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Integrity: Possessing wholeness
In my recovery house, integrity was one of the most commonly used words. “Man, you have no integrity.” Or “Bro, you sold your integrity there.” Were common sayings amongst each other as we held one another to the highest standards we knew how to at that point in our lives. The philosophy major in me inevitably kicked in, and I remember finally asking people to explain what “integrity” meant early on in my recovery. (A real Socrates moment if I don’t say so myself.) They would always say “it means doing the right thing when no one’s looking” and for some reason, I was never satisfied with this definition. Something was missing, and this couldn’t be the whole story. Sure, I thought they were on to something here, but I had to go find out exactly what this word meant.
If you were to google the definition of integrity, you’d find something like this:
1) The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
2) The state of being whole and undivided.
I still think definition #1 is the most common use of the word, but over the years I’ve held tightly to a version of #2, with the belief that #1 helps us achieve this state of wholeness. To me, integrity is to be unified. What would it mean for a person to be unified? And how come people kept telling me that integrity meant doing the right thing when no one else was looking? Why is this even important? Well, here’s what I’ve found thus far.
A person essentially has 3 functional actions: people think, do, and speak. (“doing” and “speaking” are separated here since “doing” will be used to define physical actions, like touch.). But first, what would it mean for a person not to be unified? We’ve all had moments in our life where we’ve found our actions objecting to our beliefs. We say things like “why did I do that? What was I thinking?” In these moments, our actions weren’t aligned with our thoughts or our words. We say things we don’t believe, we act in ways we know we shouldn’t, and we think things vastly different from our actions (we’ve all considered driving over pedestrians in our car but didn’t… right?) These moments, these days, months, or even years tear apart our psyche. All of a sudden there’s “multiple me’s,” there’s the one who thinks about talking to a pretty girl, and then there’s the one who doesn’t. There’s the me who says I’m working on this blog, and then there’s the me who’s procrastinating it. There’s the me who believes I should eat healthily, and then there’s the me who eats an entire pint of ice cream. Why are there so many me’s?! Have there always been this many Jeff’s or did this split happen somewhere along the journey? What do I need to do to be one?
A unified person is one person; they have integrity, they possess wholeness. They think, do, and say the same thing. Their actions are aligned with their beliefs, and they say exactly what they mean all the time. They think in a way that aligns with actions they take nearly robotically. They’re whole. Imagine that. Just living, authentically, and your actions are perfectly aligned with your beliefs, and the things you say are exactly how you feel. I like to think we’ve all had periods like this in our lives, some more than others of course, but for people like me, this wasn’t something easily earned.
So why did people keep saying that integrity meant “doing the right thing when no one is looking?” Well, without them knowing it, these people were referencing a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person acts in a way that contradicts with their belief systems. The result: a separation of the self; there’s the believing self, and the self who acted contrary to that. This concept of cognitive dissonance displays perfectly why these people kept saying this to me! Because if I did the wrong thing when no one was looking, I would create a separation of the self and I would lose integrity. The concept of “separate selves” rings true for those in recovery, and we have to work overtime to repair, and to heal all the parts of our psyche that have been damaged by years of destructive actions. From personal experience, there was a lot of “Jeff’s” at one point in my life, and within each of those environments, there was a mind tormented by each of the actions it was taking. There was the Jeff who sold drugs, there was the Jeff who studied philosophy at LMU, there was the Jeff who had dinner with his family, there was the Jeff who hung out with friends who didn’t know about the addiction, and there were many more. I don’t know if there was ever one Jeff.
So why is this important anyway? Why do people keep throwing out this integrity word in recovery? Well, imagine, if you haven’t experienced it before, just living. A state of being where you’ve corrected your belief system to align with a moral standard, and where you’ve aligned your actions to that. A state of being where you speak and live from this place, authentically. You see, having integrity is possessing wholeness, it’s to be unified, it’s to be one. Just one you, that’s all you really need. Not one person in town, and one person at home, but one person always. It’s actually quite a simple life, especially compared to the life some of us used to live.
For me, I had to start with my actions. We form habits, and wire neuro-pathways to behave certain ways over a period of 6-8 weeks, depending on who you ask. So I just had to do the right thing, consistently, for a period of time, to start to align my actions with my beliefs. If I didn’t know what to believe, then I would investigate, and hear BOTH sides equally, more often than not coming to a stance somewhere near the middle. I had to, and I still have to work tirelessly to uphold personal integrity, to keep my wholeness, to remain unified, but it’s likely been one of the noblest pursuits of my life. I no longer have to spend countless hours, and effort, deciding which version of myself I need to be today to get a particular result, I just live, authentically.
So here’s my challenge, see if you can live your life in a way that aligns with your belief system long enough to experience a change. See if you can just talk, without overthinking, about your beliefs. Try to investigate what it feels like to be whole, and start to live your life in a way that’s authentic to you, and a way that impacts the world for the better.
- Written by Jeffrey Pesner, Certified Practitioner / Director of Operations