Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Musings: Sept. 27 2015: What is Integrity

Hi, Musers.

Welcome to Fall and all the temperature changes that come with it. Almost as varied as the leaves changing colours.

We’re getting a little introspective this Sunday with our musing on:

What is integrity?

Integrity can be defined in just about the same terms as "Hunt's definition of heroism" from STAND AT CORNITH, especially since courage is often required to maintain it:  "Heroism is doing what has to be done when it has to be done despite the fact that doing it can be, is likely to be, or is certain to be extremely costly for the doer. It can be moral, intellectual, emotional, or physical alone or in any combination."

Integrity, simply put, is standing by what we know is right, and that has never been easy in any age

What is integrity? This is one thing that you hope that you have taught to your children. For me integrity is being the best human being you can be. It is saying you will do something and doing it. It is being there for someone when they need you and taking the part of someone who might not be the most liked. It is striving to achieve your dreams and doing it in the best way possible. In other words, it is moving toward your goal and still keeping your life in balance. A person with integrity can look you in the eye and you know this person will tell the truth. They won’t do something that goes against their principles and they are the people who refuse to take bribes and they stay true to their beliefs. In Yiddish there is a word for this. We say someone is a “mensch” who is able to follow all of this.

Characters with integrity make the reader feel good and make their friends feel good. They lead rather than follow and they are people or creatures with whom you would like to spend time. As an author and a writer I feel that is one of the most important traits you can give to your character. The best characters from the best loved books have had that trait. If you think of them the one thing that ties them together is this trait of integrity. When a character does not have integrity the reader can’t really trust him or her or it. One example that comes to mind is David Copperfield who persisted in friending people who others might not have wanted. But he stayed true to them and he prevailed in the end, because he had so much integrity.

Integrity is that word every school scholarship uses and I'm dead sure most people my age (in their early 20s) have no clear idea what it means. The word is shiny, though, isn't it? A good thing. To have integrity. But what does it MEAN? It sounds nice when you say it out loud, like its definition could be charade-acted with a straight spine, shoulders back, mouth just a little proud in the corners. According to trusty Google, integrity is "the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness." Maybe it's because I'm currently re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, but Atticus Finch just popped into my head. I just read the part where Scout asks him why he, a lawyer, is defending an African-American. Atticus simply answers that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't, that the man wouldn't have a prayer of a chance otherwise, even though people in his Alabama town call him all sorts of slurs because of it. In my own works, integrity is something the characters either maintain as part of themselves, or something they really struggle with. Or...can you have integrity while going against part of that definition? In The Christmas Lights, Emmeline, my hero Louis's fiancée, lies to her father about where Louis is. He's actually doing all sorts of creative things in order to make enough money to start a life with her instead of doing what her father wants him to do, which is slave away in a factory. Emmy still has strong moral principles; she's lying to keep everyone calm, even though she's not being very honest. Louis does the same thing when he writes her letters saying everything is alright even though he's not very sure he'll even make any money at all. They lie in order to avoid hurting those they love; that's their moral principle. Hmm. Integrity isn't a simple trait to have, is it? :)

Integrity must enter all aspects of a civilised life, I think, but, where writing is concerned it has to be about being true to your Voice.

People often ask why I write historical romance and the answer is always the same. I'm a wordsmith. I've edited for others and I've dissected for exercises in school and university, but while I could produce a carefully crafted piece of young adult fiction or of erotica, it wouldn't have my Voice in it. What I hear in my creative head is the ring of that age-old battle of wits between the sexes. I love the humour and the frocks and the carriages. The early eighteen hundreds was a time when women in the UK had so few rights, you might list them on the fingers of one hand, I think.

I want today's young have-it-alls to remember that and look around them. There are many, many countries where women are still in the position of counting their rights on one hand. If my fiction helps them realise how easily it could slip away, then I've kept the integrity of my Voice.

I recently looked up quotes defining history and came across this from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Table-Talk:

Sin writes histories, goodness is silent.

Or, in other words, bad news travels faster than good. As a reader, whether of contemporary or historical fiction, I don’t expect the characters to be perfect and indeed how boring it would be if they were. As a writer, I try to create fictional characters who feel like real people, warts and all, so very few of them will be totally “upright, honest and pure” in the definition of integrity. The really bad characters can be the most entertaining in a story in their outrageous behaviour. However, as a writer too, I owe it to myself and to others to act with integrity in terms of my writing, owning what’s “mine” and acknowledging anything that isn’t, or paying tribute to sources of ideas. That’s why most authors include a section at the start of a book doing just that.

