Seven-year-old Zachary sat in the straight-back chair in his guidance counselor’s office. Pushing round glasses up his freckled nose, Zachary looked around at the posters and books before focusing his eyes on Mrs. Jones.
“Zachary, your teacher said she caught you cheating,” she said. “Do you remember this morning in chapel when we talked about honesty?”
“Yes, I remember,” he said, nodding his dark blond head. “But Mrs. Jones, we aren’t in chapel now.”
“No, we aren’t, Zachary,” Mrs. Jones said, “but you need to be honest all the time, not just during chapel.”
As her words sank in, his eyes widened. “Ohhhhhh! Okay. I’ll try.”
Zachary’s realization may make us laugh, but it serves as a good reminder for us regardless of our age: honesty, or in a broader context, integrity, should inhabit every area of our lives, particularly for Christians. Whether we’re at work, at home, at church, or at play, integrity allows us to honor God by mirroring his holiness.
Integrity takes time and effort to develop. We aren’t born with it; in fact, it runs contrary to our flesh nature. To grow in this quality, we have to learn what it is in principle and what it looks like in practice.
Integrity rests on “two cornerstones,” according to Glen Jackson, co-founder of Jackson Spalding, a full-service marketing communications agency that was recently named the 2017 Top Midsize PR Agency to Work for in North America. “These cornerstones are to always tell the truth and do the right thing consistently.”
Nancy Jones agrees. As lower school guidance counselor and counseling department chair at Wesleyan School, Nancy works alongside her colleagues to develop core virtue in their K-12 students.
They teach that honesty is choosing to be truthful in whatever you say and do. Nancy uses Proverbs 12:17 to undergird the virtue with Scripture: “An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies.”
“We emphasize complete honesty,” Nancy says, “because sometimes kids leave things out and give a version of the truth that’s close.”
Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who practice selective honesty. Adults have had a lifetime to master the craft. But for Christians, when we choose to lay out the whole truth regardless of the risk, we reflect God’s holiness and pay respect to Jesus’ claim, “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6).
In addition to complete honesty, Nancy teaches that integrity means doing the right thing even when no one is watching, like picking up a napkin off the floor in the lunchroom or, for high schoolers, driving safely on campus even when the dean isn’t around. For adults, it might mean driving the speed limit with no police in sight or loading dirty coffee cups into the dishwasher at work.
“Doing what is right is not always easy, and doing what is popular is not always right,” Nancy says. Sometimes the right choices are hard, like returning the extra $20 the cashier gave you at the check-out or giving credit to a challenging colleague who helped you with a presentation.
Along with doing the right thing, integrity means owning our behavior. Our culture isn’t good at that, and resistance to taking responsibility starts young. For example, when Nancy asks a child if he hit someone, he may say, “Kind of” or “Not really.” Her response? “Either you did or you didn’t. You need to own your behavior.”
When we choose to do what is right, even if no one sees but God, we are modeling an aspect both of his character and his being: He always does what is right because he can do no wrong. And we can do no better.
In 1995, Glen Jackson and Bo Spalding left a large, global public relations firm to start their own firm, Jackson Spalding. They believed there must be “a better way” to run a firm, to treat employees, and to serve clients. That belief now forms the core of all the agency does.
The founders’ strong sense of personal integrity also helped form the agency. Glen says, “Integrity is less about a definition and more about an embodiment of certain traits.” For example, “men and women of integrity respect, love, and encourage other people. They show discernment in decision-making. They let their yes be yes and their no be no. They lead by example. They are slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger.” If these traits sound familiar, it’s because they’re straight from Scripture.
Glen believes integrity is key for Christians. “It is part of the legacy that we leave behind.” He likes Psalm 112, which he calls the integrity psalm, from The Message. “A person with integrity,” he says, “has a sterling reputation. He or she is unfazed, unperturbed, and walks securely in the midst of the storm.”
If Psalm 112 depicts character traits of men and women of integrity, then Philippians 4:8 describes what they try to think about: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV). Their thoughts, character, and Christlike example bring honor to God.
Integrity is essential in business, according to Glen, so much so that it is one of Jackson Spalding’s eight core values, along with honesty. Through the years, the agency has earned a reputation for it. “When clients see integrity in us, it leads to trust. They want us to counsel them. We need to tell them the truth and look for the better way.”
Although it’s not always easy to tell the truth and do the right thing, Jackson Spalding continues to grow in revenue year after year and to attract men and women who want to be part of the work they’re doing. Through his words and his actions, Glen lives out the principles of integrity in front of them every day, teaching them by example how to conduct business with integrity so he can pass the baton to them someday.
With time and attention, integrity can work its way into every area of our lives, from the classroom to the office to the family room to the carpool. Living a life of integrity rests in the daily opportunities we have to honor God by our words and actions.
It also sets Christians apart. It requires us to draw a line in the shifting sands of our culture and say, “This is what I will do. This is what I won’t do.” When our colleagues, friends, and neighbors want to know why that line is there, we can tell them who is behind it.
And when we fall short and our integrity suffers, his grace covers our failings and lifts us up. He’s the God of fresh starts and new opportunities, and through his Spirit, he’s working to make us more like his Son—the perfect embodiment of integrity, perfectly balanced with grace and love.
LeAnne Martin, a freelance writer, writes about the beauty around us through her blog at www.glimsen.net.