. I am a hypocrite if I hold others to a standard of principles but rationalize my own deviations based on conditions.

After all this consideration, it appears that for me, the definitions of Integrity, Sanity and, interestingly, God's Will for me are all the same:

"Sufficient Presence to Apply Universal Principles Consistently in Thought and Deed."

I must have sufficient presence to see windmills as windmills. I must apply widely held principles moment by moment first in thought. I am not responsible for what I think but I am for how long I think it. An errant thought, allowed to run its course, will result in action inconsistent with these principles. And finally, my deeds say more about what I believe than my words.

Do I live integrity all the time? No. Do I intentionally think or act hypocritically? Yes but much less often and for shorter periods.

I do these things for sanity not for sainthood and because it is the easiest way to live. I am more efficient. I do not waste as much time now cleaning up the inevitable mess that results from stepping outside this principle. I try not to hold others to this standard for it is a choice. But I do prefer to be around those who exhibit integrity for it is a recipe for a quality life, right here, right now.



  1. Integrity: n. 1) Rigid adherence to a code or standard of values; probity 2) the state of being unimpaired; soundness 3) The state of being whole or undivided; completeness (American Heritage Dictionary)
  2. Levels of Definitions from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    (Hint: Click on the plus sign to the left of each number to see a detailed discussion of each level.)
    • 1) Integrity as Self-Integration
      • On the self-integration view of integrity, integrity is a matter of persons integrating various parts of their personality into a harmonious, intact whole. Understood in this way, the integrity of persons is analogous to the integrity of things: integrity is primarily a matter of keeping the self intact and uncorrupted. The self-integration view of integrity makes integrity a formal relation to the self.


    • 2) The Identity View of Integrity
      • A related approach to integrity is to think of it primarily in terms of a person's holding steadfastly true to their commitments, rather than ordering and endorsing desires. ‘Commitment’ is used as a broad umbrella term covering many different kinds of intentions, promises, convictions and relationships of trust and expectation. One may be, and usually is, committed in many different ways to many different kinds of thing: people, institutions, traditions, causes, ideals, principles, projects, and so on. Commitments can be explicitly, self-consciously, publicly entered into or implicit, unself-conscious and private. Some are relatively superficial and unimportant, like casual support of a sporting team; others are very deep, like the commitment implicit in genuine love or friendship.


    • 3) Integrity as Standing for Something
      • The self-integration and identity views of integrity see it as primarily a personal virtue: a quality defined by a person's care of the self. Cheshire Calhoun argues that integrity is primarily a social virtue, one that is defined by a person's relations to others ... The social character of integrity is, Calhoun claims, a matter of a person's proper regard for their own best judgment. Persons of integrity do not just act consistently with their endorsements, they stand for something: they stand up for their best judgment within a community of people trying to discover what in life is worth doing.


    • 4) Integrity as Moral Purpose
      • Another way of thinking about integrity places moral constraints upon the kinds of commitment to which a person of integrity must remain true. There are several ways of doing this. Elizabeth Ashford argues for a virtue she calls ‘objective integrity’. Objective integrity requires that agents have a sure grasp of their real moral obligations. ...A person of integrity cannot, therefore, be morally mistaken. Understood in this way, one only properly ascribes integrity to a person with whom one finds oneself completely in moral agreement.


    • 5) Integrity as a Virtue
      • All of the accounts of integrity we have examined have a certain intuitive appeal and capture some important feature of the concept of integrity. There is, however, no philosophical consensus on the best account. It may be that the concept of integrity is a cluster concept, tying together different overlapping qualities of character under the one term. In Cox, La Caze and Levine 2003, we argue that integrity is a virtue, but not one that is reducible to the workings of a single moral capacity (in the way that, say, courage is) or the wholehearted pursuit of an identifiable moral end (in the way that, say, benevolence is). We take ‘integrity’ to be a complex and thick virtue term.


    • Types of Integrity
      • References to different types of integrity, such as intellectual and artistic integrity, abound in the philosophical literature on integrity and everyday discourse. Because integrity involves managing various commitments and values, one might conjecture that such types of integrity are simply manifestations of a person's overall integrity, or of their personal integrity. However, there are many people who we are inclined to say have intellectual but not personal integrity–or who have more of the former than the latter. If there is a radical disjunction between the type of integrity which is demanded in one sphere of life and another, integrity overall, or personal integrity, may be undermined, or at least profoundly challenged.


    • Integrity in relation to Social and Political Conditions
      • Arguably, and despite what might seem like overwhelming choice, job markets are structured by financial and other incentives, restricted opportunities and economic rents. The result is that many people choose careers they do not really want and for which they are barely suited. There are other perhaps more straightforward ways in which social and cultural structures may be inimical to the pursuit of integrity. The ideology of love, for instance, may undermine the integrity of lovers, as it may undermine the possibility of genuine and realistic love. In professional life, people may be called upon (not only tacitly) to lie, bluff or manipulate the truth in ways that directly or indirectly affect their integrity. The construction of a mission statement or a strategic plan is in some ways an open invitation to dissemble, pander and obfuscate. The expectation that one ‘sells oneself’ or ‘sells the company‘ provides explicit reward for hypocrites and sycophants. And there are many kinds of assessments, reports and application processes that foster both deception and self-deception. If this is right, then contemporary society is inimical to a life of integrity in many small-scale ways. Broad social structures also have a deleterious effect on our capacity to live with integrity and here, of course, the effects of totalitarian regimes are more extreme than those liberal democracies.


