Are you living in integrity?

I recently met a pensioner struggling to make ends meet. A nice guy.  Honourable. Good.  As good as they get anyway.  He engaged in conversation with me about spiritual matters and how he strives to be a good person.  He told me how often he goes to a meditation retreat and how hard it is for him to cope in a world where most people are not as spiritual as he is.  Then he spent hours telling me about how corrupt most people are and how out of integrity they live, not caring about anyone other than themselves. I could sympathize with this as I myself know how hard it can be to live in integrity in a world designed to reward people who don’t.  It seems like the people who are most corrupt and cruel gets the most rewards.

Honesty is key

After some more discussion, he casually mentioned how he charges people for fumigating their homes but that he only uses water.  I immediately questioned his honesty.  He got angry and walked away.  When we got together again later I brought up the conversation and offered to help him advertise his services on the condition that he doesn’t lie about it.  He gratefully embraced the opportunity and immediately compiled the information I needed.  A few hours later the ad was designed and I showed him how to use it. It was as if a breath of fresh air was breathed after feeling suffocated for so long.

This interaction reminded me of the importance of integrity and how handling mistakes tell so much about someone.  It’s not your age or your title or the amount of money in your bank account or your religion that indicates the level of integrity you live with.  It’s how you handle mistakes and what you do after you’ve made a mistake that really indicates the pureness of your soul and the level of integrity you live with.


If you’re human and breathing, you’ve undoubtedly made some mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  That’s part of what makes us human.  Some mistakes are worse than others, yet, it’s not the size of the mistake that matters, but what we do afterwards that does. How we handle mistakes says a lot about you.  Making a mistake is an excellent tool to evaluate your level of integrity, integrity being how aligned you are in what you say, what you think and what you do.

Without integrity, there can be no trust. Without trust, you have no foundation to build a strong organization.  One of the most important characteristics of leadership is living in integrity.

4 Signs Someone Isn’t Living In Integrity

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.  – Albert Einstein

To evaluate the level of integrity of those you interact with, or within yourself, become aware of the behavior directly following a mistake. Here are the four things people do when they aren’t living in integrity:

1. You blame someone or something else

The easiest thing to do when something goes wrong is to search for a reason why it happened that you had no control over. “It was that person who made me angry.  I wouldn’t have done or said it if he didn’t evoke me.” “It’s easy for you to say.  You had a good childhood. I didn’t have it so easy.  I didn’t have all the resources you had.” “They all do it, so why shouldn’t I?”

Whatever or who-ever you blame for your behavior, when you blame anything or anyone else, you’re not living in integrity.  It might be true that the other person was wrong, but only you are responsible for your reactions.  No-one can make you angry.  All they’re doing is triggering a dormant emotion within you. It is up to you how you choose to express that emotion.  No-one is to blame.

2. You  pretend it didn’t happen

Another favorite, especially in the higher classes, is the invalidation of what happened.  Not bringing it up again and pretending it never happened. Having an argument where bad things were said and then just never speaking about it again or showing pictures of fluffy cute animals or buying the other person something to somehow balance the scales. Or worse, you say that it didn’t happen or that the other person must have misunderstood or imagined it.

3. You justify why you did it

Not validating when something wrong happened is the worst thing you can do to anyone by far.  Explaining why something was said or what happened helps heal the divide caused by the mistake, yet a because can be as harmful if it’s used as justification to make the wrong right. There is a difference between explaining that you behaved in a certain way or said something because a trauma in your childhood caused you to behave that way and using it as an excuse to continue the dysfunctional behavior.

4. You avoid it or turn your back on it

Different from pretending it didn’t happen is excluding the person or event totally from your life.  An unwillingness to confront the uncomfortable truth is an indication that you are not living in integrity. When someone wants to talk about what happened and you don’t want to, you’re not living in integrity.  When you don’t respond to a person who you feel has made a mistake, you are turning your back on them and you’re not living in integrity.

4 Signs Someone Is Living In Integrity

On the other side of the scale are the four behaviors demonstrated by people who do live in integrity.

1. They acknowledge their mistake

You don’t have to say I’m sorry to acknowledge a mistake.  Actions speak louder than words. Changed behaviors are more truthful than an empty apology to keep the peace but with no real meaning behind it.  Someone living in integrity doesn’t walk around saying I’m sorry the whole time.  They do however always acknowledge when they did something wrong or hurtful.  It might sound like “you were right”, or it might be consent for the person to do something that caused the behavior to happen.

The pensioner at the start of the article never apologized to me or me to him. Yet, his willingness to give me the information I needed to help me advertise his services and his gratitude afterwards clearly demonstrated that he acknowledged the “mistake”.

2. They apologize

Apologizing is however still the most powerful tool to restore harmony if done wholeheartedly.   By apologizing you are validating the other person, you are taking responsibility for your reaction and you are offering reconciliation to restore the harmony.

It’s very hard to forgive someone without an apology, even though it is possible.  Saying I am sorry with true remorse is a magic ingredient that dissolves disharmony instantly.  Personally, I find it impossible not to forgive someone whenever they offer a heartfelt apology.

3. They take responsibility for their role in the mistake

All mistakes are as a result of two people misunderstanding the other’s intentions or underlying dynamics causing them to behave in that way.  It is easy to see how the other person was wrong, it is far harder to look inside and uncover how you were also at fault. It takes courage to admit your part in a misunderstanding.  When you are willing to do introspection and take responsibility for the part that you misbehaved, you are living in integrity.

In my interaction with the pensioner, I realized that I was judgemental.  He was dishonest and I am glad that I expressed this, but it is judgemental of me to say it is wrong to use water and not poison.  After careful introspection, I realized that I am against using poison and killing insects as much as I am against being dishonest.  This made it easy for me to accept his behavior and move onto solution mode.  The judgment removed, I considered how I can help him make more money, which was at the root of why he wasn’t using the chemicals.

4. They don’t expect anything in return

People living in integrity don’t apologize or do good deeds in order to look good.  They do it because it’s the right thing to do.  You know you are living in integrity when you serve another without expecting anything in return.

When I helped the pensioner I didn’t do it to get money or be seen as good.  I did it because it felt right.  It felt good for me to be able to help someone.  It felt good to use my skill doing something that I love doing for a purpose that was worthwhile.  Finally, it felt good to do something about the problem rather than just talk or think about it.


Living in integrity is a necessary condition for creating an environment built on trust.  Evaluating the level of integrity within a person can be hard.  Look for how they deal with mistakes or uncomfortable situations to determine whether they are living in integrity or not.


“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” – John Green

With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.