Integrity is a difficult concept for many people to understand. Some people claim it, even though they can’t define it. You can’t go down to the corner store and get it, but you can lose it at the corner store. You can’t get a degree in integrity, but you can lose integrity getting a degree. It is more than what you say. It is more than what you do. However, it is directly connected to what you say and do. Proverbs 10:9 tells us, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.”
When I attended the US Air Force Academy we had an honor code, “We will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate among us those who do.” This may not be a textbook definition of integrity, but it is a pretty good working definition. It embodies the two key principles of integrity. What you say and what you do are consistent and they are honorable.
Our society has made heroes of those who lack integrity. Movie and TV heroes routinely lie, cheat, and steal – both on and off the screen. Outlaws, con-men, and thieves are often the heroic topic of modern entertainment and books. Many of our political leaders lie about their private lives, lie about their backgrounds, and cheat on their taxes. Leading sports figures in many sports have been caught in lies and cheating with regard to the use of steroids and breaking league or NCAA rules. A whole industry has been created for those who traffic in identity theft, which is the embodiment of lying, stealing, and cheating. Everywhere in our society, those who lie, steal, and cheat are being adulated and those who tell the truth, are honest, and play by the rules are treated as chumps and idiots.
Against this backdrop, trying to teach our children to have integrity can be very difficult. The pop culture heroes show a decided lack of integrity and yet they appear to prosper. What doesn’t ever seem to come through in the tabloids and exposes is the doubt, mistrust, and hatred that is created in those who must associate with people who lack integrity. Once a person has a reputation for lying, they will never be completely trusted again. Once a person has been caught stealing, their permanent record will show that they are a felon. Once a person has been exposed as a cheat, their credentials and credibility will be doubted forever after.
So as a parent, how do we lead our children to walk with integrity? The first thing we must do is to counteract the prevailing cultural bias against integrity. One way to do this is to appeal to a higher authority, and there is no higher authority than God. Study Scripture with your family and have your children memorize verses that endorse integrity. Here are just a few:
• Proverbs 12:22, “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.”
• Leviticus 19:11, “”You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.”
• Proverbs 16:11, “Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.”
• Isaiah 33: 15-16:, “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil – this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress. His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.”
In addition, you need to practice integrity yourself. This means that you should not lie, steal, or cheat. I know we all sin and make mistakes. When you realize that you have made a mistake – make it right. If you find out that something you said was wrong, go back to that person and make it right. If you find that you accidentally received too much change or walked out of a store forgetting to pay for something, go back and make it right. If you realized that something you have been involved in was not fair to others and in some way cheated them, go back to them and make it right.
Yes, you will have to eat a little “humble pie.” It will be good for your soul to confess your sin and make restitution. It will send a message to your children that you really mean it when you talk about integrity. It may also give you an opportunity to influence others for good as they see your example.
In our honor code at the US Air Force Academy we had a final phrase, “… nor tolerate among us those who do.” If you catch any of your children behaving in a disreputable way, they need to be reprimanded and should both confess and make restitution. One suggestion is that you help your child know and understand that integrity is something that is expected of him not just individually, but as a member of your family. Let him or her know that, “Our family expects better than that. We must go and make it right.” If your child is a Christian, remind him or her of their Christian testimony. Yes, they are forgiven, but that does not give them license to do wrong. As a Christian they need to learn to set an example and be a testimony for doing what is right. Integrity is a virtue that is often claimed and seldom practiced in our society, but let it be a hallmark of your family tradition.
Ray Sheen has been involved with homeschooling for over 25 years. He and his wife, Holly, homeschooled their daughters from birth through high school, and advised them through their college-at-home experience. Their daughters have now earned their Bachelors Degrees. He has also served in leadership positions for several homeschooling organizations at the local, state, and national level.