Here is Part I (you can read them in any order)

I approach this reflection on integrity anew, from a perspective of Integrity as moral courage, inspired by my readings of Robert Solomon & Paul Tillich.*

I suggest we consider a person of Integrity as bringing into harmony three skilful means (disciplines), by which they become attuned to and integrated with a greater sense of wholeness within and around them:

1) the Courage ‘to be oneself’

2) the Courage ‘to be a part’

3) the Courage ‘to let be’… (and let go)

The first two disciplines, as courage to be oneself and also a part of something bigger than the self, speaks of a continuity and constancy in affirming one’s participation in life. The 3rd form of courage, ‘to let be’, relates to being aware of one’s own temporality and transience in a universe that is in constant flux.

Let’s start with what is meant by courage and why it can be seen as fundamental to Personal Integrity

Courage lies at the heart of the matter, quite literally as the Latin root ‘cor’ means heart.  And in Western thought, heart is seen as the seat of the emotions. You could say, ‘to take heart’ is to find encouragement. Or you could say ‘have a heart’, to show sympathy, compassion and feeling.

Courage does not align with just one emotion, but rather is an ability to gather strength from all emotions to commit to a specific action. It is not the lack of emotions such as fear, anxiety, guilt or shame that allows one to act courageously but rather the ability to act with, or in spite of, having such feelings present. There is vitality in our feelings and emotions that enable our actions, much like fast engagement strategies, that prepare and motivate the body and mind to predict the best course of action. The strength and vitality of courage lies in the gathering, not suppressing or denying of the other emotions, into a state of wholeheartedness.

That is why the Wizard of Oz (1939) could say to the Cowardly Lion, that he actually has courage, like we all do.  The Lion was simply  “a victim of disorganised thinking” confusing the feeling of fear for the a lack of bravery.  Those who risk without sensitivity or feeling to what could be lost or injured do not possess courage but can rather be considered foolhardy, impulsive and reckless in their competitive and ambitious drives. Finding the balance and harmony in an action, to qualify it as a praiseworthy virtue such as courage, takes practical wisdom. Wisdom gained via experience, reflection and dialogue for the praiseworthy action is not yours alone to judge. It is a participatory ethical process via the courage to be oneself & the courage to be a part of something bigger…

1) Integrity as courage to be oneself

This is how we affirm our lives as worth living, in spite of all our doubts, imperfections, insecurities, fears, anxiety and potential shame and embarrassment for getting it wrong.  After all, we have a limited perception and understanding from our finite point of view, and lack perfect knowledge and skill to handle every given situation. However, in spite of this we make ourselves accountable to be measured by life’s challenges, which includes not excludes the negative assessments.

This gathering of oneself into an accountable unity requires courage, to face the sea of self-doubt, negative appraisals, that may conflict with positive appraisals we’d like to have of ourselves. Being unable to give account of yourself, in rational and intuitive forms, can leave us scattered, divided and potentially unaccounted for. Integrity as defined by wholeness and a well-integrated self requires courage to gather ourselves into a state of wholeheartedness and wholemindedness. Integrity is also defined as a strong adherence to moral principles. This means you have managed to orientate yourself sufficiently based on moral/ social evaluations of what is important. This also requires courage, as a sensitivity and responsibility to the social and moral landscape that one forms a part of.

2. Integrity as the courage to be ‘a part’

Participation in life is fundamental. This means we are the kind of beings not completely self-sustaining or self-sufficient. Who we are, has in large part, been shaped by our social / physical environments and by our genes passed on from our ancestors. And our continuation as a species is intertwined with various life forms on this planet.

In order for integrity to hold any meaning, it also needs to have a meaning and value beyond our own appraisal of it. As we need the courage to make ourselves accountable, so we also need the courage to find a common-unity in our co-operative efforts to establish ‘communitas’ in our companies, nations and shared habitats, so that our shared humanity can be counted upon. This has become a great concern as our global challenges require us to find answers to universal concerns in global threats like climate change and pandemics. It is clear that our sense of communion with each other needs to extend past a human-centric one, where we also feel a part of nature and as a part of all life on this planet.

To be a participant takes courage, since we can feel guilt, shame, fear and anxiety via group membership or community, where we would often like to opt out rather than participate. We may feel shame for our politicians, fellow employees, gender, skin colour or even for just being part of the human race (judging how cruel and destructive human beings can be).

If we feel we have no part to play, we withdraw from the world, feeling diminished and lacking the courage to be. With no real part to play, we feel weak, expendable and fragmented, as we have no real place to belong, no ground to stand on and no purpose to pursue. Existential angst and anxiety may increase as life seems meaningless. It is these moments that we should not ignore the intense negative stimuli such as despair, but rather recognise its power. The energy of despair that creates this sense of hopelessness, is coming from us and our appraisal and partial understanding of the world. That same energy can be transformed in the call to gather oneself and gather community to show the courage to participate in and of life.

3. The Courage to ‘let be’

Integrity as the courage to let things be and let things go, is the ability to open up one’s grasp of reality. The hold and perspective we have on life, as individual or group, will always be a limited one. What our thoughts can hold is very limited. But it takes courage to say, ‘I don’t know’. It takes courage to listen, especially when people are looking to you for answers. The level of one’s righteous indignation is not a sign of one’s integrity. We are beings who have porous boundaries, malleable minds and the ability to shift the boundaries of our awareness and consciousness. Our very integrity is going to depend on our ability to see the incoherence, ignorance and contradictions that we cling to. Our ability to let go of pre-judgements (prejudices) is vital in being able to make better judgements later on. Our sense of goodness will be limited, and we should not let our limited ideals stand in the way of the fullness and diversity of life.

