True human integrity is not a given, it is a conquest. We are not born one, but multiple. And most people, throughout their lives, continue to manifest various traits of character, often contradictory or in any case disparate, mal-unified. Integrity is the virtue of the one who has made and continues to make the effort to be coherent, and to harmonize one’s tendencies into a whole whose purity is close to what Nietzsche called the self as a work of art: a personal symphony.
Sometimes we speak of a person of integrity as someone a little rigid and privileging morality at the detriment of personal pleasure. There’s something of Clint Eastwood’s character in the person of integrity. Hence the difficulty of most cheap enjoyers, open to easy gratification, to imagine themselves honest. The Latin root of the word integrity suggests a person or thing that has not been tampered with, that has remained intact, pure. But true integrity does not follow a Puritan morality imposed from the outside: it is rather a respect and desire for oneself, a conformity of oneself to oneself, a dynamic of integration of our existential drafts in successive and more homogeneous versions of ourselves. It is sometimes said that it must be boring to be a person of integrity. But what is more boring: the conquering pain of worthy maturation or spending days stumbling over multiple versions of oneself bickering to take the reins of the ego? By dint of wanting to be a little everything and everywhere, we are rarely grandiose and finally we do not enjoy life as much as we expected. One might wake up one day, late, filled with holes, stained by mediocrity and self-denial, with a taste of old chewing gum in the mouth.
The idea of integrity and the ethical idea of adulthood have much in common, if we accept the fact that being an adult is not only a question of age but of heroism. To become one and powerfully serene, it is necessary to give away certain aspects that we had identified as personal. Most people cultivate too many contradictory tendencies without privileging a dominant facet. Becoming one without becoming dull is an art of virtuosity that goes through some pain, but a chosen pain, sublime, and in fact joyful. It is of course important not to feel guilty about our contradictions, nor to try to overcome them too quickly or too violently: they are natural – after all we are the children of the Creal, the multiple and the possible. But it is also profitable for an admirable life to eliminate as many conflicting tendencies as possible. The question then is: What facet of my personal experience should I choose to be a person of integrity? Who am I?
Too many people, without renouncing integrity, tend to postpone becoming one, for fear of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They would like to be more coherent, more faithful to themselves, but have no idea of the principles of this higher self. Integrity begins with the desire to be honest. Becoming oneself is every day discovering a territory that expands, with trees that we had not imagined, unexpected creatures, activities that we would not have thought we would embrace, and other concretizations of our fidelity to values or beliefs that one embodies better — that is to say durably — if one becomes aware of them.
Integrity is a puzzle of principles, with a centerpiece in the center, the principle of principles drawn by the sum of the secondary principles. It is rare to find directly the principle of principles that governs the highest version of oneself. But we can sketch its figure little by little, keeping the pieces of the puzzle that seem right, harmonious with our intuitive music. Integrity is not only difficult to achieve because we do not have enough pieces to make the right puzzle: it is complex because we have too many pieces, and we spend too much time trying indolently to make a puzzle from pieces that never interlock.
To create is also to eliminate. Richness will later return, more persistent, more unheard of, more intense, after a phase of voluntary — firm but loving — depletion.