Integrity is an interesting concept because we all have our own interpretation of what’s right and wrong. Depending on what our personal values tell us, which may stem from our upbringing, our influences at home, our environment, or many other external factors, we may have varying perspectives about what we should and shouldn’t do. Deep down, however, we all have a strong understanding of good and bad. Instinctively, we sense fear, danger, hostility, and all the things that sound our internal sirens and warn us that something’s just not right.
There are also black and white rules in our society, like stopping at a stop sign when we’re driving and never stealing things that don’t belong to us. These are things we’ve all learned are the right things to do. There are external factors that teach us right from wrong, and we accept them, whether we choose to obey them or not.
Integrity, defined by Merriam-Webster as the firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, is our interpretation of how we consistently bring the rules of society and our natural instincts together. It’s how we display our judgment and decision-making process to the world. When we operate with integrity, we select what we feel is the right thing to do, and let it shine. We embrace and display the moral and ethical code of values that define each of us.
It all starts at a young age. As my son prepares for his first day of Kindergarten today, I can only hope that the choices he makes will reflect how we have helped him interpret right from wrong by being kind, sharing, using his manners, and making good choices. His ability to choose wisely can be compromised so quickly when outside pressures and influences rise, simply because he’s still learning. His filter for right and wrong is brand new. He’ll make mistakes (we all do, even with years of experience), but if he can acknowledge them, course correct, and develop a decision-making process that isn’t influenced by peers, media, or outside sources, then we’ve done a pretty good job to help him shape his future. But that takes time, and it certainly won’t be perfect.
As adults, we should already be there, or at least pretty close. We’ve had the time it takes to understand consequences and develop strong values. We know what we should and shouldn’t do because we’ve learned from endless experiences. At this stage, it’s about choice. It’s about how we define what we’re going to do and how we react to our external environment at every moment. Do we let it steer us off course, or are we prepared to make our own choices based on what we truly know deep down is right and wrong?
Whether you’re starting Kindergarten today, or you’re well beyond your elementary school years (probably the latter!), what will you choose? Each day is a new moment. You can start now by choosing to do the right thing.