Integrity…what’s that?

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Who do you know that has integrity?” That was the question I posed the senior class. I hadn’t intended to. You might say the question took me by surprise.

The local high school was measuring seniors for their graduation caps and gowns. They decided to pull them all out of their classes and run them all through a set of short electives.  I was invited to come in and teach a mini-class on values.  Through the course of the day, I would have the opportunity to interact with each senior in the high school.  (Kind of a funny exercise to teach a class on values without permission to name an objective starting point.  The irony of educators helping lead the flight from objective truth to relativism always strikes me.  But I digress!)

Early with the first group of seniors, I used the word integrity in a sentence.  From the blank stares I received, I decided to take a short detour.  I gave a 3 minute orientation to the word, using the root to take me to the illustration of a “fully integrated” person.  “Who do you know that is the same person no matter who they are with?  Who do you know that has integrity?”  Blank stares.  Shrugs.  “No one.”  “Nobody is like that.”  In class after class. 

I tried to seed the discussion by offering the idea of uncles, aunts, coaches, teachers, mothers, fathers….   No one in any class all day knew a single person that they were willing to say had integrity except one person who thought maybe some preacher might. 

Chap Clark has written about students growing up in a world where adults have modeled saying one thing and doing another.  He suggests in his book, When Kids Hurt: Help for Adults Navigating the Adolescent Maze, that there is an ethical system in place for students.  It values loyalty and boundaries over integration and honesty.  And it is pragmatic.  Just like the systems modeled by the adults in their lives, they are willing to compromise or abandon an ethical framework that seems irrelevant or gets in the way of happiness. 

What do you think?  How important is having integrity, being a completely integrated person?  Are the new ethical “systems” healthy?  How are you seeking to model ethics and integrity with the students in your sphere of influence? 

And where are you discovering integrity already in place?  In your opinion, what is the soil that helps that plant to grow?

  1. I taught a weekly seminar called “Ethics” to students aged 18-19. My experience was very similar and carried over to the parents and adults. Ethics and Integrity are lost words, lost concepts and lost values for many people. People are not willing or able to strive to do what is right…they are striving to simply survive. It feels to them that unfamiliar, outside objective standards are limiting, suffocating, irrelevant and imposing.

    I believe inner peace flows from personal integrity. It seems that culture is pursuing and proclaiming a sort of inner peace that is better described as disconnection and emotional isolation.

    So…to answer your final questions…I think integrity is a key issue for my life and those around me. I read about it in my Bible, online and in great books like “Integrity: Having the Courage to Face the Demands of Reality” by Henry Cloud.

    I talk about it, teach my seminar, recommend books to friends, but mostly and this is the soil: I try to be the sort of person and friend who includes, invites, encourages and serves with an open heart, open mind, and open arms.

    Thanks for posting!

    • halhamilton says:

      “…and this is the soil: I try to be the sort of person and friend who includes, invites, encourages and serves with an open heart, open mind, and open arms.”

      I love it, John. Thanks for sharing. I will check out the book by Henry Cloud

  2. Jonathan Kibler says:

    Hal, like any believer who has desperately wanted to share their faith with the world, I empathize with the frustrations of not being able to start with the absolute in a discussion about integrity. I have been turning over Luke1:17 in my mind lately and it occurs to me that the conversations you were able to have, even without reference to the absolute, could be seen as “go[ing] before him …. to turn the…disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (ESV). You were critically important in God’s demonstration of love to me before and through my transition to his son. Thank God for forerunners obedience!

    • halhamilton says:

      Thanks, Jonathan. I can’t claim I was frustrated. I took the posture of being willing to serve the school and be in relationship with them, knowing opportunities would come. And when they did, I wanted to be honoring of the opportunities in the spirit they were given to me.

      But I did find the idea of grounding values in something subjective as sadly ironic.

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