in your face: the insistence of integrity


Incite ouroborous

Ouroborous. Theodoros Pelecanos (1478).


where leadership lives:
the insistence of integrity


INcite with angel Kyodo williams


“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Of the many values sought after, aspired to and implicitly expected of who we are as leaders and agents of transformative change, integrity remains the most elusive to adhere to, especially when under pressure, which is, coincidentally, the time it is needed most.

It is lack of integrity—in vision, in expression, in behavior—that most often undermines our best intentions and puts asunder our greatest efforts. Its loss robs us of trust and brings into question, with ourselves and others, who we truly are. Thus, it deserves to become our most fervently and deeply practiced virtue and skill. (An interesting observation is that though we often symbolize concepts that have great meaning, no especially common symbol of integrity is to be found. Extant quotes are woeful, at best.)

What is integrity and why does embodying it—being integral in our way of being in the world—challenge so many of us to our core?

integrity (ĭn-těg’rĭ-tē)

— n

  1. adherence to moral or artistic values; incorruptibility
  2. the quality of being unimpaired; soundness
  3. the state of being whole or unified

from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete)

Integrity’s definition hints as to its inherent difficulty to achieve: asking human beings to be unimpaired, sound and whole is a high bar to begin with. Expecting it of people who are responsible for relating to a dizzying array of community, colleagues, collaborators, constituents, family, friends and funders in order to accomplish goals, advance strategies and attain the as-yet-unattained—in short, to make things happen—is of the highest order possible.

The thing about integrity is you only really know you have it when it’s tested. We come to know where we stand not by what we wish for, but how we be. To have one’s integrity tested is to place one’s sense of self-preservation on the line in deference to adhering to the values, beliefs and principles one claims to hold. In other words, to be in alignment with our deepest commitments and highest capital-T Truths, even when it means we may suffer loss and pain in exchange.

Far too often, under the guise of pursuing outcomes, funding and “wins,” we trade integrity for expedience. We justify the bypassing of the values we ourselves champion—all as a means to a now-tainted end. By it’s very nature, integrity eschews expedience and is always complete. It isn’t at our convenience and cannot be sometimes.

There is no such thing as partial whole.

The Scourge of Silence
Paradoxically, the most insidious threat to integrity is not the things we say, but rather the things we don’t. Our silence is the most ardent enemy of the very truths we hold dear. Just as “peace is not the mere absence of war,” truth is not the mere absence of lies. Anyone who believes their silence will absolve the injustice we alternately face and bear witness to, is not only sleeping through the revolution, but hindering it. That we rather remain silent and turn a blind eye to injustices large and small rather than risk discomfort is the single most grievous, yet avoidable, act perpetuated individually and en masse every day of our collective lives.

That justice is not equally enjoyed by all is less the result of those who would seed injustice and more the outcome of the willingness of we who would stand by in silence and see it thrive.

To be integral is to establish, strengthen and abide in the core of who we are becoming. It is to make real our greatest vision for the future through the simplest acts of the present. Being the change. Making the path the goal. Manifesting moment to moment. Dissolving fear, hatred and separation one breath at a time. No matter how the chips may fall. No matter how loudly we must speak. Demanding. Insistent. In your face. Integrity is where we live. We are either in or we are outside of it.

Gratefully, integrity is simultaneously pervasive and yielding. Upon having fallen short, pursuing wholeness is to be made whole. When we find ourselves outside integrity, the most noble act is to make our way back in with humility, curiosity and self-forgiveness in tow. Every new day, without fail, bears the opportunity to step into greater alignment with who we know ourselves to be. In reclaiming the spaces where indifference once lay, more than any candidate, law or campaign, we make justice possible again.

Where can you create more wholeness, healing and justice by abiding in your own integrity today?

—yours in truth, aKw


dedicated to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the many peoples of the world throughout time who have risked and lost much to save us all.

Click here to learn more about practices and tools to deepen your personal and organizational integrity today.

copyright ©MMXII. angel Kyodo williams changeangel: all things change. (sm) angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary and founder of Center for Transformative Change. she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change. permission granted to retweet, repost, repaste & repeat with copyright and contact information intact.

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About angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams, the “change angel,” is Founder Emeritus of a Center for Transformative Change. She now serves as a Senior Fellow and Director of Vision. A social visionary and leading voice for transformative social change, she is the author of the critically-acclaimed Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace.
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