Relief Society Lesson 12: Integrity

In 2005, the most looked-up word on the Merriam-Webster website was “Integrity,” beating out obvious choices such as tsunami and levee. (See this Christian Science Monitor article). Quick, before looking it up — can you define it in a way that is meaningful to your life?

I have a particular interest in this character trait because it serves as the anchor for other virtues — including moral courage and self-discipline. Each spring, as we start
To Kill a Mockingbird, I give my 8th graders an excerpt of Dr. Edwin Delattre’s article “Teaching Integrity.” He helps put into words why they adore Atticus Finch.

Delattre writes: “Literally, integrity means wholeness–being one person in public and private, living in faithfulness to one set of principles whether or not anyone is watching. Integrity is to a person as homogenization is to milk–a single consistency throughout.”

Harper Lee writes: Atticus don’t ever do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in the yard,” I said, feeling it my duty to defend my parent.

“Gracious, child, I was raveling a thread . . . I wasn’t even thinking about your father, but now that I am I’ll say this: Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on public streets.”

Onward to the lesson . . . quotes from President Kimball are in italics

Section 1: Integrity is fundamental to good character.

Integrity is a state or quality of being complete, undivided, or unbroken. It is wholeness and unimpaired. It is purity and moral soundness. It is unadulterated genuineness and deep sincerity. It is courage, a human virtue of incalculable value. It is honesty, uprightness, and righteousness. Take these away and there is left but an empty shell. …

Integrity in man should bring inner peace, sureness of purpose, and security in action. Lack of it brings the reverse: disunity, fear, sorrow, unsureness

It would be well if all of us would take frequent inventory to see if hidden away under the rugs and in the corners of our lives there might be some vestige of hypocrisy and ugliness or error. . . . . Are there areas in our thoughts and actions and attitudes which we would like to hide from those we respect most?

Take some time to examine both the word Integrity and its opposite, Hypocrisy. Here are questions I wrestle with:

  • Do you ever feel “divided” rather than whole? What causes this inner disruption? Have you ever felt like you had more than one person living inside you, unsure of how to act or who to be in a given situation? What do we do with these feelings?
  • When is it most difficult possess integrity — are there certain people or situations that provoke you to behave in ways that don’t feel like “you”?
  • If integrity means “being” the same person in public and in private, does that include “acting” exactly the same way with everybody we meet?
  • President Kimball cautions against secrecy — how do secrets affect our sense of “wholeness?” Where do we turn when we feel burdened by secrets? (And what does it mean to “pour out your soul” to God . . . )
  • Is our Relief Society a place where we can bring our “whole” selves — warts and all — without feeling the need to put on a different face or identity?
  • In what sense does integrity require courage? How do we develop that courage?
  • Do you know anyone who seems to embody that wholeness, genuineness, and integrity that Kimball talks about? What have you noticed about his/her life?

Section 2: We show integrity by keeping our covenants with honor.

The covenants we make with God involve promises to do, not merely to refrain from doing, to work righteousness as well as to avoid evil. The children of Israel made such covenants through Moses, saying, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8, italics added), though hardly was Moses’ back turned until they had broken their promise through wrongdoing. In the baptismal waters we give a similar undertaking and we repledge it in the ordinance of the sacrament. Not to honor these pledges, to refuse to serve or to accept responsibility and do less than one’s best at it, is a sin of omission. …

The idea of “sins of commission” vs. “sins of omission” is a useful construct — and could be worth discussion. While the sins of commission (things we DO) often have public consequences, sins of omission (things we fail to do) are often known only to ourselves and the Lord. How can *inaction* be a threat to our integrity? (For me: not acting when I witness injustice — from mean gossip to helping someone who is outside my comfort zone).

Section 3: If we are dishonest, we cheat ourselves.

In public office and private lives, the word of the Lord thunders: “Thou shalt not steal; … nor do anything like unto it.”

Dishonesty comes in many other forms: … in playing upon private love and emotions for filthy lucre; in robbing money tills or stealing commodities of employers; in falsifying accounts; … in taking unreal exemptions; in taking out government or private loans without intent to repay; in declaring unjust, improper bankruptcies to avoid repayment of loans; in robbing on the street or in the home money and other precious possessions; in stealing time, giving less than a full day of honest labor for a full day’s compensation; in riding public transportation without paying the fare; and all forms of dishonesty in all places and in all conditions. …

One of the temple recommend questions asks, “Are we honest in our dealings with others?” As grown women, what forms of dishonesty tempt us?

The scriptures provide examples of great courage and integrity.

