Everywhere I turn today, I encounter the issue of integrity. Our recent presidential election raised repeated questions about integrity: who had it and who didn’t, whether journalists had integrity or were manipulating the truth, whether candidates were lying or obfuscating. And finally, in the end, whether the voting itself was conducted with integrity. Integrity, it turns out, may be one of the most compelling issues of our day, and a good place to start thinking about the New Year and what it may require of us.
Quakers consider integrity a fundamental principle. As the Pacific Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice says: “The testimony of integrity calls us to wholeness; it is the whole of life open to truth. When lives are centered in the spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable.”
These are simple words, yes, but living fully in the spirit, speaking the truth as we individually discern it, can be a demanding discipline. As Faith & Practice says, integrity means being responsible for our words and actions. It means “living a life of reflection, living in consistency with our beliefs and testimonies, and doing so regardless of personal consequences.” To me, this means keeping an open mind, looking for truth in evidence and knowledge, and sifting through information to sort fact from fiction. And once we discern truth, it means speaking up, even if that takes courage. Especially if it takes courage.
At the same time, integrity means maintaining an attitude of loving kindness. Just speaking the truth, without considering the feelings and sensitivities of those who will hear it, can be cruel and useless. Perhaps the central challenge of living a life of integrity today is discerning how to understand those who see the world differently. It helps me to believe that most people share core values – like decency, caring for the needy, longing for peace – and work from that common ground. Consider these words from an early Quaker, Edward Burrough, who in 1659 wrote:
“To the present distracted and broken nation: We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other… but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God and with one another, that these things may abound.”
Righteousness and meekness, side by side. Perhaps that’s a fitting place to start the New Year.
Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting
email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.