My school motto was ‘Integrity’.
Just that. Nothing else.
I didn’t know what it meant when I became a pupil there at the age of 11. But it was emblazoned across the school logo on my uniform and sports kits so people started to ask me what it meant. Once I found out, it became one of my favourite words and something of a personal motto too. I wanted integrity to be a label that I could wear truthfully and proudly.
It’s a word that I haven’t heard so much since moving on from that school. I’d forgotten how much meaning it held for me until the revised 16 Teachings came into being at TOTJO (and it's also one of the 21 Maxims). Teaching number 9 reads as follows:
“Jedi have integrity. We are authentic to what we believe and are open, honest and true to our purpose and our minds. We remove all masks to reveal ourselves as courageous and noble of heart. We do not hide from fear of damage to our image because we know that our image cannot be blemished from the words and actions of others.”
In a broad sense, integrity is about being consistently true to oneself and one’s principles. And it’s often not as easy as we might think to do so. We can unwittingly be swayed – by our peers, by an event, by the whims of our Ego…
It's important to understand that there is a difference between a permanent shift in one’s principles and a deviation from them. Integrity does not necessarily mean that one must hold the same principles throughout their entire life.
It’s important to be who you are. If who you are is someone that you don’t like very much, that’s something that you can work to change. The first step to change is recognising and accepting yourself – hence, pretending to be someone you are not will not help and is more akin to just papering over the cracks, or, as described in the 9th Teaching – wearing a mask.
One of the problems with religion and doctrine is that it can inadvertently encourage people to wear these masks. You might read the doctrine and you think “Teaching number 15 says that Jedi have eternal life through the Force. I don’t believe that – but in order to advance at TOTJO I’m going to have to pretend that I do.”
Here, you don’t have to pretend. Jedi accept that not everyone shares the same values and principles and we don’t aim to create a community of cardboard cut-outs.
In order for your training and your time here to be of meaningful value, you have to be open about who you are. Many of the 21 Maxims cannot be achieved without personal integrity – courage, faith, humility, fearlessness, nobility, honesty, pure motive, harmony…to name but a few.
That's not to say that you have to shout out all your innermost secrets, but that you must be honest with yourself and let your words and actions be rooted in that place of honesty.
We all make mistakes. You might not believe in hurting others, for example…but then you are provoked into insulting someone in a heated debate. If you believe that you went against your principles and the Jedi principles, what should you do in that situation? Carry on getting embroiled in the argument? Go away and try to forget all about it? Or hold your hands up, admit the mistake, and apologize?
Integrity can be hard work. There will always be times when it will seem to slip away from you. But, in the end that’s your choice. If you want to regain it, to stay true to yourself, fight for it. Refuse to let it go, no matter how hard it tries. Sometimes, on the surface, doing the right thing – acting in accordance with your conscience and principles – can seem like the hardest thing in the world. But take everything else out of the equation, see yourself as you are, and sometimes you realize that it really doesn’t need to be.
Provided that you are not causing unnecessary hurt – stand up for what you believe in, don’t be scared to speak your mind, and don’t compromise on being your true self.
Don’t let yourself look back on life regretting the time that you spent trying to be someone else.
As Oscar Wilde once said:
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”