At one of Eckhart Tolle’s lectures on the consciousness of integrity a man got up and asked, “Mr. Tolle, my friend says he has integrity because he never lies and neither should I. Is that a good policy? Should we never lie?” Tolle looked down and contemplated the question. He then wondered aloud, “I cannot tell a lie, Anne Frank is in the attic.”
Lies are slippery. The are usually thought of as immoral, not a great idea, even cowardly. But there’s something deeper going on than the after school sentiment of, “I will never tell a lie.” That thing is called integrity. What is the truth of a matter in any given situation? If a man wants to sleep with his neighbor should he admit that to his wife in an effort to be honest, to not lie to her? What about being integrous to her emotional well being, her sensitivity, her boundaries?
How about telling lies to children? Is the collective lie of Santa Claus doing irreparable harm to a child’s psyche? In the beloved movie, A Miracle On 34th Street, that question is explored. A little girl, played by Natalie Wood, is told early on that there is no Santa so that she knows “the truth” and lives in “reality.” She ends up seeing life through an antiseptic adult boredom, without mystery, devoid of magic. When she encounters a man who believes himself to be Santa she gets her sense of child like enthusiasm, playfulness, and joy back. I myself enjoyed the Santa myth as a kid. A guy flying around the world in a sleigh and coming down the chimney with enough toys for the whole world was rapt in mystery and excitement. A quarter found under my pillow by the tooth fairy after the travails of losing a childhood tooth gave me a thrill. Still, the whole Easter Bunny coming around with chocolate eggs thing was a bridge too far - what kind of fool did they take me for?
Then again we’re all too familiar with the dark lies that violate integrity and build individual or collective houses of horror. A “pre-emptive” war is started in Iraq when the government lies about weapons of mass destruction. A woman lives with domestic violence and instead of leaving she lies to herself that, “All men are like him.” Wall Street brokers lie to themselves that mortgage manipulation and financial products that imploded the economy were just “part of capitalism.” More recently politicians take money from gun lobbyists and promote that message that gun violence is a “mental health issue,” not a gun issue— even as more children die. Should we not make it harder to get guns knowing there are mentally ill people out there, especially with the resounding successes of countries like Japan and Australia who have done just that and stopped mass shootings?
Integrity requires us to take a hard look. We have to give up the buzz of instant gratification around sex, money, power, etc. Integrity can be thought of as honoring your word, doing what you say you will do, being honest, walking a career path that aligns with your heart, being truthful to your authentic life—being whole and complete as a person. What is your word to others and, especially, what is your word to yourself when no one is looking? Are you able to admit when you are wrong? Do your behaviors benefit others? In a society that can so often lack something as fundamental as integrity, where do you stand?
Click below to see Ellen Degeneres's take on integrity: