Yesterday I attended the funeral of my mother-in-law. As I sat in the pew and listened to the pastor share about her life and influence, I was impressed both by how well he knew her and by who she was. The pastor’s descriptions revealed her true character. He recollected times spent by her bedside during her extended illness, sharing both her triumphs and her foibles. In eulogizing her, his stories highlighted both her authenticity and her integrity.
Authenticity seems easier to identify and explain than integrity. An authentic person is who she is. On a day to day basis, a person reveals her personality to others. Authenticity is not all or nothing, black or white. Authenticity is about being real, showing your true self: the good, the bad, and the ugly. At different times and in different settings, we may be more or less successful in revealing our true selves to others, but an authentic person is one who consistently lets herself be known for who she really is.
From the first day I met her, I could tell my mother-in-law was genuine. I arrived at her home late on a Friday afternoon, just as she returned from the grocery store. As soon as she put down her bags, she opened her arms to embrace me. Later, when I said goodnight and got settled into the guest room, I saw that she had left a gift by my bedside: a flower in a vase, some scented lotion, and a handwritten note.
In the morning, I found her sitting in her favorite spot near the south facing window, well worn Bible in her lap, sunshine and peace filling the room. It wasn’t a show, put on to impress her son’s new girlfriend. It was who she was: warm, loving, thoughtful. In the almost twenty years I knew her, not all the moments with mom were as picture perfect as the one I just described. Yet the common thread of all my experiences with mom is that she shared her true self with everyone she met.
Integrity is about living out your stated values and beliefs. More than showing your personality, it is about living by a set of standards so that your words and actions are synchronized.
Integrity is revealed over time. It is built by making decisions consistent with stated values, not just once, but again and again. A person with integrity is not perfect. She may have days or even weeks when she strays from her values. However, she will always return to her core values and beliefs. If you view her life over a long term period, her choices will align with her words.
Mom lived a life of integrity. In her work, her parenting, her leisure activities, and her friendships, she held to her beliefs and values. She lived as an example for her children and her community.
In the days before she died, mom’s biggest regret was that she would not live to see our daughters grow to adulthood. My greatest sadness is that they will not have her in their lives as an example of living life with authenticity and integrity. I hope that she will live on for them, though, in the stories we tell and the lives we live.
This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.