    • (See the full article)


  1. Integrity, Sanity and God's Will for me appear to be identical or at least closely tied.
  2. Overall, a life of integrity is easier than one driven by emotions and desires.
  3. Integrity contibutes to the quality of my life and with others whom I interact.


Read the examples and consider who is acting with integrity.
The following examples are from
Integrity ©1996 by Stephen L. Carter
Example 4-1: A man who has been married for fifty years confesses to his wife on his deathbed that he was unfaithful thirty-five years earlier. His dishonesty was killing his spirit, he says. Now he has cleared his conscience and is able to die in peace. p.53
Example 4-2: Having been taught all his life that women are not as smart as men, a manager gives the women on his staff less challenging assignments than he gives the men. He does this, he believes, for their own benefit: he does not want the women on this staff to fail, and he believes that they will if he gives them the tougher assignments. Moreover, when one of the women does poor work, he does not berate her as harshly as he would a man, because he expects nothing more. And he claims to be acting with integrity because he is acting according to his own deepest beliefs. p.58
Example 4-3: "Compare, by way of an extreme example, a reflective Nazi torturer who became the insensitive, cruel man that he is by a process of intimidation, brutalization and bullying in SS training camp. As he is about to turn on the gas, he reflects that he is glad to be the person he is in the position he is in: for the Jews, he reasons, are not really human, but parasites which weaken and degrade his higher nature." (This example attributed to the philosopher Jonathan Lear. p. 64)
Example 5-1: A college professor receives a telephone call about one of her students from a firm that is thinking of hiring him. The professor never agreed to serve as a reference, and the student did not list her as one. But the employer, suspicious of the glowing tone of the formal reference letters, is making random calls to other faculty members whose names appear on the studentís transcript. The student received a B in her course, based on a very fine paper that would have been an easy A, except that it was turned in several weeks late. If the professor decides to tell the employer the truth, which may cost the student the job because of his poor work habits, will she be acting with integrity. p.78.
Example 6-1: A newspaper reporter, in order to get a story he wants, approaches a state employee and offers him anonymity in return for information. The employee agrees and supplies the reporter with the information he needs. On further checking, the reporter decides that the sourceís information is mainly accurate, but that the source has misled him in some respects. The newspaper then publishes the story, but names the source and also explains how the source slightly misled the reporter. p.98.


Define Sanity (Note: Scroll up after clicking.)




At this point they came in sight of thirty to forty windmills that there are
on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire,
"Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our
desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or
more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in
battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our
fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to
sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.

"Those thou seest there," answered his master, "with the long arms, and
some have them nearly two leagues long."

"Look, your worship," said Sancho; "what we see there are not giants but
windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by
the wind make the millstone go."

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that thou art not used to this
business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away
with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in
fierce and unequal combat."

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries
his squire Sancho sent after him, warning him that most certainly they
were windmills and not giants he was going to attack. He, however, was so
positive they were giants that he neither heard the cries of Sancho, nor
perceived, near as he was, what they were, but made at them shouting,
"Fly not, cowards and vile beings, for a single knight attacks you."

A slight breeze at this moment sprang up, and the great sails began to
move, seeing which Don Quixote exclaimed, "Though ye flourish more arms
than the giant Briareus, ye have to reckon with me."

So saying, and commending himself with all his heart to his lady
Dulcinea, imploring her to support him in such a peril, with lance in
rest and covered by his buckler, he charged at Rocinante's fullest gallop
and fell upon the first mill that stood in front of him; but as he drove
his lance-point into the sail the wind whirled it round with such force
that it shivered the lance to pieces, sweeping with it horse and rider,
who went rolling over on the plain, in a sorry condition. Sancho hastened
to his assistance as fast as his ass could go, and when he came up found
him unable to move, with such a shock had Rocinante fallen with him.

"God bless me!" said Sancho, "did I not tell your worship to mind what
you were about, for they were only windmills? and no one could have made
any mistake about it but one who had something of the same kind in his head."

"Hush, friend Sancho," replied Don Quixote, "the fortunes of war more
than any other are liable to frequent fluctuations; and moreover I think,
and it is the truth, that that same sage Friston who carried off my study
and books, has turned these giants into mills in order to rob me of the
glory of vanquishing them, such is the enmity he bears me; but in the end
his wicked arts will avail but little against my good sword."

DON QUIXOTE, by Miguel de Cervantes [Saavedra], Translated by John Ormsby

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