In Praise of Integrity

It is interesting to see how differently people understand integrity. To some it means no more than proclaiming, ever more loudly, the view one holds about something or other because one is convinced of its rightness or truth. The aftermath of the E.U. Referendum has provided many instances of the same, from both sides of the argument. To others, integrity is a more anguished quality — and I use the word ‘anguished’ advisedly. To be a person of integrity when one is not sure what the right thing to do is, when one does not inhabit a world of simple moral absolutes but one in which arguments and counter-arguments have to be carefully weighed, when one is certain only that one’s decision has consequences that will have to be borne by others as well as oneself, that is much more difficult.

During the past few days I have been thinking a lot about integrity, turning over the pages of scripture, dipping into books of philosophy and moral theology, staring into space and generally acting strangely. People of integrity can be uncomfortable to live with, especially if their integrity turns out, on closer examination, to be no more than stubbornness in a questionable cause. Those whose integrity is based on values we share or aspire to may also make us uncomfortable, but with this difference: they provide leadership. The problem is, of course, that the leadership they give may not always lead us where we wish to go, but that is the price of integrity, of being honest and principled, morally and ethically consistent.

In both Church and State there is a lot of anguish at the present time. There are those who are fearful where Pope Francis is leading the Church; those who are dismissive of the bishops; those who feel the very foundations of their faith are being shaken. There are those who are fearful that the U.K. will break up into small nation-states; that the E.U. itself may break up; that we face years of uncertainty which the extreme right will try to exploit. But, if there is fear, there is surely integrity, too. Not everyone is to be accused of vanity or self-serving ambition! Ultimately, it is up to us, individually and collectively, to be people of integrity, to be prepared to do what is best for the other, as St Benedict urges. It may cost us dearly, it may involve us in much anguish, but I think we can take courage from the lines Hopkins wrote

And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(From God’s Grandeur)