Integrity and the Big Hole in Wholeness

Integrity and the Big Hole in Wholeness September 3, 2015

IMG_3912You’ve heard it; you’ve thought it; perhaps you’ve even said it: “She is SO together!” “How does everybody else keep it together?” “I SHOULD get myself together.” “I can’t get it together!” “Why can’t I get myself together?” “I’ve got to get myself together!” “It’s time I get myself together!”

But what’s so together about “together”?

I ask because I for one have NEVER been there. I don’t know what “together” feels like. Why should we scattered people even bother trying?

Having it all together . . . perhaps part of the problem is what we mean by “all.” Don’t we assume that having it all together implies that “all” means “integrity”?

Integrity, it’s one of those big time virtues.

The suspicion that the appearance of being together might not equal integrity is the stuff of song, where “lyin’ eyes” reveal inner roiling chaos. Success, or that “mansion on the hill,” as singer Hank Williams put it, may be a palace of lies:

I know you’re alone with your pride, dear,
in your loveless mansion on the hill.

Integrity. It’s something money and status doesn’t buy and having it all together may not indicate. In Latin, the word meant “intact.” Related words include integer, integral, integrate, and entirety.

Integrity is a virtue. But what does it mean to have that virtue? Hank Williams—or at least the speaker in his song—appears to think that the lover he has found in that mansion on the hill would best abandon the mansion, the money, and the man. Yet, forget the money—mightn’t the more virtuous option for the forlorn woman in the mansion on the hill be to eschew adultery?

That’s the problem with integrity, isn’t it? Wholeness and having it together implies that thoughts and actions square with each other, but the concept offers no hints about what’s good and what’s bad. What if the thoughts are just as bad as the actions and the actions just as bad as the thoughts? Being thoroughly bad might be the height of integrity.

Evidence shows us that religions don’t help much with the question of integrity. Righteous crusaders can have integrity yet be murderous bastards. Clearly, integrity alone doesn’t cut it what it comes to being a good person.

Sociologist Emile Durkheim addressed this problem: “Man cannot become attached to higher aims and submit to a rule if he sees nothing above him to which he belongs. To free him from all social pressure is to abandon him to himself and demoralize him.”

Yet Durkheim assumes that a higher attachment, a social attachment, will lead inevitably to virtuous action, again an assertion that does not meet the facts.

It’s all well and good to be whole. Yet the content of the character needs some direction that leads toward increasing human flourishing and decreasing human suffering. Isn’t the problem that religions and philosophies too often stay mired in divisive tribalism and nationalism? The “higher attachment” can’t be to a tribal or nationalist god.

Getting it all together—the social good of that depends upon what “all” and “it” means. The self we find and keep whole . . . that true self . . . depends upon external, social input. It’s the input that needs improving.

We need a higher attachment that leads to an integrity committed to decreasing human suffering and increasing human flourishing. For me, that’s Humanism. Just sayin’.

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