What is integrity?

Pieter Bruegel- the Massacre of the Innocents, in partWhat is integrity? asked Sabina. Silence. We don’t know.

I don’t know what integrity would look like, but I imagine parts of it. One is integrating near and far thinking. Far thinking: when an issue is merely theoretical, and I can tell my opinion without any cost, I could think anything of it. Abortion fits this: people discuss abortion who would never need one, and their opinion marks “People like us” from “People like them”. We can say it and feel cosy familiarity and togetherness. One makes these decisions according to abstract principle- at least in ones own mind. But near thinking- what do you do when the issue touches you personally, or those whom you love? To have what you say match what you do is integrity.

Universalisability, the moral axiom, is part of it. If something is right for A, the same thing in the same circumstances must be right for B.

Honour is part of it, though honour is more difficult to define. Honour is both “Touch not me but a glove”- watch your step around me- and respect for all things, for everything that is, is holy.

As we have discussed truth and integrity, my lie has been at the front of my mind. I have thought of a defence for it: I told a lie to break a lie, I told a lie to defeat a greater lie. They sought to oppress me with a lie, and they do not deserve straight answers. I thought I could explain this to these douce Quakers, as I explain things to you: being understood, I would be validated. Then I thought, no, I can accept my own argument, I can forgive myself, I do not need absolution from others. This self-containment may be part of integrity.

Plebgate rumbles on. “Gate” is the suffix indicating a scandal- why not “Gategate” for the scandal of the Cabinet minister confronting the police- on his bicycle, what a common touch- at the gate of Downing Street. Then the scandal surrounding what people said about Gategate could be Gategategate. Onywye. No, Andrew Mitchell did not use the word “pleb”, but he treated the police with patrician disdain, and when, poorer witnesses than they should be, they said “he called us plebs” (truly) it was taken literally, and they felt the need to prove the use of that actual word. Now one policeman is in prison, and three sacked.

A planning official told of how architects draw plans with inaccuracies, so that eg. sight-lines and light appeared to fit the rules better, or build subtly differently from the plans in the permission. Getting them to tell the unvarnished truth is so wearing! Esther Rantzen created the word Jobsworth for an official sticking literally to petty rules, but whether they are petty or not depends on where you stand.

Integrity is so much more difficult if you cannot trust rules or authorities.

Quaker faith and Practice: Integrity is a condition in which a person’s response to a total situation can be trusted… Right ethical choices… we cannot take advantage of others by any form of dishonesty…

9 thoughts on “What is integrity?

  1. You know the real problem with Pleb-Gate or even with the reaction to 12 Years a Slave? No one can fathom telling the truth.
    I was sure Mitchell had said pleb because I’ve said pleb- and everyone at school said pleb. “His father is the director for some company, they don’t ‘even’ have a proper house. Total pleb.”
    “Are you sure having a boyfriend of that ethnicity is the best idea?”
    After society realized those things were wrong/misguided, we began pretending they didn’t occur, which is a fantasy. Integrity is perhaps finally admitting prejudice exists and is now simply better masked.


    • I have some sympathy with Mitchell, because I have had that argument: in Oldham town hall for a weekend meeting, I wanted to go out the front door, and the security guard would not let me. The best joke I heard about it was imagining George Osborne say, “How can someone who went to Rugby call anyone a pleb?” Both sides exaggerated.

      The earliest race discrimination cases before the Industrial Tribunal were blatant, but now it is far more subtle.


  2. I can’t comment on Pleb-Gate (curious name), but when kept in context and in terms of integrity, I think this line is a corker, ” I do not need absolution from others. This self-containment may be part of integrity.”


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