Well, a long time ago I was told Integrity was always doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

In the broad sense, I see integrity as being honest, trustworthy and reliable. If you give your word to do something, you do it.

In Forging Day, Olivia is a follower of Crom. To act with integrity in the context of her religion, she would follow: Might for right, suffer no guilt, and what have you done today to make the world a better place?

In this context, suffer no guilt doesn't mean do want you want and have no conscience. It means don't do things that make you feel guilty. If you chose an action with a negative consequence, you accept responsibility and own it.

Here's an excerpt from near the end of Forging Day:

Many priests use an athame, a small ritual dagger, when casting a circle. Ingve used a good-sized silver hammer. In place of the usual altar, a steel anvil, scarred with use, sat in the center of the circle.

I felt the energy when they called the quarters and cast the circle. It was nothing like what I’d experienced the other night. I imagine that’s because I was just a participant this time and not the one holding the reins.

The folks at each of the four quarters spoke of the strength and power of their element, and then Ingve stepped forward and began to speak.

“Crom is a god of strength and honor. We believe in might for right. Some believe you need to already be strong before you’re welcome in Crom’s service. That’s not true. I remember a day, just before the Change, when a young woman was walking home, looking about as low as a person can get and still keep moving. My first through was to be kind, and pretend not to see her, but that would have been the easier path. Crom doesn’t tell us to choose the easier path. We face our fears and doubts and forge ahead.

“I called out to her, and asked if I could help. She didn’t feel Crom could offer much help. She said she’d made bad decisions and now she was paying for them. But that’s not the way it works. We all start out as raw metal. Adversity, and how we deal with it, is what Forges us into the steel we can become. She told me at this rate she’d either end up dead or very, very, strong. Today, she and her friends are alive. The werewolf murderer that terrorized Cheesman Park is dead. Which do you think she became?”

“Forging isn’t a gentle process. Hammer and anvil meet with force to shape the steel, but what a thing of beauty you have when the Forging is complete. I think our Olivia is as fine an example as you’re likely to see of the Forging of a Soul. Her body will heal, and she will have scars, but her soul is bright and strong.”

“Crom!” he roared, and raised his hammer high. The hammer and anvil exploded with silver flames, and my necklace glowed to match.

“Crom!” I answered, holding up my hand, and the silver hammer appeared.

“Crom!” the crowd roared back in response. The rafters shook with the noise.

Had I not already been sitting in the chair, the energy would have sent me to my knees.

He waited until the gathering was quiet again. “Before we dismiss the quarters and open the circle, I leave all of you with this thought. What have you done today to make the world a better place?”

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at


John B. Rosenman said...

Integrity is good; absolute integrity is almost impossible. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and "not life, but the good life is chiefly to be desired." These two statements sum up integrity for me. The person who values integrity often examines his (or her) life to determine if he is living up to his ideals and practicing them in everyday life. And his life must be "good" in the truest sense. It must be a life worth living, reflecting a steadfast kindness to others and honesty in his everyday relations.

One statement I've heard beautifully sums up morality. What is a good person or one who has integrity? "He minds his own business and doesn't hurt anybody." First, he must determine what his business is. It's to help others and never shirk his obligations. It is not to gossip or act superior to others. As for not hurting anybody . . . well, that sounds a lot like the Golden Rule.

In my science-fiction Inspector of the Cross series, Turtan exemplifies integrity. He will do anything to save humanity from the enemy, emperors and politicians be damned. He is not one thing one day and something else the next -- unless, that is, it serves this great cause. You can always depend on him. Turtan has such consummate integrity that he wants nothing for himself. No speeches in his honor and no state dinners. Pride, after all, is the deadliest sin and an enemy of integrity unless it's pride in performing one's mission or task, whatever it may be.

John B. Rosenman said...
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Susan Royal said...

I think you summed it up nicely, Stan. I have a son-in-law who is a perfect example. He does something because he thinks it's the right thing to do...not for any other reason.

Susan Royal said...
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