I worked for many years for a company that had annual employee training or, as the more cynical among us called it, annual attitude adjustment. Part of that training was a public statement and discussion of the core values of the company.
Among those values were honesty and integrity. The words describing the core values weren’t arranged into a catch-word, so it wasn’t just to find words with the right initial letters that these two were selected. They’re often listed as synonyms, but they don’t really mean the same thing.
So what is the difference between honesty and integrity and how do those relate to truth?
Let’s start with honesty, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “the quality of being honest.”
The Oxford definition of “honest” is “free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere.”
Being honest is something we should all strive for. I want to be known as a woman who speaks the truth, even when it might be to my advantage to lie. I want even my enemies to agree that my word can be trusted.
There is a practical advantage to being honest. It’s so much easier if you’re forgetful. The liar must remember what he or she told each person. How liberating to not have to keep track of who heard which lie!
Honesty is good, but integrity involves much more.
The Oxford definition of “integrity” is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”
It would be possible tell the truth even if I had horrible moral principles. I couldn’t be a liar or a thief, but I could certainly be selfish, greedy, mean, and arrogant. I’m sure we could add several other character traits to this list that don’t require us to be deceitful or untruthful, but they certainly aren’t what we expect of a person with strong moral principles.
So while I want to be known as an honest person, I also want to be known as a person of integrity.
God calls us to live lives of integrity.
“The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)
“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Proverbs 11:3 (NIV)
May our integrity always be shown by our honesty and by the moral principles that anchor us when we’re tempted to take what looks like the easier way.
Has your integrity ever been tested when your honesty wasn’t?