Before publishing this article, I sent it to a couple of friends. One reacted strongly, telling me I was wrong. I’m just pleased he proved my point entirely!
We all applaud people of integrity, don’t we? Those who have a well-developed sense of right and wrong: strong values which they apply consistently in their lives. These people become highly trustable because they are reliable.
My guess is that we are all still “work in progress” when it comes to integrity, mainly because we are all still learning. Each new experience contributes to our understanding of the world and how to live in it. Values nudge forward and are evolving within us all the time, even if we don’t realise it.
Yet every step towards higher levels of integrity contains a seed of danger which needs to be kept in mind because it is a seed which can develop into all that is wrong with the world today. The only way to prevent this seed from growing is to install and nurture a particular value — but I’m getting a little ahead of myself now.
The seed of danger is the fact that the stronger your sense of what is right becomes, the less tolerant you will be of what is wrong or rather, those who are wrong. Because we have a natural tendency to judge others based on our own values, a greater sense of integrity can easily make us more judgemental of others. Put another way, we tend to judge people’s integrity based on our own definition of integrity.
At its simplest, integrity exists when someone is being true to themselves, or lives in accordance with their values.Our sense of integrity is based on our individual knowledge, experience and thoughts, and we may well be right ― but only in the context of our own circumstances. To pass judgement on others who have different lives and circumstances is very dangerous indeed.
The only way we can really judge the integrity of someone else is when we know their values. Since it is so difficult to work this out, in reality we have little choice but to apply our own values to others when judging their integrity.
This is clearly nonsensical. It cannot be possible that the only other people with integrity are those who share the same values. The world is far too diverse for that to be possible.
People who live in distant lands and strange cultures see and experience the world in dramatically different ways, and it is natural for them to develop values which contribute to a wide variety of alternative versions of integrity. That they have different values to us does not mean they are wrong, they’re just different.
So, if we want to kill the seed of discord and conflict before it takes root, we need to work diligently to develop the value of understanding and tolerance. We don’t have to agree with everyone, and we can retain the right to make our own decisions, but we first need to make sure to invest time in gaining a thorough understanding before we act.