C.S. Lewis said, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching." As a child, I am not proud to admit it, but I did things "behind my parents' backs" that I would never have done if they were watching. I kind of followed those around me who were using a little more colorful language than my parents would allow, or I treated others in a way which made absolutely no sense simply because others were treating them that way first. As kids, we do some of these things thinking our actions will never be discovered. The problem with that belief is that NOTHING we do is ever totally and completely "secret". Someone is always watching. Someone will always hear. Someone will always see. That someone? God!
The path of integrity is always safe, but a person who follows a crooked way will be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9 VOICE)
My parents always tried to teach me the lesson to live "in private" as I would want others to see me "in public". In the mind of a child, that didn't always make sense because we didn't equate our actions as having any "lasting effect" or "discoverability". As an adult, if we are still living thinking our actions will have no "lasting effect", we are what some might refer to as "deceived". No action, in private or in public, is without "effect" on others - nothing simply effects us and us alone. Maybe one of the frequently recited sayings of my parents will ring true in your memory, as well: "Lies snowball, so always tell the truth." What my parents were trying to teach is this lesson of living with enough integrity to not cover up my sin with another sinful deed. In other words, don't use one lie to cover over another because before long, it will be hard to keep the lies straight!
It is a lesson I tried to pass on to my children. I think I taught it this way: Always live in such a way that when anyone wants to accuse you of misdeeds, others won't believe it. I called it "living above suspicion". Just be the kind of person who has so much integrity about them that others could not possibly doubt your integrity. It isn't easy living this way - because we all want to have those moments in time when we "detach" from we know is right and do what "feels good". Like when we unload a barrel of attitude on some unsuspecting stranger just because the frustrations of the day have been bearing down on us and then walk away thinking no one will ever know how unkind and foolish we just acted. For just a moment, that release of all that pressure that had been building through the day felt "good", but it left a sour taste in your mouth, didn't it? If you have ever found yourself going back to apologize, you know what it is to live a life of integrity! "In the moment" it felt "good", but in the after period, it kind of ate at your conscience. Why? You know you didn't reveal the intensity of God's love and grace which you count on so deeply in your own life to that individual.
Sometimes integrity is "making things right" when you have done things you don't necessarily think anyone else will "discover". There have been times when I have put something in my cart at the store, only to decide about 15 aisles later that I don't want it because I came across something else I wanted more. What I choose to do with that item at that moment is often a revelation of my integrity. I could just put it on a shelf somewhere, or I could walk it back all those 15 aisles. At the end of a truly hard day, how would you handle it? I have learned something about my integrity when I am tired - I don't always make the journey! Does living with integrity mean I always have to walk back those 15 aisles? No, but it does mean I give the clerk the item I no longer wanted and ask for it to be "re-stocked". I imagine they kind of appreciate not having to "find" that item 15 aisles over and the next customer who needs it appreciates it being on the right place on the shelf when they are looking for it!
When we are fatigued, frustrated, at the end of our rope - integrity is often revealed in the little things we do and say. It may not always seem like it, but those exchanges and decision-points matter. If we can realize the "weakest" moments in our day are also the moments when we can compromise the "easiest", we make a huge step toward building in some "safeguards" to insure we aren't stepping into choices which will compromise our integrity. It might not always be the easiest to "make the journey" when we are just not feeling up to it, but there is usually a point at which we can admit our weakness and maintain our integrity. Just sayin!