How one’s admiration soars for Peter … as he is seen standing a
t full height and with boldness and strength before those magistrates and rulers who could imprison him, flog him, and perhaps even take his life. We seem to hear those fearless words as he faced his foes and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29.)

Peter looked into the eyes of the crowd and bore his testimony to them of the God they had crucified [see Acts 3:13–15]. …

Of those who heard this testimony and charge, 5,000 men saw this courage superior and integrity supreme! And 5,000 men believed.

I find this choice of story fascinating — because this same Peter denied Christ three times, even after promising that he would never compromise his love and devotion for Jesus. It’s worth plumbing that story for the fears that cause us to deny who we are and what we love when faced with the pressures of life . . .

Other good stories for discussion:

  • Jonah — his devotion to God but his unwillingness to serve (and later forgive) the people of Nineveh
  • The woman in Luke 7 who is willing to endure the hypocritical scorn of men to show her love for Jesus

Finally: the struggle for integrity was at the core of this talk that I gave last year.

Please add your own thoughts and ideas . . .


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    As a math teacher, I talk about integrity when I intoduce the concept of an integer- whole numbers and their opposites and zero, points on the number line. We can easily see, mark, and understand integers. Irrational (crazy?) numbers are more difficult to pin down. People with integrity are easier to work with. What you see is what you get. A vitally important life lesson.

  2. AmyB says:

    Have you ever felt like you had more than one person living inside you, unsure of how to act or who to be in a given situation?

    As a developmentalist, I’m inclined to point out that this experience is a hallmark of mature development. That struggle toward integrating all of one’s parts is lifelong, and part of the deliciousness of being human. Something that’s important to me is accepting and integrating (all of one’s parts, even the messy, imperfect, wounded or difficult parts. Integrity is not disallowing those parts and pretending that only happy, shiny well-polished parts are there. We may not present our wholly integrated selves in various setting because we are not wholly accepted in all of our messy human glory.

    In response to the math metaphor, integers may be the easiest to deal with, but if we limit ourselves to only those and not the nonrational numbers, we are ultimately severely limited.

  3. Deborah says:

    I tend to agree, Amy. Specifically your comments about the imperfect parts of our lives. Indeed, I wonder if neglecting the messy aspects of our selves will only lead to greater fracture in the future. That’s why I love the scriptural injunction to “pour out our souls” to God. To me, this implies laying bare for ourselves and our God to see, to love, to heal (or just let be).

    I hope the question doesn’t imply that feeling fragmented is a “fault.” I imagine that if I asked this question to a group of women, nearly 100% would identify with these feelings — and that some would be plagued by them. Finding (and maintaining) inner harmony is one of the central questions of my spiritual life — and I like the term harmony because it evokes an image of many notes coexisting in a rich, unified form. At times, my question has been as simple and painful as: Does my mutual loyalty to the church and to my sister threaten my integrity? Jesus’ most basic theology — *to love* — is the anchor of my integrity. It’s the only way I know how to reconcile competing demands on my mind and heart.

    Some more thoughts:
    Calpurnia is a rich foil for Atticus in terms of integrity. When Scout accompanies her to her Black church for services, Scout is *shocked* to discover that she is leading a “modest double life,” using a different dialect and mannerisms than she did in the Finch household. Does she lack integrity because she ACTS differently in these situations? The students ultimately decided no — because her core values, her commitment to justice, does not change. Isn’t part of being socially savvy knowing how to alter our behavior for a business interview vs. a family pillow fight? But then we are bombarded people who are willing to be chameleons — to become to person they think others want them to be. Presidential candidates are the easy example — but how many young women (and women) alter their behavior to appeal to men, to gender stereotypes? At what point are our many parts in such conflict that our authentic voice is supressed? I really do think these are rich questions to discuss . . .

  4. Deborah says:

    Anonymous: Thanks for adding another dimension to the word. I hadn’t given much thought to the mathematical nuances — but I like the relationship with “wholeness” (whole numbers). Wholeness is an intriguing synonym for integrity.

  5. AmyB says:

    Deborah, I hope I didn’t come accross as criticizing the question you asked. I didn’t mean to be. I agree with you that it is a rich one to explore. You inspired me to think about it more, particularly to consider how accepting I am of others. Am I critical or unaccepting in ways that make it difficult for others to be their whole selves with me? That’s an area I’d like to work on for myself.

    Your idea about harmony resonates with me, but then again, I’m a sucker for music with some good dissonance too. 🙂

  6. Deborah says:

    Not at all — you just got me thinking.

    “[Are we] critical or unaccepting in ways that make it difficult for others to be their whole selves with [us]?”

    Now that is a rich question!

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