Staying silent out of fear of being rejected from the safety of the group, resigns your own courage to be oneself. Courage to be oneself without the courage to be a part of something bigger leads to a sense of meaninglessness. When we are fragmented and alone we cannot find encouragement in connection, understanding and shared purpose. This will diminish the self that we so rigidly cling to.

For now, I sense we only have an intuitive rather than a measurable relationship with what wholeness, completeness and ultimate integrity is. We need to be careful in our assessments, so that we leave enough room for open-minded dialogue to adjust and integrate our shared meanings.

Johann L Botha
Dialogue enthusiast

P. S.
I view these blog posts as conversation starters… If you care for building a community of wisdom-inquiry and participatory ethics, then consider joining our Firefly Network, where we try to keep the conversations alive. To host these type of dialogues in your organisations feel free to contact us #GSA #Integrity Dialogues

* Robert Solomon (1992), ‘Ethics and Excellence’ // Paul Tillich (1952), ‘Courage to Be’

Looking at various dictionary definitions of integrity we may highlight two prominent aspects:

1) Integrity as quality of being whole & undivided

2) Integrity as normative & evaluative function of being true to one’s moral principles & values

Can we manage to integrate these two perspectives?  Let’s start by noticing where they diverge…

A caricature of someone who interprets integrity as wholeness… tends to speak of being non-judgmental, promotes healing, emphasises oneness, unconditional love and a free-spirited, uninterrupted flow of energy between you, me and that tree. “Give me a hug, we are all one interconnected life force”.

Similarly, a caricature of someone who interprets integrity as adhering to moral principles… speaks of discipline: “play your part”, “toe the line”, “show some character”, “walk the talk”, “be accountable and responsible”, “do the right thing, even if no one is looking”. This attitude is motivated by a sense of righteousness, justice and judgement.

None of us fit simply in the one category or the other… but we can view them as ethical perspectives we can take up:

1) an ethic of care & unconditional love

2) an ethic of justice & fairness

So, these perspectives are both, in a way, evaluative; focusing on praiseworthy or blameworthy actions. From the ethic of care we may consider how judgmental attitudes divide and fragment us.  From the ethic of justice, we may consider the need for good judgement, discernment to do the right thing and make good decisions. I hope we can see value in both and not treat them as either/or…

In my experience, most businesses & organisations are more focused on what they believe is the right thing to do and less about the care and contemplation needed. Thus, you hardly hear mentioned, “let us contemplate the beauty of our interconnectedness.” Or “our organization needs healing” (the root meaning of health being wholeness). Rather in terms of integrity, the focus is on identifying the bad apples, to screen them out, make transgressors pay, isolate them from society. Judge others for their lack instead of asking how we could be generous in connective care to flourish as a whole society. This over-emphasis on integrity as rightness, does not do the word ‘integrity’ justice. This is my motivation for exploring the concept from other angles: not to diminish the definition but rather to find a way to integrate our sense of justice with our sense of care.

‘Integrity’ comes from the Latin root ‘integer’, meaning ‘whole’. We still use the term in mathematics when we talk about whole (integer) numbers. We only arrive at fractions, when we start dividing.  

Here’s another way to look at wholeness: look at your phone, your whole phone. Now smash it with a brick. #thoughtexperiment #don’ttrythisathome. You will see bits of phone flying everywhere. These bits are fragments, not whole parts of the phone, though they may have been integral. Ergo, your phone is now not working anymore. If you carefully take your phone apart for repairs, you may note that the parts form a functioning whole, only if the parts are whole themselves. Hence, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, could not put your phone back together again, from those smashed fragments.

This is a way to look at personal integrity, in terms of being a whole and a part (an integral part). But ‘integral’ to what? 

When we don’t feel like we are a part of something, we ask: “What is my part in all this?” or “How do I fit in?” We feel isolated and ‘fragmented’, full of anxiety. We experience a sense of meaninglessness over it all.  Many of us have seriously questioned whether we form some integral part of humanity and the cosmos. Individual human beings can really seem insignificant in the bigger scheme of things.

I think we give ourselves a raw deal by confusing human being with human doing. Cause we really don’t seem to be doing all that well. Slowing down, so that we can look at our thought processes (which sit behind our actions), is worth it: to ensure that for all our effort we are at least part of the solution, not the problem. 

We all know the importance of critical thinking and yes, we need more of it to improve our judgement and decision making. However, what I see less of is caring and connective thinking. That is a thinking process where we suspend our judgments and assumptions, to notice the integral relationship of parts to a functioning whole. What David Bohm called, participatory thought (Bohmian Dialogue – Future Blog entry).

To bring this closer to home, when we use Integrity assessment or any assessment for that matter… are we only using it to judge other people? Let us be reminded that our aim is to improve our judgement and decision making, which should then also include being critical of the tools we use and how we use them. Let us then not forget to bring a connective and caring thinking to our work: an ethos of care and generosity as a potential path of healing towards wholeness. As from the ubuntu ethic: a person is a person because of other persons. That is, I am an integral part as I share and participate in our common humanity. 

Allow me to pause here… to leave space for your participation (end Part I) 

Johann L Botha
Dialogue enthusiast

P. S.
I view these blog posts as conversation starters… If you care for a connective and participatory thought process then hop on over to our Firefly Network, where we try to keep the conversations alive via our dialogue circles and collaborative inquiry into how we ought to go about our business. To host these type of dialogues in your organisations see #Integrity Dialogues