In the few years that I’ve been writing seriously and consistently, I’ve authored a screenplay about a disillusioned and manipulative murderer, a dystopian fiction novel about what happens when humans no longer need to think to sustain their existence, a blog about how physical fitness carries over into other spheres of life, and a choose-your-own-adventure novel about the philosophical problem of free will.
I realize those subjects may sound a bit haphazard and jumbled when taken together. Some of my friends have pointed out that most fans of dystopian science fiction probably aren’t interested in reading a blog on health and fitness (and vice versa). And at the end of the previous paragraph, you may have found yourself asking “what’s with this choose-your-own-adventure novel?”
My goal is to produce writing that is both entertaining and says something important about the world. Slowly, and from different angles, I’ve started to chisel away at what that important thing is. I believe there is a deficiency common to much of what we think is wrong with the world today, from the killers we read about in the news, to the archetypical American glued to his smartphone and gorging himself on fast food and reality TV, to the person spitting sunflower seed shells onto the floor of the city bus (yes, I’ve sat next to that person).
So if there’s a common thread that exists in the written work I’ve done thus far, a common deficiency shared by every action that makes you a little sicker to your stomach and a little sadder about the state of humankind, I think that missing quality can best be described as integrity.
Google “integrity,” and you’ll find two definitions:
- The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
- The state of being whole and undivided.
What I mean by integrity is a little different, though it mostly encompasses those definitions. The basic idea of human integrity is that in order to be a human being, you must actually be a human being.
Imagine that you attach a steel bolt perpendicularly to a wooden handle. Though it may look like a rudimentary hammer, the object you have fashioned is not a hammer unless you actually use it to drive nails. In the same way, a human being is a creature that thinks and acts. Animals think, but not at the same level as humans. And plants produce their own food, but they do not move freely through the world like humans. So being a human is not a matter of having two arms, two legs, a heart and a brain. It’s a matter of thinking and acting in a certain way, according to certain standards.
In order to be a human being, you must actually be a human being.
Human integrity encompasses the standards of being a human being. These standards can be physical, intellectual or ethical (though other categories may exist). To have integrity is to possess the requisite amount of each of these standards, or to be wholly human in regards to these standards. To the extent that integrity encompasses ethics, having integrity does include being morally upright, although I believe there is more to the integrity picture.
In my writing, my novel debut Our Dried Voices explores the extent to which critical thought is essential to the human experience. My screenplay Vita provides a look at what happens when integrity fails, when a person refuses to think, act or live ethically. My second novel The Friar’s Lantern poses the question of whether conscious and intentional thought and action are even possible in the first place. And my blog KineSophy attempts to define physical standards for human movement.
Now I’m happy to share these works with you, but I want to give you something that you can take with you right now, some message to help you think about how to actually be a human being and live with integrity.
In 1993, former college basketball player, coach and broadcaster Jim Valvano received the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award as he struggled with the bone cancer that would kill him eight weeks later. In his now-famous acceptance speech, he encouraged his audience to do three things every day: laugh, think and cry. I’m not going to deny Valvano’s message (in fact, I’m going to second his call to think). But in the spirit of integrity, here are three things every human should do every day:
1. Challenge yourself physically.
Lift something heavy. Get out of breath. Take the stairs when you would normally ride the elevator. Walk when you would normally drive. Stretch.
Remember that you must act in order to accomplish anything in this world, and learn how to be resilient when your actions don’t turn out as planned.
Read a book or the newspaper. Listen to an educational podcast. Talk to someone with a different social, political or religious viewpoint than your own. Do a crossword puzzle.
Remember that you have the power to direct your actions, and discover where and how you want to direct them.
3. Do something good.
I’ll let you define what “good” means to you. It could be something good for someone else; it could be something good for you alone. The point is that you think and act on what you take to be good. The point is that you discover value in your life, and through that value, find purpose.
When you stop thinking and acting on what you value, you cease to have integrity. And you cease to be a full human being.
That’s it. Three small, simple actions. If these ideas resonate with you, please let me know. I want to hear how you live with integrity and how you achieve your potential as a human being.