Assignment in a 2010 writing class: Describe a human trait. I chose “integrity”


Many years ago, I was in an adversarial and (to those around me) very audible phone conversation with an irate client.  She ended the call by shouting an epithet and hanging up by slamming down her receiver.  After four or five seconds of roaring silence, I looked around the office at the dozen or so people who’d been subjected to my raised voice.  Speaking in a sheepish tone, I threw up my hands then said, “She had the nerve to question my integrity!”  The room exploded with laughter.  I’ve recreated similar scenarios citing my integrity; they’ve always gotten a hearty laugh.

What is integrity?  For me, it is practicing personal responsibility – meaning no unkindness or violence.  I struggle not to speak ill of others – whether from anger, trying to spice-up a conversation, or whatever.  It takes vigilance because the opportunity to slander often comes camouflaged and unexpectedly, and can be momentarily ego-boosting.

In my early twenties, a supervisor asked me if a co-worker had left the office early the day before.  I answered truthfully that he had.  Something – call it conscience, personal responsibility, integrity – caused me to disobey a visceral impulse to add an innocuous statement about that worker’s frequent ducking-out before quitting time.  In that split-second, I saw it would be a lapse of integrity to stab an innocent-looking knife in someone’s back.  I consider acting on that recognition was a step forward in my maturity.

Integrity is not, like the color of our eyes, a fixed characteristic.  Rather, it’s a life-long series of choice towards our better nature.




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