Office of Culture and Experience

Integrity Comes First from the Heart Not the Head

February 16, 2016 • OPD, Values

On Integrity

The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

HSCValueIcon_Integrity_CoolGray10CBefore reading any further, write down five to seven values that define you as a person. Let’s call these your “True North.” Think of True North as the guiding principles on your moral compass – those you will not compromise for others because they define who you are as a person. They help you find your direction when you are lost and help you reach your destination on your life’s journey. Go ahead write them down.

Now look at your list. Why did you select these values? Where did you learn them? Who helped you shape and define the list?  Why are they important to you? What happens to you when you fail to live by them? Let’s pick one of them to discuss – integrity.

Why integrity?  We have conducted thousands of formal and informal surveys asking these same questions. The number one response on the values list, by far is “integrity” or some version of the same idea like honesty or trustworthiness. It is one most of us remember learning in our earliest formative years. Our parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches all told us to never lie, cheat or steal. These role models shaped our definition of how we would later define integrity.

Ironically, while we may have learned it at an early age, it may be among the most difficult to define. Ask an adult to define the word, and we often hear, “I know it when I see it.” Then, when we hear that a person has integrity, and we ask, “How do you know?” The response does not come from understanding a true definition of the word, but rather from one of the surrogates. “I trust him.” “She speaks the truth.” “I can count on his word.” “She always does the harder right versus the easier wrong.”

Perhaps there is another way to look at the word integrity. Integrity also means oneness. Think of a piece of furniture with a veneer top. Cut into the veneer and expose the particleboard to moisture, and it begins to deteriorate. On the other hand, cut into a solid piece of wood and it is the same all the way through. People are like that. Do you show the same values with family and friends as with students, patients and customers? How do you treat servers in a restaurant or custodians who keep us clean and safe from dangerous bacteria and viruses?

What does integrity mean to a professor, health care provider or administrator? What does it mean to our colleagues, students and patients? How do we develop ourselves to live a life with high integrity where others see us act with the same morality in any setting?

Think of someone you dearly love – your best friend, your spouse, your partner, your parent, your son or daughter. If this person comes to you scared, in great fear of something terrible they think may happen to them, how will you respond? Will you ask them to wait because you are busy? Will you multitask and keep your eyes on your laptop or mobile device? Will you show them your heart? Will you give them your full attention? Will you touch them? What if it is your patient or student? Do you demonstrate the same values and behaviors?

Integrity comes first from the heart not the head….

– The OPD Team