What Is Integrity --
And How Do I Get It?

by Jaye
Copyright © 2005 by Jaye Emrys, all rights reserved

          Integrity is a little like heaven -- everyone wants it, but nobody wants to go through what it takes to get it.


          Because the only way to get it is to fail, or nearly fail, to have it.

          None of us likes to come face to face with the fact that there are things that tempt us. The biggest difference between Kirk on Star Trek: The Original Series and Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation was how they responded to temptation. Kirk broke the Prime Directive at a cost, but he broke it. Picard commanded in a much more by-the-book manner.

          So what, exactly, is integrity? The American Heritage Dictionary (1994) defines it:

1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.
2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness.
3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.
          I will add:
4. Strength in relation to stress.

          Let's look at all of them.

1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.

          Here is Picard and Kirk's yardstick. They fulfill their duties as Captain based on their understanding of the meaning of the Prime Directive. It can be argued that one is the better captain than the other, and in many ways, Picard is a "better" captain than Kirk: he gets the Enterprise into fewer scrapes through faulty decisions. Yet each is committed to the Directive as he understands it. To Kirk, the Directive was meant to protect civilizations in general, yet there were situations where it was plainly ridiculous and must be set aside. To Picard, a civilization must be protected and the Directive maintained simultaneously.

          How you interpret your need to meet your yardstick's demands defines the kinds of scrapes you get into -- and what lengths you will need to go to get out of them.

          What your yardstick is determines them even more.

          On whom do you base your yardstick? Do you want Kirk scrapes, or Picard scrapes? Clinton scrapes or George W. Bush Scrapes? Kobe Bryant scrapes or Madonna scrapes? Or would you rather have Ghandi or Jesus scrapes? Remember -- they crucified Jesus and assassinated Mohandas Ghandi. They only threatened to impeach Clinton and they call George W. a boob -- at least until recently. Yet who had the most inner peace? When you choose your heroes, you choose the types of scrapes you will bite off. When you choose how closely you follow your hero, you choose their size.

2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness.

          "I could drink if I was going to stay home all night."

          "But what if you got called and your best friend needed you to pick her up and you'd been drinking?"

          That was my mom and I when I was thirteen, when I was wrestling with a teetotaling mentality. She believed that complete unimpairment at all times was the only way to live. My friends bandied the idea about that in some cases mild tipsiness was acceptable.

          Who was right?

          We probably both were. From her point of view, and I agree, unimpairedness is the true ideal. And yet, day after day, I saw her work herself into impaired fatigue.

          She had done it so long she did not see it as anything but the norm. I don't think she realized she was as impaired as she was. She "did what she had to do." She picked arguments in the evening because she thought she needed to do more and we did not volunteer. Why volunteer? She did it all.

          How do you keep from being impaired?

          First, avoid excessive fatigue. It is the number one cause of impairment in the United States. The number one cause of fatigue? Not enough sleep. Many Americans simply don't get enough, but many more also suffer from one or more sleep impairments, including insomnia and sleep apnea (temporarily stopping breathing many times in the night). If you're drowsy all the time, try getting an hour more sleep a night. If that doesn't help, a visit to your doctor may help. In my case, sleep apnea was the culprit. A machine that adjusted the air pressure in my throat solved the matter, and my mood, energy, and productivity improved remarkably -- as long as I don't fall asleep without hooking myself up.

          Second, find out what foods and chemicals stress your system. Cut out one or two at a time, and see the results. They range from additives in food to ingredients in deodorants, to caffeine, Nutra-Sweet and Splenda. The symptoms vary from a tired feeling to migraines to fibromyalgia. When I kicked Nutra-Sweet, I dropped three hours off my sleep needs. When I kicked steady soda pop, the chronic thrush infection in my mouth went away.

3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

          When I was thirty, I would spend weeks working for a temp agency, and then one day I would call and cancel, and spend a couple weeks walking on the beach, driving down the coast, being unreachable. When the money was gone, I'd call the agency and report in again.

          I lacked integrity. I was not whole. I could hold it together for awhile, and then it would all fall apart. During my weeks of work, I could feel things inside me beginning to come apart; I felt more and more nervous, pressured, fearful. Trouble sleeping got worse and worse. It took the decompression time to put everything right again.

          Into my forties, I substitute taught, and then I got a teaching credential. I got one contract position. A monumental mistake. I lasted under two months. I tried for a career as a counselor. My professors said I should try to find a career where I could do my thing working with words, certainly, but not spend all day with people.

          How could I be whole, be me? How could I help people, and still be complete?

