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  • Stuart Nevill

Developing Integrity

The ability to act in accordance with our moral principles (i.e. to have integrity) requires sensitivity, courageous moral autonomy, and personal maturity.

There is much insecurity and neurosis within us that can undermine our integrity, for example, tendencies for self-deception, hunger for power, and unthinking conformity with a majority view. A common characteristic of such states of mind is that we switch off our internal sensitivity to what feels right or wrong, so we can get what we want.

We don’t act with integrity if we are cut off from the feelings, which would otherwise prevent us behaving in particular ways (or at least make a course of action very uncomfortable).

We also need to be able to reflect on what feels right and wrong to us because our judgements are significantly influenced by other people, social norms, and the majority view of the groups to which we belong. Conforming with collective judgements needn’t require much from us, and we can easily find ourselves in the dangerous water of the herd mentality.

To sense check our judgements, we need to be reflective. As new information comes to light, or as our understanding of a situation develops, or in light of an insight we’ve had into our own psychology or a relationship, our judgements can develop and become more authentically ours.

We don’t act with integrity if we only conform to collective judgements.

We also need to be self-aware to act with integrity. If for example, we’re feeling under threat then it’s possible that whatever we think we need to do to survive (regardless of the cost to the others, particularly an enemy) is justifiable in our minds. Whereas in a different state of mind, (for example after a constructive conversation with someone we previously thought of as our enemy), the behaviour we had previously contemplated as justifiable, will now seem wrong.

We can’t act with integrity if we are unaware of our own infantile or immature issues and motivations.

The difficulty with integrity is the fickleness of what seems right to us. Being cut off from our feelings, unthinking conformity with the perceptions and judgements of others, and personal immaturity are potential obstacles to the development of integrity.

Integrity requires sensitivity (to how we feel); courageous moral autonomy (the capacity to reflect and determine for oneself what feels right and wrong, even if that means differing from the majority view); and the self-awareness to identify and unpack our personal neuroses and immaturity. 

Integrity is rarer and harder to develop that we might at first think - it is the fruit of personal development and is a characteristic of wisdom.

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