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Our school focused on integrity last month. In one sense, integrity means something like honesty. Many of my students immediately thought of a scenario where one ought to return something valuable that did not belong to him. A secondary meaning of integrity has more to do with integration and consistency.

If you look on facebook, every person loves to laud the values of diversity, honesty, and generosity. In contrast, we love to point out the hypocrisy of our leaders, our political foes, and sometimes ourselves. It seems that, of all the things we hate most, hypocrisy tops our list. I’m reminded of a PSA-type meme that contrasts the tepid public response to the deaths of black people to the uproar caused by a single death of a lion. People love to point out hypocrisy because integrity – the consistency and coherency of values – is a rare jewel.

I think, however, if we examine our own lives a little deeper, I wonder if we would withstand similar moral scrutiny as well. A simple run down of our purchases this last month would probably reveal the incoherency of our values. Should I purchase $50/month internet or save for retirement? I like to eat healthy, but eating a burger every now and then couldn’t hurt (“now and then” could translate to at least once a week?). I really am interested and care about the world, so I subscribe to the New York Times or to Wall Street Journal – but what do I do with this information? Has it caused me to donate any of my time or money to causes outside of myself?

I think, in these awkward times of self reflection, we find it an appropriate to make excuses by expressing our needs. Oh, I really needed to eat that burger because it was such a crappy week. There are so many problems in the world, I don’t know which one to choose to focus in on. I’m running low on my budget this week so I can’t afford to buy that $5 carton of cage-free, organic eggs (yikes).

All this is to say that attaining integrity is much more challenging than returning a $1 back to a complete stranger as my students conceive of it. I suppose this is how political extremists arise – they possess so much integrity to their ideologies and values that they are unwilling to budge one inch from their platforms because compromise in one area would dismantle their personal integrity. They would be, proverbially speaking, giving the devil a foothold.

Even now, I find myself compromising my integrity: even though I treasure and value hard work, right now I’m spending time writing this blog instead of planning tomorrow’s lessons.


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