This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
INTEGRITY HAS TO DO WITH “ONENESS.” It can be thought of in several different ways, as we shall see, but integrity always involves some kind of unity or wholeness. A person who has integrity is not fractured, divided, or conflicted, but instead is a person of consistency. He or she is one person rather than two or three different persons fighting for control of the same mind and body.
Here are three ways that people of integrity maintain oneness.
Alignment of principles with truth. “To thine own self be true” is not good advice if our principles aren’t valid. (Think of Adolf Hitler.) So to have integrity, we must adhere to time-tested moral principles.
Consistency between principles and conduct. Having adopted valid principles, we must then keep our conduct in line with our principles. Integrity means we refuse to violate our conscience. In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates said, “And yet, my friend, I would rather . . . that the whole world should be at odds with me, and oppose me, than that I myself should be at odds with myself and contradict myself.” We must have a solid confidence in ourselves that we will do what is right.
Agreement between public and private life. The person who lives one life in public but contradicts that life in private is a hypocrite. Integrity means our public and private lives are harmonious.
Without integrity, life is worth very little. Unfortunately, many people sell out and sacrifice their integrity in order to gain some temporary advantage. But if we violate our principles to acquire things like fame, fortune, power, safety, security, or social acceptance, what have we gained in the long term? Yes, the temptations are strong, and it can be hard to hold on to our convictions. But we must guard our integrity even when it is hard — I would say especially when it is hard. “He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so” (Walter Lippmann). So come what may, let us heed the quiet voice of our conscience.
“Hold it the greatest wrong to prefer life to honor and for the sake of life to lose the reason for living” (Juvenal).