When something is complete within itself, possessing an inner strength and soundness, we say it has integrity. And we trust it.
A bridge, for example, can have integrity. It will hold the weight for which it was designed and probably more. It will withstand both pounding weather and the constant vibration of traffic without cracking. Its foundations are solid and the pressure points have been strengthened.
But what if the builders decided to substitute a poorer quality of material? What if they failed to make the right measurements because they ran out of time? In short, what if their own personal integrity was lacking?
In that case, both the bridge and its builders would eventually fail, and the results would be catastrophic for each.
We probably can't give a person a higher compliment than to say that she or he has integrity. It is a keystone virtue that encompasses both honesty and trustworthiness.
It's a sad moment when we conclude that the person we're dealing with lacks integrity. Integrity, said President Spencer W. Kimball, is one of the foundation stones of good character.
The essential fact of integrity is that no one can give it to us. We can't inherit it, and we certainly can't buy it.
We have to earn it, and the process is a long one that allows very few second chances. It's a trait that almost has to be tested in order to be perceived, because the world is full of people who claim to have integrity but their actions say otherwise. We learn to be wary of people who claim to be honest until we see them actually being honest.
Happily, because integrity is such a personal attribute, anyone can attain it, no matter our personal circumstances of wealth, creed or origin. Whatever our character is, we have a hand in creating it. That is, after all, why we're here. It's one of the great underlying goals of the gospel.
President Kimball, who spoke eloquently about moral character and integrity, noted that in every walk of life we run into stories of dishonesty. They include professional people charging prohibitive prices for their services, colored water sold as a costly prescription, a few cents worth of medications selling for many dollars, improper billing practices, workers who steal time, employers who oppress and take advantage of their employees, merchants selling inferior goods, merchandise marked up before being put on sale, rents raised simply because the market will bear it and not because of increased costs.
He lamented the employee who comes late and leaves early, the shopper who buys more than he can ever pay for and the tendency to cut corners. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.196.)
We can easily spot the characteristics of someone with integrity. They're honest. They do the right thing when nobody is watching. They keep their word and they keep our confidences. They repay their debts, and they clean up their own messes. They accept responsibility for their actions. They are serene because they know that the decisions they make are based on time-honored principles that they've made a personal commitment to honor.
They understand and follow the Law of the Harvest: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Gal. 6:7) So they plant wisely.
Integrity isn't an abstract quality that has no bearing on our world. President David O. McKay said that the foundation of a noble character is integrity. "By this virtue the strength of a nation, as of an individual, may be judged. No nation will become great whose trusted officers will pass legislation for personal gain, who will take advantage of public office for personal preferment, or to gratify vain ambition or who will, through forgery, chicanery, and fraud, rob the government, or be false in office to a public trust." (Conference Report, April 1964.)
We live in a world where integrity is a universally admired moral trait, perhaps because it seems so rare. When we discover people of integrity, we treasure them and seek their company, hoping to gain strength from their example.
Long ago, the French dramatist Moliere commented wryly that if everyone were clothed with integrity, and if every heart were just, frank and kindly, then we wouldn't need the other virtues. They only exist to make us bear with patience the injustices of our fellows.