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The bulk of this definition is from my beloved teacher’s lecture, Integrity: Without It Nothing Works by Dr. Michael C. Jensen

To me, integrity is a matter of a person’s word: nothing more, nothing less.

What you do is what you say, and what you say is what you do. For a person to have integrity, their word must be (as integrity is defined in the dictionary) whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition. In the matter of integrity, the primary question is what constitutes a person’s word?

For me, what constitutes my word is:

What I Said

Whatever I said I will or will not do, I am obligated to follow through on, in the timeframe I have promised.

I honor the requests of others and respond to each one in a timely fashion, explaining whether or not I can meet their needs.

Any request I fail to respond to becomes my word because I have not given that person a definitive answer as to whether I can or cannot help them. I’ve left them in a position to assume that I am available to assist them, and so they’re counting on me to some degree.

What It Means to Have Integrity: A Question of Character

For example, if a friend leaves me a voicemail on Tuesday asking me to help him move house over the weekend, and it’s now Friday afternoon, and I haven’t responded, I’ve left him with the assumption that I will be available to help.

In this situation, my failure to respond in a timely manner has given him my implied word that I will be showing up—therefore, I must.

What I Know

Whatever I know to do or know not to do, I will go about exactly as I know it is meant to be done and on time, unless I have explicitly said something to the contrary.

Whatever I have committed myself to do, I will do to the very best of my knowledge and capability, and with the quality of service I would desire of anyone doing the same for me.

There is no cutting corners or doing a half-baked job. The quality of my work is a direct reflection of my quality of character. There are times when a patient of mine occasionally has difficulty paying for their services. In these situations, we always work something out based on the person’s circumstances. I would never turn them away.

In any case, it makes no difference what my arrangement is with any patient, regardless of whether they’re struggling financially or if they’ve flown in from a distant country to see me; I treat every patient with the fullest capacity of my knowledge and the greatest skill of my service.

What is Expected (Unexpressed Requests of Me)

Whatever I am expected or requested to do or not do by anyone with whom I desire to have a workable relationship (even when not explicitly expressed) I will do on time, unless I have clearly said something to the contrary.

When I have phone consultations scheduled with colleagues or patients, I always do my best to call them at the time they are expecting. If for some unforeseen reason, I’m not able to make the call on time and wasn’t able to notify them beforehand, I always ask if the present time still works for them. If not, I’m always happy to accommodate them at their earliest convenience.

This is very important not only to preserve my integrity but to ensure that my personal and professional relationships remain healthy, workable, and free of hidden resentment.

“My word is only as good as the truth that stands behind it.”

If I cannot uphold my word, I do not offer excuses; I offer other options.

Powerful people aren’t in the habit of explaining themselves because having integrity makes it almost entirely unnecessary to do so. They’re doers; they’re about getting it done. It’s about doing what’s expected, not making excuses.

How many times do we sign our names to something without understanding what’s expected of us only to become resentful later on when we realize what we did?

At the same time, I do not make blind assumptions or hold unexpressed expectations of others. If I assume something of someone — because they cannot read my mind — I understand that they have not given me their word.

To keep my working relationships healthy and communication clear, I must change my unexpressed assumptions to explicit requests that are heard and understood. I cannot expect others to hold themselves to the same standard of integrity I demand of myself.

What I Say Is So

Whenever I have given my word to others as to the existence of some thing, fact, or state of the world, my word includes being willing to be held accountable for such statements to the extent that others can find evidence of what I have asserted and validate it for themselves.

In other words, I can’t just say things and expect people to believe them; I have to back up what I say with real proof.

Whether I’m speaking with friends over dinner, counseling a patient, giving a presentation at a conference, or having an article published in a journal, my personal integrity and professional credibility rest on the fact that every claim I make is properly supported and/or provable by primary sources, citations, hyperlinks, or other means.

My claims are not true simply because I said so. My word is only as good as the truth that stands behind it.

What It Means to Have Integrity: A Question of Character

Standing for Something

What I stand for — that is, what I say my life is about and for what I can unquestionably be counted on — whether expressed as a declaration made to myself or one or more people, or what I allow people to believe I stand for, is a part of my word.

I opened my medical center based on a certain spiritual philosophy and specific healing principles. That is something I stand for and believe in. Therefore, those ideals become part of my word, how I live my life and interact with others.

I established Be Hive of Healing to create a space in which a healing, intentional community could take root and grow. That is the purpose I have chosen for my life, and so it becomes an integral part of my integrity.

I also founded the nonprofit organization, the Love Button Global Movement, to foster more loving interactions between people in the world because I believe in the power of love to heal all things.

This is something else I stand for which is also an integral part of everything I say and do.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I take a stand for love, or as I say to my patients, I choose to step into my loving.

In this way, the essence of integrity is the ability to ground what we believe in principles greater than ourselves and to always live in service of those ideals. Living with integrity is a holistic way of being. Therefore, my principles cannot be compartmentalized into certain areas of my life and excluded from others. The integrity of what I stand for and what I can be unquestionably counted on permeates every part of my life.

Moral, Ethical, and Legal Standards

In addition, the moral, ethical, and legal standards which I have not explicitly declined are a part of my word.

For example, there are many therapies I provide that are not necessarily part of the American Medical Association’s recognized protocol of services. So when patients come to see me, they sign an Informed Consent statement that fully explains all of my moral, ethical, and legal liabilities, obligations, and disclosures regarding my approach to treatment.

