Dear Neil: I am having an extramarital affair, and I am wondering where integrity fits into the picture for me. Could you address the subject of integrity?

Unfaithful in Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Unfaithful: Integrity combines our ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs and behavior. When our behavior matches our values, when our ideals and our actions are in sync, we have integrity.

When we behave in ways that conflict with our judgments about what is appropriate, we lose faith in ourselves—and we respect ourselves less. If we do that repeatedly, we will trust ourselves less—or cease to trust ourselves at all—and our self-esteem will suffer. So says Nathaniel Branden in the book The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem.

He says that when a breech of integrity wounds our self-esteem, only the practice of integrity can heal it.

At the simplest level, personal integrity entails such questions as: Am I honest, reliable and trustworthy? Do I keep my promises? Do I do the things I say I admire, and do I avoid the things I say I deplore? Am I fair and just in my dealings with others?

Integrity does not guarantee that I will make the best choice; it only asks that my effort to find the best choice be authentic—that I stay conscious, stay connected with myself, call on my best rational clarity, take responsibility for my choice and its consequences, and not allow myself to escape into a mental fog.

Integrity means that our words and behaviors match, a term that is called “congruence.” Studies disclose that many people in organizations do not trust management above them. Why? Lack of congruence. Beautiful mission statements unsupported by practice. Slogans about customer service unmatched by the realities of daily business. Sermons about honesty mocked by cheating. Promises of fairness betrayed by favoritism, says Branden.

In most organizations, however, there are men and women whom others trust. Why? They keep their word and honor their commitments. They don’t just promise to stick up for their people, they do it. They just don’t preach fairness, they practice it. They just don’t counsel honesty and integrity, they live it.

To any executive, parent, lover or spouse who wishes to be perceived as trustworthy, there is no mystery about what is required. You need to say what you mean, and mean what you say.

If we examine our lives, we may notice inconsistencies in our practice of integrity, says Branden.

There are areas where we practice it more and areas where we practice it less. Rather than evade this fact, it is useful to explore it. It is worthwhile to consider the question: What stands in the way of me practicing integrity in every area of my life? What would happen if I lived my values consistently?

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