          Finally I admitted what I had wanted all along -- that I could write. That anyone would want to read what I had to say.

          That was the kicker. That anyone would want to read it.


          Because I had no wholeness. I was divided. Incomplete. It makes sense: as a child, I had always been judged more on how I said things than on what I had said.

          Think about it. We spend twelve years critiquing spelling, grammar, paragraph construction. A friend in one of the nation's largest school districts just told me she has been told to cut back science, history, and math yet further even though her fifth graders are already ahead on their English scores, because her district wants a full 120 minutes per day of Language Arts of instruction.

          Use affirmations to overcome the messages you received as a child. Surround yourself with people who encourage you rather than shame you. It will feel strange at first. Change is always strange. Yet it pays big dividends.

4. Strength in relation to stress.

          "Hull integrity at eighty percent," anounces the computer on Star Trek: Voyager.

          I picture the hull as the physical barrier to the ship, whereas the shields are the energy barriers that reinforce it. Once the energy barier gives way, the next to go is the physical barier -- then the atmosphere leaks out, and life support in that sector fails. Hull integrity is critical to the safety of the crew.

          Granted, we're talking about a made-up universe, and as Nesmith says in "Galaxy Quest," "There's no g-- d-- ship." But in the minds of millions of fans, the Galaxy Quest, the Trek universe, and all science fiction universes are metaphors for life itself, and those energy bariers and hulls are what keep us alive. They're our energy and literal skins.

          How do we maintain our strength in relation to stress?

          We lower the stress, raise the strength, or both.

Lower the stress.

          Hans Selye, in his famous book Stress Without Distress2, talks about eustress -- stress we enjoy -- thrill rides and scary movies, and distress: stress we hate -- trips to the dentist. Or, actually, not the events themselves, but our perceptions of the events. Last weekend, I was forced to walk through a tunnel of plants -- including poison oak at both sides of the trail. I began to shake and sweat. Finally, I told myself, "I'm going for a peaceful walk on the beach. I'm going for a peaceful walk on the beach." I began to picture myself, not in that tunnel of poison oak, but on a peaceful beach. I still paid careful attention to where I moved, but my mind was elsewhere. My pulse and respiration went to normal and the shaking and sweat stopped immediately. Anyone can learn this skill, but it takes practice. A person who knows how to relax and picture herself in a meadow can get through a root canal with no discomfort at all. One with no relaxation training experiences agony at a teeth cleaning. At every move the hygenist makes, she expects excruciating pain: her muscles tense up, she shakes, her heart pounds, and her mind races.

Raise the strength.

          "The fastest way to get to easy is through hard."
                    Lois McMaster Bujold  (1999)

          If you want to get to easy, do what is hard. The more you do it, the more ability to do it you develop.

          To see a real weasel, and how integrity caught up with him, try on Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, published by Baen books. This is a mammoth series, thirteen books at present. Miles Vorkosigan starts out life as a presumptuous upstart whose modus operandi is lying and making his lies into truth after the fact. It's not until book nine that he gets caught and everything comes tumbling down.

          I just happened to start reading on book nine -- Memory -- and I'm a sucker for this kind of story. Of course I had to go back and find out how many lies he had told to how many people! These books gave me a whole new slant on ways to add integrity to my life. I think I've read the entire series seven times.

          One thing we learn from looking at Miles is that you can screw up, and screw up royally, and still come back to do great things.

          Jacqueline Lichtenberg (1997) put it this way: "Life isn't about being perfect. Life is about error-recovery techniques." In fact, for ideas on how to add Integrity to your life, check out all of Jacqueline's Rereadable Books articles at www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/ The articles are on using fiction for personal growth, and Integrity is a large component of what she talks about.

          So go out. Make mistakes. Practice error recovery techniques. (Thanks, Jacqueline!) Find out where you want to go. Get some dings in your "hull;" go through hard to get to easy; decide what yardstick you want to use. Then use it and get strong. Read some Rereadable Books if you want some ideas.

          Find your Integrity. It's a rocky path, but worth walking.

          Blessings on you, and on your house.

  1. American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition Version 3.6a. Copyright 1994 Softkey International Inc.
  2. Selye, Hans (1975). Stress Without Distress New York, N.Y.. Signet.
  3. Bujold, Lois McMaster (1999). Komarr. Baen Books. New York, N.Y.
  4. Bujold, Lois McMaster (1997). Memory Baen Books. New York, N.Y.
  5. Lichtenberg, Jacqueline (1997). The Re-Readable Collection Of SF&F

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