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I believe we deeply desire integrity – For ourselves and for the people we encounter.

It’s one of those qualities, like “balance,” that seems wired into our circuitry in such a way that we quite naturally understand it, aspire to it, and notice its unquestionable lacking in our world. But, as this article is really about action, the question becomes “what can we do about it?”

Where is the integrity in our society? Is it evident and demonstrated by our leaders or celebrities? If so, then why is there a relentless onslaught of seemingly good or talented people doing the wrong things? In fact, the integrity gap seems to be ever expanding.

It Isn’t What You Think

To get to the root of the problem, I believe we need to examine the very origin of the word “integrity.” And, to quote the character Inigo Montoya from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride (arguably one of the most quotable films in history):

“You keep using that word.

I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It doesn’t. Over many years, we have altered the definition of “having integrity” to mean: honest, virtuous, and upstanding. But it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

In fact, the root of the word, “integer,” is Latin, meaning “whole, or complete.” “Integrity” truly means “the quality or state of being complete; wholeness.”

We point to the outward expressions of “integrity,” noting such virtues as honesty and truthfulness. But, in reality, these qualities are simply a natural byproduct of the condition of completeness. So our true challenge, you see, is becoming whole and complete, even in our undeniable imperfection. That is much like like finding solid footing in an off balance predicament.

How Do You Do That?

“Inconceivable,” you might protest. “Completeness is no more achievable than perfect balance. Or safely navigating a fire swamp.” You are absolutely correct, my friend. But, I believe the key to embodying integrity is twofold:

  1. Become engaged in the process. The process is called “integration,” and it means “putting together the components that are necessary for wholeness – those things that are integral to your life.”
  2. See yourself as complete, even though you are a work in progress. You have, even now, what you need to move forward and take coordinated, purposeful steps and do the right thing.

When we (or the people we admire) perceive ourselves as undeserving of our present circumstances, or lacking something we think is necessary to preserve or gain happiness, we are incomplete. We are lacking integrity. We may begin to do things that express this shortcoming, and we pursue our missing elements, even though we may not fully understand them.

Decide that you are, right now, complete and capable of doing the right thing. You are enough, just as you are, regardless of your wealth, job, or external circumstances. Integrity does not discriminate, regardless of where or how you are stationed in life.  You can possess integrity, but you must own your completeness and be:

  • Completely present
  • Completely accountable
  • Completely honest
  • Completely committed to persevere through the process


This process of putting it together, assembling completeness, fascinates me. I wrote about it in my book, Off Balance On Purpose, and shared a process for assembling what I believe are the five essential aspects for completeness: work, relationships, health, spiritual growth, and personal interests. Rather than “balancing” these elements, I believe we must integrate them in a healthy and abundant way. That’s where joy resides. That’s when integrity becomes second nature.

Integrity is not a sometimes thing. There isn’t a switch you turn on and off when it suits you. It is a natural byproduct of a higher pursuit, and a plan of action.

Into Action

  1. Develop integrity by selecting essential elements and (here’s the hard part) eliminating from your life those things that challenge your completeness.
  2. Insist on integrity in your relationships, business partners, and for yourself.
  3. Reward integrity. Make sure your “heroes” are people who really deserve the title. Commend others who exhibit the virtues you admire and aspire to embody.

There will always be room for improvement, and you and I will never reach our full potential (because it is infinite). Still, the state of wholeness is yours to claim. When you claim your completeness, and begin to live and act in this way, you also become a shining example for others to follow.

  • Joyce Wunderlich says:

    Dan: I will bet my daughter and I have watched the Princess Bride a hundred times! She is 30 now and we will talk about it and believe it or not we do quote lines from that movie all the time! Our favorite is ROUS’s when we see a bug! The article is outstanding. I am going to forward it to the rest of my crew here at the office. We are lucky in that we work for an older physician who absolutely defines the word INTEGRITY. Makes our job easy in so many ways. Thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at the MGMA Conference. Keep me posted and keep up the good work! Joyce

  • Laura Powers says:

    Thank you for the wonderful presentation at the Missouri MGMA meeting. I left there feeling energized! The Princess Bride is a favorite of mine, also, and Inigo’s words speak volumes for what is wrong with the world today. Integrity, or completeness, seems to be unobtainable, because our priorities are so out of line. But if we find focus, anything is possible!!
    Thank you again and keep up the good work!!

  • Felicia says:

    This was truly interesting and thought provoking. I too did not understand the true definition of integrity. This statement, “You are enough, just as you are, regardless of your wealth, job, or external circumstances,” really hit home. I am enough, I already have everything I need to be the best that I can be in all areas of my life.

    Thank you for this insightful message.

  • I LOVE that movie Dan!

    Inigo Montoya in the boat in the morning: “He’s right on top of us. I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using.”

    I also often wonder (when I’m only MOSTLY dead) if we are all given the same amount of hours in the day.

    Thanks for the ‘wholeness’ contribution today. A good laugh was needed.

  • Bill Hines says:

    Thanks, Dan. Well put. It would be hard to improve what you have written. We just need constant reminding to keep us on track, which you do very well.

    Integrity, completeness, wholeness, lead me to another similar concept which I pursue- unity, becoming One with my Creator. In my faith, it is seeking perfection, even as our Creator is perfect.

    I spend every day of my life seeking this perfection, which has been shown to me. With integrity, it’s easier, but I would say impossibe, unachievable, in this human condition. But we have to believe that it is possible, and, perhaps, we have to see ourselves as already complete, whole, perfect, to persevere in our daily task. The dichotomy is a parodox of life. Embrace (engage) life. Embrace paradox.

  • Fred Pieplow says:

    Dan – I have not seen the movie, but I like the insight of Integrity as completeness. Completely present, accountable, honest, and committed. When any one of those is missing confidence and trust evaporate rapidly. Managers who talk about integrity but personally deliver something less eventually lose the respect of their team. Managers who diligently and consistently try to deliver with integrity develop followers who will move mountains for them. Integrity cushions our fall when we get off balance.

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