The Attitude Lounge: Integrity


“The parasitical plant has no roots; it claims relationship with every tree.” – Nigerian proverb

All around us there are lots of contrasting scenarios in life. We hear of ideals and ideologies so grand and yet the actions that accompany them are ordinary. Day in, day out, we hear of individuals and groups undermining good in order that their own selfish interests will come into being. The saddest part of such stories is the beautiful adjectives we clothe some of these individuals and groups with. No wonder, since words are easier to spew out than the deeds needed to make them honest and meaningful.

As intelligent as we claim to be, we are struggling to bridge the gap between what we say and what we do. As the moments tick away, the mismatches between words and deeds have become so widespread that we have begun adducing impure motives even to good intentions. We have gotten to the point where we are turning our backs on people who truly need help because we are constantly being swindled by miscreants who parade as needy.

On the surface, this attitude of hardening our hearts seems right – until we realise that the space where our words exist only as words and unrealised in action is one of the foundational pillars for the rise of evil in our society. Life was birthed out of words and it thrives on words. All words which fail to be fulfilled by action are deception. It is a joke to think that societies can be made better when our words are mere words without actions.

The gaping chasm between word and action can best be bridged by integrity. Yes, integrity. Unfortunately, it is one of the virtues that modernity has chucked out of the window – yet our very ability to thrive depends on it. If we want to experience the beauty of our existence, our actions must match our words.

Life is seen in deeds even though words birth it. That is why integrity is more important than all the power and prestige we clamour for. The basis for optimism rests on narrowing the gap between words and deeds. The challenge of healing our societies and making life more meaningful in our context is to live lives of integrity. And that must begin with the most basic requirement of being true to our words.

Like most virtues, integrity is not simple to define. It is attitudinal in nature and demands combining repression and prevention of the self-indulgent desires modernity has inculcated in us. It is more related to ‘what has to be done’ than ‘what one wants to do’. It is a two-fold relationship centred on an incorruptible decency that an individual or group has with itself, and what it has with the world. It is a cause that challenges us to live right by what is right in word and in deed. It is a call to live faithfully in order to illuminate life.

Integrity is essential because we all consciously and unconsciously evaluate individuals and groups based on how well they match their words and actions. And why not? Every experience in life is an ideal that was conceptualised with words. Every word in that ideal invokes a certain kind of action.

Since you are the director of this ideal, also scripted by you, you owe yourself and our humanity the right to make turn it out as you have voiced. Like the adage, ‘your word is your bond’, you are bound to be true to what you say; and so every single element in your actions must match. When there is even a little hint of mismatch in any way, it affects your image and also the ideal you are promoting.

Every time we fail to live faithfully to the ideals of our words, we are selling ourselves out and buying into someone else’s ideals. Unless both ideals are contained in one vision, you cause the world to doubt your abilities and your capabilities. This is where the difficulty emerges. Almost all of us periodically sell ourselves instead of admitting our weakness and failings.

Sometimes we say “yes”, only to discover that we cannot deliver – and instead of being honest, we serve up sweet stories. These stories erode our self-esteem and saps our strengths because they create fear within us. Fear that our undiscovered lies will be exposed and we’ll be disgraced.

What we all need to understand is living is not a trial. No one is accusing us of any crime unless we give them cause to do so. What life offers is support – plenty of it, in various ways. It is a support system that gives you more when it really experiences the matching of your words and your actions.

That is why you are called to live a life of integrity. Like all virtues, Integrity grows with integrity. It starts with a little genuineness, sometimes with a faltering step: but when you add candidness to it, it grows and grows until your words match your actions.

Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to the author at [email protected]

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