A New Year’s social commentary
Vizzini: He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
These quotes from The Princess Bride could just as easily have been about the word “integrity” – it does not mean what many of us think it means.
Integrity is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the quality of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.”
Integrity comes from the Latin integritas, meaning complete and entire. It was the word the Legionnaires would listen for when they struck the armor above their hearts to test its material wholeness. If the Centurion heard a solid ring, he would shout “Integritas” indicating that the armor was sound and that the soldier was protected in his service of the community.
According to the historical researcher J.D. Kern, the less than moral Praetorian Guard, the Roman emperor’s equivalent of the Nazi S.S., changed this ritual to a “Hail Caesar” indicating their devotion to a man and not to an institution and its code of ideals. In modern times, this bastardized tribute to integrity was replaced with “Sieg Heil” in 1930’s Berlin or “Heil Trump” in 2016 Charlottesville. Integritas had lost its integrity.
Let us propose to take back the origins of this wonderful word. The synonym for integrity is ethics, which means “morality, morals, decency, principles, values; a code of right and wrong, a categorical imperative. Let us further propose that we demand integrity from ourselves, our family members, our community leaders, and the professionals with whom we deal for education, health care, news, and appliance repair.
Now, keep in mind, integrity can be a double-edged sword. If you define integrity as “firm adherence to a code of moral principles” then Donald Trump could be said to have integrity – he has not wavered from his code of “Lie, sue,
and attack until you win!” From his perspective it would show a total lack of integrity if the Donald told the truth.
We often take the moral high ground with the phrase, “Speak Truth to Power!” The truth, it appears is dependent upon one’s perspectives and code of ethics, or lack thereof. Fundamentalist religious terrorists and mercenaries could be said to possess integrity, as we said of the Crusaders during the “Holy Wars” of the Middle Ages. If you were Christian, these men were heroes; if you were a Muslim Saracen defending the Holy Lands with integrity, the Crusaders were barbarian savages.
If the truth is all about perspectives, then integrity is a moving target, as difficult to achieve as going beyond infinity.
That phrase, “To Infinity and Beyond” comes from Buzz Lightyear, the Toy Story character who is shouting to everyone that he can do the impossible. Perhaps “To Integrity and Beyond” is an impossible dream. If one person’s commitment to truth and integrity may be perceived as another person’s road to hell, then everything is relative.
In the end, we can only judge those measures of truth and integrity by our own beliefs. Perhaps others do not share what we consider to be our search for intelligent dialogue and fact-based reports. Perhaps some see as “true” what we see as incendiary “Breaking News” and sensationalized gossip and innuendo and alternative facts and truthful hyperbole.
I asked a wise mentor years ago, what I could do as a young teacher to make the world a better place. He responded simply, “Teach your students First Aid. Then they will see others as people they can assist and protect. They will see themselves as people who care for others.” It sounded so simple, but he was right.
We still struggle with that level of care. Call us judgmental, but when we see a bully threatening someone, when we encounter prejudice, when we see someone in need of first aid, do we intervene or walk away? What is the shade of integrity that moves our values into action? We realize that all cats are grey in the dark, but sometimes we just want to see the world in an easy choice of light versus darkness, good versus evil, “us” versus “them”.
As my mother used to say, “Sometimes there are just bad people in the world. Karma will thin the herd.” Sometimes, we have trouble waiting for Karma. We dream longingly, every once in a while, about the hungry, impatient vulture sitting in the bare tree branches of a Gary Larsen cartoon, “Patience my ass! I’m gonna kill something.”
Perhaps when we ask our elected representatives. our media spokespeople, our fellow citizens to show us “Integrity and Beyond,” we are asking them to do the impossible. Perhaps, but it’s worth a try. I
Like the ancient Legionnaires defending Rome, it’s worth the quest this New Year 2018 to rediscover the true meaning of integritas. iAnd it would be so much easier if we all learned First Aid.
Skid Crease, Caledon