Life happens to us. We lash out, reacting to events like an animal waving its limbs. This isn’t surprising, since we are animals, and possess very old bodily systems which push us to react to our environment.
But, as we get more mature and sophisticated, we learn to use our minds to gain control over our reactivity. We catch our angry behaviour before it happens, and calm ourselves down. We catch ourselves hating, and challenge that hate. We catch ourselves wanting revenge, and reduce our vengefulness.
The reason we bother to get control of ourselves, is that reactive behaviour gets us into trouble. In reactive arguments, each party escalates their response until there is a war that no one wanted. This is useful if you are a herd of animals sorting out a hierarchy of control. But it is not so useful if you are an individual living in a relatively peaceful society. There, such escalation is taken as a sign of antisocial behaviour, and is shunned or punished.
So we hurt ourselves when we are reactive. We say ‘I did this because you did that.’ But we could equally say ‘I did this because I have no other way of coping when you do that.’ Our maturity depends on us finding alternative responses which are not just reactive, animalistic.
Integrity is acting consistently, in keeping with deeply held principles. When someone acts with integrity, they are not just reacting animalistically to everything that goes on. Instead, they have the space to pause and reflect. What comes out is not what goes in. They are no longer like a snooker ball, which is constrained to bounce wherever the world bounces it. They are more like a computer with a sophisticated program, which takes in input, considers it, and responds purposefully.
When we act with integrity, we harmonise our intentions. Life becomes less chaotic, because our mind naturally tidies life up. We become less confused, less tense. We are like a person walking through a well-organised, pleasant building. The building is our minds, and we are our awareness. We are protected, and can function with far less fear than when we were just reactive.
Self-development involves a movement from reactivity to integrity. With reactivity came confusion, anxiety, fear, escalation of arguments, hatred, poor relationships, resentment, vengefulness. With integrity comes clarity, calmness, security, an ability to defuse arguments, love, better relationships, tolerance, acceptance.
We can begin the path to integrity by thinking really carefully about our own wish for happiness. We will notice the pain that anxiety brings, and we will wish to be free of it. We may discover philosophies that act as a useful framework for making us purposefully responsive, instead of reactive and anxious.
Wisdom is a very practical thing. When we are wise, we notice what doesn’t work, and we become able to alter our attitude and responses to adapt. The main adaptation here, is the move from animalistic reactiveness (‘You made me do that!’) to mindful integrity (Silence, and then a peaceful response.)
Integrity is not some blind adherence to social rules we don’t believe in. That is conformity. Rather, it is the result of our efforts to gain mastery over ourselves and our responses to life, so that we can be peaceful, kind, purposeful beings.