Integrity – An indispensable trait

Brooklyn Bridge, seen from Manhattan

When Stephanie, my daughter, graduated from High School, our pastor spoke to the graduating Seniors about how up until this point they had relied on mom and dad’s reputation. But now, as graduates, they would be relying on their own reputation. He was pointing out a big change. No longer were they kids, whom the world would look on as So-and-So’s kid and trust or not trust accordingly. People would from now on judge them on their own merits (or lack thereof).

Over time, each of those students would build their own reputation, for good or not so good, through their actions, words and integrity (or lack of the latter).

Integrity is a funny little word.

I once video recorded a concrete slab stress test at Iowa State University. It was controlled testing to find the break point of big slabs, like what’s used on bridges. Maybe I’ve watched too many action movies, but I kind of expected capturing the slab failing spectacularly in a shower of fragments and dust, leaving nothing standing.

Instead, my camera recorded instruments showing the increased pressure put on the concrete slab and the slab itself with no apparent change.

Then an engineer ran out with a marker to circle a tiny new crack in the concrete. I had to zoom in as far as I could to even see it on screen. A few minutes later, another crack or two appeared. No catastrophic failure, but the engineers doing the test were satisfied. They had found the pressure at which the concrete slab failed — even though it looked pretty okay to me and my camera (except for the tiny cracks they had circled with a marker).

On August 1, 2007, the westbound bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on Interstate 35 collapsed under the weight of the evening rush hour traffic, killing 13 and injuring 145. This tragedy occurred due to a flaw in the bridge’s design. Other bridges have failed for a variety of other reasons.

That news reminded me why engineers in labs do stress tests on materials to be used for things like bridges. So what does that have to do with integrity and high school seniors?

When we speak of a bridge’s ability to bear up under weight and weather storms, we refer to its integrity.

In terms of the integrity of a bridge, three primary factors come to mind:

  • Is it safe?
  • Is it functional?
  • Is it aesthetically pleasing?

This is not an engineering treatise about the integrity of bridges, but about our integrity. Stress testing concrete and a bridge is just a good analogy.

In other words, we could ask the same questions of ourselves, our lives and our businesses. Let’s look at each of these questions and warning signs that our integrity is in jeopardy:

Are we safe?

That is, do others perceive us as safe? Zig Ziglar said, “With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.”

It is also true that when we have integrity, others — our family, friends, customers, employees, colleagues — have nothing to fear. They know we’ll do the right thing. They’re not afraid that we’ll take advantage of them. Integrity is consistency of character.

There’s a common perception around integrity that we should “let our conscience be our guide.” The problem is that our conscience is not infallible. We can distort and damage our conscience through rationalization, compromise, bad counsel, and poor habits.

That’s why, when someone builds a bridge, someone other than the builder must inspect it. To ensure that our conscience is properly calibrated and conditioned, we need outside feedback. We need a standard beyond ourselves.

“Integrity means that you are the same in public as you are in private.”

Joyce Meyer

If this is not true of us, then it serves as a warning. Integrity is chiefly a heart issue, which then expresses itself in our attitudes and behaviors.

Integrity must either find footing in the core of our being, or the foundation of our lives (personal and business) will be flimsy and faulty.

Are we functional?

Bridges open new opportunities for commerce and travel. Bridges make things possible that would not have otherwise been feasible.

To what extent does my life provide a worthwhile, valuable purpose for others? This might seem like an odd question, but many a person starts out right, with great intentions, only to along the way turn into someone only out for him- or herself, in the process hurting or alienating people around us.

“The high road is always respected. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded.”

Scott Hamilton

Put simply, people will hang out with those they know, like and trust. Being a person others can rely on will attract others and be a solid basis for friendships.

Integrity always has others in the forefront of its motives and actions. It’s choices we make on a daily basis: Will I act selfishly, or consider the needs of others? Will others be able to trust that I do what I say when I say it? Will I make things right if I fail someone?

Are we aesthetically pleasing?

The aesthetic side of integrity seems the least important. After all, “appearances are deceiving.” But that’s exactly the point. We DO pay attention to the way things look; the way they appear. If a bridge doesn’t look safe, we will avoid it.

If you’ve ever crossed a rope bridge suspended over a deep ravine or river you know what I mean.

But there’s more to the aesthetic side of bridges — and integrity. In one sense, it doesn’t matter what a bridge looks like as long as it is safe and transports us from one place to the next. We could say the same for us as persons.

But then there are bridges that are truly beautiful. Their design exudes safety and security. We’re drawn to the beauty of their structure and may even visit them for no other reason than to cross the bridge. Think of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Tower Bridge in London or the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

The aesthetic side of integrity is what people see and experience when they interact with and spend time with us. Do they go away feeling like they were heard, respected and connected with? Or can they not wait to be gone because they don’t think that we will do any of what we said or promised?

Integrity involves more than telling the truth. Integrity is consistency of character, built on a firm foundation beyond ourselves. Our integrity will express itself in ways that make people feel safe and cared for. Integrity adorns our lives and interactions with others as a thing of beauty. And personal integrity is very much needed in 2018.

“Honesty in little things is no little thing.”



Think of 2 friends:
How long did it take for you to decide to trust them after you first met? What was it that made you connect with them?
Think of one person you don’t trust/get along with:
What is it about them you don’t trust? How long did it take you to determine you couldn’t trust that person?
How do you determine if a person you’ve met has integrity or not? Does it make a difference in how you deal with them?

Photo by Alexander Rotker on Unsplash