Integrity. Noun. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.Dictionary.com
After a lot (and I mean a lot) of indecision and restless thought about this blog, I turned to friends for advice. I had looked up the dictionary definition, read the blogs of others and breainstormed pages of notes that ultimately ended up being frustratedly crossed out, but I was still no closer to a considered stream of thought about one of the most important values a person can have.
“What does integrity mean to you?”
It’s a good thing I’ve got very patient friends, who will not only humour but answer immensely broad questions, flung their way out of the blue on a Monday night after two months of lockdown.
Replies centred around honesty and transparency, on the whole. An interesting idea was floated that integrity was a quality you can rely upon in others, meaning those with it are both dependable and can be depended upon to act with integrity at all times.
So many positive values could be muddied by the lens of integrity, because I think at its core it’s about motives. An individual with integrity acts in the knowledge that it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it’s what others want them to do. In a way, integrity could be quite tightly linked to intrinsic motivation: doing the right thing purely for yourself, but in equal measure doing it purely because you know it is morally right. I don’t think it is possible to act with integrity if motivation stems from peer pressure of any sort.
Returning to the aforementioned patient friends, I’d like to thank Beth for putting up with what felt at the time like a minor literary epiphany of sorts. I may be the sender of amusing videos of the cast of Casualty, but I am also the sender of successive, increasingly frenzied WhatsApp essays once my mind is set on something.
The theme of integrity brought to mind a literary hero (who has become infinitely more problematic in recent years) – Atticus Finch.
In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, once a staple of GCSE English Lit (don’t get me started!), Atticus is the absolute image of integrity. He takes on a case no other lawyer will touch: the defence of a black man accused of the rape of a white woman. For year, readers of Mockingbird idolised him for stepping away from the commonly-held racist views of his era in the little town of Maycomb, Alabama. We thought Atticus saw past race and saw past the cruelty and absurdity of the Deep South’s injustices.
In the controversial sequel ‘Go Set a Watchman’ our rose-tinted glasses are not just removed but ground into dust. An aged Atticus is bitter and intolerant of the beginning of the civil rights movement sweeping the southern states. Without the rosy glow of his daughter’s childhood hero worship of him, we wonder if we can believe anything we thought we knew.
Heavily edited to add context and remove shortenings, emojis and the unnecessarily teenaged exclamation ‘omg’, this was what I came to:
This all makes me think about Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird… And the utter decimation of his character in the sequel… Oh, but could that decimation actually redeem him as the character with the most integrity of any of all time? He might have ultimately been as intolerant as the next, but he stood by what was right in defending Tom Robinson.
This raised a further question though – is integrity more important than being nice?
Now do you see why this theme caused me such a headache? I’m a chronic overthinker at the best of times, but right now I have a lot of projects on the go and I’m questioning just about everything that dares to pop into my head!
Ultimately, I think the answer to that question lies with the respondent and completely depends on their own degree of integrity, whether they will be swayed to the wrong choice by the threat of not being liked for doing the ‘right’ thing. And this is why I think there’s such a need for integrity in education – we must be prepared to do the right thing for the children and young people in our care. They come first.
End note – Since writing about Atticus Finch last night and this morning, I have read blogs and articles that make me question afresh what I have written here. I could be falling foul of that overthinking again, or I could be completely wrong. Either way, this blog represents a thought process, and I’m satisfied to have documented it.