It's spruiked as one of the most important values to possess. But what does it actually mean to have or be in integrity? And why is it important? That's what's on my mind this week. In my attempt to provide an answer I'll be referencing the concept of a "story gap", from philosopher and founder of Integral Theory Ken Wilber, who said: 'The bigger the gap between the story you tell yourself and the story you tell others the greater the likelihood of the disease.' Note: read dis-ease, i.e. lack of ease.
ONE MINUTE INSIGHT
The concept of integrity as it relates to our character and dealings is full of nuance and interpretation that I'd suggest few venture into. Before we dive in to unpack it further, consider your own undiluted ideas around integrity. ▶ What does it mean to you to be in integrity? ▶ How do you know when you are out of integrity? ▶ Is it out of integrity if you don't get caught? That last question might trigger you. Let that trigger be part of your insight...
DEEPER DUE DILIGENCE
The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines integrity as follows: 1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTIBILITY 2: an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS 3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS I don't know about you, but I'm left with more questions than I had before! Who or what defines our (moral/artistic) values? What does it mean to be unimpaired? What does it mean to be complete? Who says? For who? I would assert that integrity is something that lives in a shared field of value that is often unspoken and is subject to specific agreements in place in the context of our personal and professional relationships. Let's use the example of romantic relationships. For one couple, it might be completely inappropriate, or out of integrity, for either of the pair to engage in physical intimacy with someone outside of the relationship. However, for a couple who have agreed to engage in a polyamorous relationship, it is perfectly acceptable to do so. Implicit in the latter is an acceptance that one's agreement may not be in alignment with the wider field of value that is most commonly accepted within a societal context. So it would seem to me, that as well as there being an implied moral consideration, there is also a loop to be closed in how we communicate with others. This brings us back to the story gap. I really appreciate this concept because it evokes in my mind an image that makes real and visible what is otherwise intangible. It helps us visualise what it might mean to be "out of integrity". I drew it for you, and added some other aspects to thicken the plot a little:
Let's look at the components from Wilber's quote to build the picture out. '...the story you tell yourself' is the internal experience—who we believe ourselves to be. '...the story you tell others' is the external facade, or exterior. These are two different versions of ourselves. Me, Also Me. Both are "real" in the sense that they exist as realities in the mind. Who is to say that one is more real than the other? When we have two different versions of ourselves, an interior and an exterior, you can see this as a splitting of the identity (which based on the Webster definition, suggests integrity has been compromised). '...the greater the likelihood of disease.' In between, we have the story gap. The lack of ease. Wilber didn't explicitly state this in his discussion of the story gap, but I would assert that not only the bigger the gap the bigger dis-ease, but also the more energy that is lost in trying to maintain an image that is different to the one we hold for ourselves. It's hard work being something that (we believe) we're not. So, given the cost, why might we present a version of ourselves to the world that differs from who we believe ourselves to be? For a large part, the answer can be found in understanding ego and attachment. It's more important for others to like us than for us to like, or be "at ease" with ourselves. So as long as the exterior is compliant with the values and agreements we subscribe to, then we are very likely to dupe ourselves into believing that we are in integrity. But implicit in this we ignore what is most important - how we feel about ourselves. I believe this is a big contributor why there is so much psychological pain in the collective (just look at the mental health statistics wherever you are in the world). I also believe this to be a huge opportunity for us to engage with the levers that widen or narrow the story gap. Shame - they say that guilt reveals, and shame conceals. This is what I have found to be true for myself and for the clients I support. Shame causes us to hide aspects of ourselves, widening the distance between the internal and external reality. By reviewing and understanding the sources of our personal shame, especially in the presence of a compassionate witness, we can narrow the gap. Authenticity - by being who we are, identifying and communicating our personal needs and living according to our own values, we close the division (this does not mean airing all of your dirty laundry, but rather avoiding self-betrayal and untruths). During the course of supporting my clients in a coaching relationship, we spend quite a bit of time working on the "gap". We don't always call it that, but in essence, it's what we're doing. Enhanced well-being becomes inherent in that process—it's a side effect of getting to understand ourselves at a deeper level and being willing to confront difficult truths. It seems most of us hold integrity as a high value, and yet there is also an internal experience playing out, often subconsciously, that can rob us of our energy, inner peace and a sense of ease that one might think would naturally come with it. That keeps us in this illusion of being in integrity, and at a loss for what is eroding our well-being. But don't despair, this is not bad news. Actually, I'd assert it's great news! In the absence of having a full and complete understanding of our subconscious mind (which is not humanly possible), we cannot be completely in integrity. There is always some kind of story gap. This opens up a new way to look at integrity as a value, in that it's not about being "in" or "out of" integrity, but in choosing to constantly move toward integrity. Sensing when we go off-course and using that as an invitation to go back to our true course, compassionately. I don't know about you, but I feel my whole being relax when I decide to release the black and white of integrity and choose instead to see it as a North Star. One that I get to define by being intentional about my values and how I form agreements with others.
MORE TO MUSE ON...
What I'm listening to: The Living Myth podcast with Michael Meade. It's like sitting at the feet of an elder and absorbing their worldly wisdom. A mix of mythology, philosophy, psychology and cosmology that is bound to hit you in the heart.
Living Myth podcast on Spotify
What I'm watching: 'MADOFF: The Monster of Wall Street' - have you seen this mini docu-series on Netflix? I watched it last week. All I can think about is the amount of dis-ease Bernie Madoff created with his story gap. Sadly, it wasn't just him that paid the price.
Trailer: 'MADOFF: The Monster of Wall Street'
What I'm curious about: The human experience. Isn't it wild. Let's talk about it more, and be brave enough to enter into nuance. There is much richness to be found there.
The word integrity can be traced back to the Latin integer, meaning whole. The premise of the work I do with my clients is that we're already whole. We're not broken or faulty. You might then ask, what is "the work"? The work is, quite simply, navigating and dissolving the illusions that keep us from an experience of wholeness, or integrity. The lies we tell ourselves (which we all do—you're not an exception). I'd love to hear from you about what moved you in today's newsletter. What was hard to take in? What felt true? What opportunity do you see for yourself in diving deeper into the work? Thank you for being willing to swim through the nuance and holding the paradox with me.
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