Words

Words: Integrity

Robin Hood statue, Nottingham Castle 1
Robin Hood Statue near Nottingham Castle

I don’t refer to Wikipedia a lot, I realize that there’s a whole world of people out there who use it regularly, but it’s not my common practice.  Integrity has been on my mind a lot recently, so I wanted to be sure that my internal definition matched a worldly one.  Here’s an excerpt of what Wikipedia has to say about integrity:

Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that integrity regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.

Honesty, truthfulness and accuracy – that’s about what I thought.  But I didn’t expect the part about accounting for the discrepancy or altering their beliefs.  It seems that integrity can be considered more of a personal truth than a universal one. Wikipedia continues with:

The word “integrity” stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete) In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

This indicates that your integrity is critically tied to your personal values and beliefs – maybe even your personal code and that you can act with integrity even when other members of society question your actions in the grand scheme of life.

Interesting.

So in character creation for my writing I could have villains, or characters who are walking a very gray line to societal norms who are, by their personal beliefs, completely ethical.  That also means that there could be secret societies hiding below the radar of society in order to live their lives with integrity based on their personal beliefs and principles.

It’s not a new concept, of course.  Think of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, Friar Tuck in particular. Friar Tuck (in some story lines) is the ultimate soul of integrity even as he breaks/bends his religious vows to take action to aid the peasants.  Other thieves guilds abound in fantasy literature as do religious sects that worship gods of pain, death, and sex that at the least are unconventional, and often make the reader uncomfortable with their extreme stance.  Until working with this word I hadn’t considered it in my writing even though I’d seen it in the work of others.

  • Is it possible that the villains in my story aren’t doing their evil merely for profit and greed, but are they fulfilling a mission that is deeply important to them and their core beliefs?  
  • Will I have a character that walks the line between black hat and white hat which keeps others uneasy in trusting them when in reality every action s/he takes is full of integrity if you truly understand him/her?
  • What is the consequence to a character’s belief system if s/he is forced to question the integrity of their actions and adapt in order to grow through the story?
In getting to know my pivotal characters, I now feel that I need to make sure I chart their beliefs thoroughly to see how they evolve over time and ensure that they stay true to themselves.

Other writerly peeps – have you considered the integrity of your characters all along?  Am I just new to this idea?

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2 comments for “Words: Integrity

  1. August 12 at 1:23 pm

    Tony and I have an ongoing related conversation (usually in the context of gaming) that I shorthand as “No one thinks they’re a bad guy.” A lot of storytelling ignores this because it’s easier to have a straight-forward morality. But in real life, stopping short of the truly mentally ill, I don’t believe anyone actually considers themselves a villain. I see it in a lot of contemporary fiction that focuses on anti-heroes – The Sopranos or Breaking Bad being a good example of this genre. And although we discuss and try to utilize it, it’s really hard (at least for me) to wrap my head around. So I’m much more a consumer than a producer.

  2. August 12 at 2:37 pm

    That’s a good thing to keep in mind on the page and in life.