First of all, let me state that I think anyone who is questioning their own integrity is doing things right when it comes to personal and spiritual development. In fact, they are probably pretty far along their path. To question one's own integrity means that a person's self-awareness is in a pretty evolved place. That you can know yourself and what you feel is "right" well enough—and have transcended your ego to a point you can identify lapses and worry about it—no God or form of human perfection can ask for more of you, imo. You are definitely in the front of the class as far as seekers go.
So let's define integrity. My friend defines it as the dictionary does—being honest and having strong moral principles, along with being honest with yourself. And while my definition is 90% that, I also define it somewhat by one of its antonyms, hypocrisy. So, in other words, I see integrity as being true to the person you feel you're supposed to be, and represent yourself to be, in the world...to not be a hypocrite.
It's such a fine line, really. And I'm sure my friend incorporates anti-hypocrisy, too. But the reason I'm making this point is that I think the needle moves on integrity depending on who you are, where you are in your journey and what you believe. After all, "having strong moral principles" is subject to interpretation, and being honest has degrees. If we're REALLY honest, honesty is also subject to interpretation, not to mention the fact that there are situations where honesty clashes with some of your other ideals. "No your butt doesn't look big in that" and "I'm fine, how are you?" are not always honest, but they don't exactly make you a hypocrite or amoral loser, either. In fact, they are fully integrous with other moral ideals, like kindness, non-judgement and social courtesy.
To illustrate this, let's pretend you're a gay man living in Texas. Sodomy is not only illegal, it's considered amoral in your community. So are you acting in integrity by being true to the man you love and having a full relationship with him? Or is it more integrous to refuse your homosexuality and align with both the law and God's view of your love as an abomination? And is that refusal of your sexuality integrous to the "integrity ideal" of honesty? Do you align with accepted moral principles and what is considered the "truth" in your community... or do you align with what is true to yourself and what you know is right based on your sense of what is right and good? I imagine pretty much every homosexual has faced that question in one way or another and almost all of them chose to remain true to their homosexuality. But do they have integrity when they bring their lover to church on Sunday? The ansewer to that question is another question, "who's asking?"
We all feel killing is "wrong". So is it wrong for soldiers to kill our enemies? Are they acting outside of their, say, "Christian integrity" to go against the Ten Commandments? Is it wrong for a vigilante father to kill the man who raped and tortured his daughter? If our country believes killing is wrong, are we being hypocrites by having the death penalty? Also if it's wrong to steal or profit from theft, is Julian Assange wrong to deal in stolen emails? Are we wrong to read them? And if that is right, is it also right to release Colin Powell's—a private, albeit influential, citizen's emails—emails that have no corruption in them, but are scandalous to read?
Integrity is a tricky thing. And it's a personal thing.
Which brings us back to self awareness. In my mind, you can't have integrity without self awareness. You need to be able to examine yourself and be as honest and fair with yourself as possible before you can even determine what is in your integrity, much less police it.
So my friend's issue involved a behavior she noticed when she was at a group thing. The group leader did something that didn't seem very leaderly. And there was another woman she knew at the group thing. So she contacted that woman and said she wanted to talk about something that had happened that night and her friend, without even knowing what they were going to talk about, told her they could talk, but "just so long as we don't judge others" (which was a principle discussed in the group the night before.)
So this sent my friend into a conundrum. Was her desire to talk about this thing against her integrity? Was it wrong? Would it be judgmental to discuss this thing that happened? So she started looking deeply at *why* she wanted to discuss this thing. Was it to gossip or feel superior? Or was it to get the other woman's read on the situation in order to gain greater understanding so she can be a better leader herself?
I face a similar conundrum when it comes to what some call gossip. Some of it is mean spirited and a toxic way of judging others and feeling superior. I don't want to hear or participate in that shit. But if someone I know, whether I like them or not, has a major life development—marriage, illness, etc.—is it against my integrity to want to hear? Where is the line between "gossip" and "news" drawn?
One of our assignments as humans is to draw or adopt a "personal code of conduct". And my code of conduct and that of someone, say, raised amidst poverty and crime, may be different. I might think stealing is never right and they might think it's right to steal if you're starving, for example. So we all have to decide what integrity is for ourselves. And often when we're asking the question "what is within my integrity?" we're really asking ourselves "what do I truly believe about this?"
On more than one occasion, I've written that, if you represent yourself as a loving and nice person, then it's not OK to bully or deride someone who you think is a bully or an asshole. Either you believe love is the answer or you don't. But it's not really that simple. Doing things against our integrity and then feeling bad about them is how we determine where to draw the lines within ourselves. And, of course, we have to have the accompanying self awareness and self examination to even see where we're being hypocritical in the first place.
I can't tell you how often when writing these posts I change my wording or the point I'm making to avoid being a hypocrite. Seriously. I'll be writing something and know within me that it's not true to me, regardless of whether or not it's true to what I want to represent to you. And it is NOT within my integrity to call someone names as I've done in regard to this presidential election. But if there's any doubt, I see the hypocrisy and lack of integrity when I do it. It is unhealed, angry, and even possibly unexamined parts of me that I'm battling with to understand my own beliefs. Or possibly I'm battling with the integrity of one principle I hold dear against the integrity of another. Calling someone a conman is name calling and judgment, which I don't really like, but it's true to my desire to not be silent when I see something dangerous happening. I can't satisfy both senses of integrity.
And right there is the point at which we all need to be careful. We have to be careful what we justify to ourselves in order to make us right. Which is exactly what my friend was wondering about the other day...was she justifying something to make it right or was she examining the situation with another seeker to assist in her own understanding and growth? A lot of spiritual seekers never even consider these kinds of questions because they are either unaware or don't want to know the answers.
So my final answer to conundrums like this is they are individual judgment calls within the larger framework of generally accepted standards of honesty and morality. My integrity is mine to decide, not out of stubborn resistance and a need to be right, but out of responsible self examination. And wherever you draw the line (for example, between gossip and news) is up to you. Further, that needle moves between people and moves even within yourself as you challenge yourself to grow. And once the needle is set, challenges may come along to make you question the line. Finally, as with most things in life, the intention beneath something is key.
So integrity is a living breathing thing that is a joint creation between society and individual beliefs. And it's not a badge you earn because you do it right in one area of your life...or have some sort of right to because you go to church or pay your taxes...or because you hold on to some stubborn view of righteousness or superiority. It is an evolving thing that needs to be tended to every day through your own self awareness. And it is fed with fruits of good intent and the genuine desire to evolve. Also, once your lines are established, you can't blame others for knocking you off. How well you walk those lines lands squarely on the shoulders of your own integrity.