As a physician, whatever I assure my patients of regarding various interventions, outcomes, risks, and so on, means that they can assume that I’ve given my promise to uphold those standards to the extent that I am able.

Similarly, I make every effort to be clear with everyone in my life about what I can do for them or what they can depend on me for, as well as what I am unable to provide. I have found living honestly and openly in this way, while recognizing my limitations, is the most ethical way to build trust within relationships.

“Fostering personal integrity is essential to living a more authentic life.”

For me, integrity is honoring my word, and honoring my word is:

1. Keeping my word, and keeping it on time. My word is only as good as my ability to keep it as agreed upon.

OR

2. As soon as I become aware that I will either not be able to keep my word by meeting my obligations or not be able to do so on time:

  1. I immediately notify everyone who will be impacted by these changes.
  2. I make new arrangements as to how and when I will be able to meet my obligations in the future and notify all those involved or:
  3. In the case of not being able to meet my obligations at all, what I will do to minimize the impact on those who are affected by my failure to keep my word either on time or entirely.

There is no such thing as 100% integrity.

We all do our best to keep to our word, but occasionally, we fail. It might help to think of integrity as a mountain with no top that we can never actually reach.

We might come close at times, but we often tumble back down and have to start the climb again. This is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s simply part of human nature, but it also gives us something to aspire to. It’s part of our process of growth and self-discovery.

Fostering personal integrity is essential to living a more authentic life.

Now, when people ask me to do something like speak at a conference, attend their event, be on their TV show, or just come over for dinner, I have to think about it because I’m holding myself totally accountable for whatever my reply may be.

In the past, I’d automatically answer yes to anything because I wanted people to like me. There were also times I wanted to placate someone or get them out of my hair at the moment.

Then, I’d have to back out of the commitment later on because I either didn’t seriously think about what my agreement would require of me, or I didn’t really want to do whatever it was in the first place.

How many times in our lives have we done people we know such a disservice?

Operating in this way clearly leads to a superficial way of living and hurts relationships—because no one can depend on us.

What It Means to Have Integrity: A Question of Character

Today, we call these kinds of people flakes, and they’re unfortunately becoming all too common. Perhaps it’s the influence of internet culture where nothing is permanent, including commitments, and everything can be deleted in an instant.

I recall years ago I was asked by someone to participate in a particular TV show. Of course, I gave my kneejerk agreement.

Later, however, I realized that this particular show was something I didn’t want to participate in. As soon as I reconciled with the fact that I could not do the show, I notified the producer immediately and asked her what it would take for us to be complete with my change of heart — in other words, what would it take for me to remedy any difficulties she might experience as a result of my pulling out of the show.

Fortunately, I let the producer know with enough advance notice that she was able to secure another expert for the show, and our relationship wasn’t negatively affected by the experience. Too many times, however, we obligate ourselves to things we don’t want to do because we’re afraid that saying no will harm our relationship.

And yet, the opposite is true. When we say yes when we actually mean no and then don’t follow through on our commitment by flaking later on, we hurt our relationship with the other person. The truth is that they would have respected us more if we’d just honestly said no up front.

Integrity builds personal power and strengthens all our relationships because it shows people that we’re honest and can be depended on to be there for them no matter what.

People don’t tell us who they are; they show us by their actions. We’re showing the people in our lives every day who we are and how much we value them by the degree of integrity with which we conduct ourselves within those relationships.

Fortunately, integrity is something everyone can cultivate to improve all areas of life.

In many ways, life functions on two different planes, the physical and the spiritual or emotional. We can think of it as a graph with the horizontal X-axis being the physical progression of life and the vertical Y-axis being the spiritual evolution of life.

“Integrity isn’t just the wholeness of your word; it’s the center of the wholeness of a complete life.”

Most of us have been led to believe that it’s the physical progression of our lives along the X-axis—the acquisition of things, money, and accomplishments—that fuels the upward trajectory of our spiritual/emotional progress along the Y-axis. We believe our happiness and contentment depends on the accumulation of material things in our lives, when in fact, it’s just the opposite.

It’s our spiritual evolution—along the Y-axis—that naturally fuels our physical progression along the X-axis. It is only through increasing self-awareness, positive energy, and healthy relationships that we can bring the things we want into our lives. Fostering personal integrity is a psycho-spiritual evolution and is one of the most valuable ways to move life forward in all respects.

Most of us are not taught how to foster integrity. We don’t think about what we say, the commitments we make, what they mean to others and the consequences when we don’t follow through.

Any time we lack integrity, we can be certain one of the consequences we experience will be conflict in our relationships because a lack of integrity always leads to a lack of trust. I see many clients who come to me for relationship counseling. It doesn’t matter why they’re in my office—whether it’s cheating, withholding information, not contributing equally to the relationship, or something else.

It always comes down to a lack of integrity: an inability to follow through completely with the obligations of the marriage contract. And you can’t make a bigger commitment than a marriage vow. If you want to know how much personal integrity you have, ask yourself what kind of spouse you are.

Integrity isn’t just the wholeness of your word; it’s the center of the wholeness of a complete life. When we make it a priority to cultivate integrity in our lives, we finally understand the value of our word because the biggest commitment we make is to ourselves.

For more health and inspirational insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit Behiveofhealing.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter, check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN, or for messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram and Twitter @drhabibsadeghi