Integrity is possibly one of the lesser known virtues for most people. The root word for integrity is integral, meaning whole. This is because integrity is wholeness in the sense of acting and thinking truly to one’s self.
Integrity can be defined through two separate actions: not lying to others, and not lying to yourself.
Lying to Others
The more common form of lying is when you lie to other people. This isn’t just limited to a direct lie, it encompasses any form of misleading someone. Omitting information, telling the truth in a confusing way, or simply not telling someone something are some of ways of misleading that some people think are acceptable because they’re not directly lying. In reality, the reason lying, or any of these others things are bad is because you are misleading them. By intentionally having someone’s information not be the whole truth, you are setting them up to make incorrect choices. By manipulating someone with misinformation, you are denying them of the freedom to make informed choices.
The reason why people don’t like being lied to is because it affects the choices they make, usually in a negative way, and it also shows that the people who lied to them tried to manipulate them, breaking their trust.
To make choices to the best of one’s ability, one must have the correct information and logic to do so, otherwise they will depend on luck.
While lying to others is always a bad thing, sometimes it might be necessary to avoid worse things. This is most true when someone cannot be reasoned with and has bad or misled intentions. This is why intelligence agencies essentially lie for a living. They make sure all their enemies, who they disagree with, have wrong information or none at all, while they try to get the truth for themselves. This gives them an advantage because the enemy will make choices that won’t do what they expect, while the other intelligence agency will know the enemy’s weaknesses. Intelligence agencies do this because their respective nations do not trust each other and have differing objectives that they generally do not reconcile.
These spy agencies cannot really be considered as good and bad, or correct and mistaken sides, rather they are the result of countries not working together and resolving matters peacefully.
As stated before, one must have both the correct information and logic to make proper decisions.
- Proper decisions though are ones that accomplish what someone wants to do. When someone’s objectives are bad, you do not want them to make proper decisions, because they will then achieve their bad goals.
- If someone is not thinking rationally, then you cannot trust what choices they make. In this case, sometimes it is better if someone else makes choices for them. This is risky though, since this is inherently controlling and denies them of their freedom. This is why such a choice has to be made very carefully.
An example of when lying might be justified is if someone is acting irrationally and making illogical decisions. If they are doing this because they are sad, then it might be better to avoid telling them more sad things, especially if it so bad that they might consider committing suicide.
Another example is when someone selfish, but rational, wants to do something like take over power. Rather than giving them the information required to do so, it might be better to mislead them so they fail.
More commonly, people lie to trick others into doing what they want for their own benefit and other’s expense. This is a selfish way to act that hurts others, which is why this is partially a moral issue.
While I say that misleading people may be a good thing, I also said it is always bad. Misinformation is essentially a tool, it can be used for good and for bad, but regardless it always involves doing something bad. You should lie when the good that results of lying outweighs the bad, and only if lying is required to avoid a worse outcome.
Lying to yourself
Lying to yourself is a less discussed issue with most people, but is perhaps more important. The concept of lying to yourself should not be taken literally, since normally a liar knows the truth but tells others lies. When you lie to yourself you also know the truth, but instead of telling yourself a lie, you choose to ignore the truth. Lying to others makes more sense because the two parties have different ways of thinking and maybe different objectives, but when you decide to ignore the truth and believe something else instead, it shows either that you have two different ways of thinking, or that you care more about how you feel rather than what you do.
When you decide to ignore the truth, it may be done subconsciously, or less commonly you might be well aware of it and try your best to forget it. Trying to forget something consciously is worse because you know exactly what you are doing and still want to do it. This is however much harder. Subconsciously lying to yourself is more understandable since you don’t necessarily have control over what you are doing or even know that you are doing it. This is common with children, but even adults do this.
Lying to yourself is bad because as discussed earlier, it is generally done to make yourself feel better after learning about something that makes you feel bad. By choosing to forget this, you are choosing to feel good rather than bear the pain of knowing the truth. As discussed earlier, the truth is required to make proper decisions. When you lie to yourself, you deny yourself the ability to do what you really want to do. Feelings are temporary, they are worldly and temporal. By choosing to forget sadness, you are choosing short term pleasure over long term benefits; this generally causes more problems for you in the future since you’ll make poor decisions.
Human beings have agency; we have the unique ability of all the things in the universe to make decisions and choose for ourselves. Unlike planets, or water, or fire, or magnets, our futures are not solely determined by the laws of physics. We decide what we want, and we decide what we do. When you choose to feel rather than to do, you give up your free will and instead become a machine, acting on the desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If you want political freedom, freedom for women, freedom for ethnicities and races, then why would anyone give up their personal freedom? Political freedom may include the right to give up your personal freedom, but that isn’t the main point of political freedom, because democracies are about far more than a useless idea like that. Political freedom allows us the basic, fundamental human rights that we use to accomplish what we truly want to do. If you simply use those freedoms to do what your subconscious tells you to, then you are wasting your political and your personal freedom.
Part of the reason for this is the discrepancy between what the subconscious is programmed to want and what a person truly chooses to want. Lying to yourself is one of the primary ways your subconscious controls you and forces you to do what it tells you to. Don’t let the machine in your head limit you by means of pain and pleasure.
Lying to yourself shows that you are dishonest with yourself. As such, you cannot trust yourself, so your beliefs with respect to this are flawed. By lying to yourself, your knowledge is flawed too. If one considers these two flaws symbolically as holes, this explains the term integrity. You are not integral, or whole, with these two wholes in you. A person with integrity does what is right because they know it is right. If you have integrity, you can trust that your actions are at least justified with respect to what you know. Since they do not lie to themselves, they value the truth, and instead of only relying on what they know, they will get more information to prove or disprove their knowledge in order to find the truth.
Integrity is not lying to others to make sure they don’t do bad things, and not lying to yourself so you don’t do bad things.