Notes on the power of building and breaking integrity

My Cracked and Broken Earthenware“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” -Rumi

Consider that integrity is just the system working.  Integrity shows the solid strength of a person, an organization, a container.  If integrity is out, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong.  There’s nothing bad about being out of integrity, just as being in integrity doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something right.  Integrity is just the system working as it is.

Integrity will move in and out as organizations grow, or as projects move.  I see it being as natural as seasons and as beautiful and creative as our natural planet.  As integrity moves out (say, if co-workers continuously come in late to work) then it’s a creative moment for us to see that crack in the container and decide to recommit to coming in on time or create a new system that better matches what we’re committed to (maybe set a new start time, and be committed to that).  If being your word is a source of power… being out of integrity is your ability to stretch and grow.  The trick is to not make yourself or the organization wrong when you are out of integrity.

Consider that we are constantly repeating ourselves to create a strong structure.  Every time we show up on time, we are strengthening the container for that commitment on being on time. Every time I am deciding to leave (so as to arrive on time or not) I am reaffirming or breaking my integrity. That moment of choice is creative. One of my favorite theorists, Judith Butler explains how repetition creates an opening for choice and re-evaluation.  She uses the concept to describe how social norms are created and maintained as dissent comes up and the repetition of thoughts and beliefs re-attach what is created to be “normal” or “central”.  In this, she explains, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate and envision various options:  just as we are about to repeat, we see the possibility of change (see: Gender Trouble).

US Property No TrespassingI can see that being out of integrity works in the same way.  Again, integrity is the system working… and maybe the system isn’t what you’re committed to.  An example of this is a story of how a friend of mine walked in protest onto the property of WHINSEC, a combat training facility in Georgia.  From the government’s view, he was out of integrity and against the assumed/regulated commitment to the security for that facility.  From his perspective (and those activists that walked with him), his breaking of that security was an opportunity to address the unworkable military system.  His breaking of the law provided an opportunity to speak in court regarding the human rights violations of that facility and bring in those objections to the table in an official setting.  He was arrested, tried and convicted and his statements were recorded and publicized.  Josh was jailed for 60 days. As a United States citizen, he was out of integrity. As an activist dedicated to human rights, he was in his own integrity.

Josh Prisoner of ConscienceI use this example to show how being out of integrity is a moment for re-choice.  Whether you go out of integrity with being on time or not paying your taxes… these times are opportunities to choose and re-choose what you are committed to.  As a citizen in a larger container called the United States, we might be out of integrity and break the law. These moments create a tear in the system and thus create the opportunity for conversation and the possibility of a shift in the structure.  There’s nothing wrong with being out of integrity (no matter how big or small), only the opportunity to repeat, to disrupt and to reform.  Integrity helps us move, flex and grow and is necessary to create a vibrant and dynamic space.

Where are you out of integrity?  What are you creating?

3 thoughts on “Notes on the power of building and breaking integrity

  1. Something for me to think about. It’s on a more personal level than you write about, but none the less it concerns integrity. Or at least R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
    Last July, I was both dismissed and quit from my job at a local not-for-profit after 30 years, and then promoted a week later.
    I was not standing up for any higher community value other than that my own work is valuable, effective, and useful to our organization and its mission.
    How do you think integrity and respect for an individual are related? As an artist, as a person, I’m left wondering if my commitment to this “job” has been in vain and if I should continue?

    1. Thank you Tess, love this comment! I believe that respect can be a part of integrity if respect is an agreement that you’ve made for yourself or in your community and respect has since fallen out. Do what makes your heart sing, always. My favorite self-reflective question is, “what am I committed to?”

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