The definition of integrity I find most meaningful comes directly from the words Latin root, integer, meaning to make whole or complete, an origin it shares with the word entire. A person of integrity strives to model a life of wholeness, to integrate the practice with the preachment, the ends with the means.
Hero has gone from meaning god-like or demigod to becoming a term more applicable to the everyday person. Acting with exceptional courage, strength, ability and charity in certain situations, anyone might be a hero. Heroism can come and go, and it can be confused with stardom. Paradoxically, heroes often eschew the pedestal and identify more and more throughout their lives with common people through shared struggle. Instead of aiming to be gods, heroes seek wholeness and integration.
Our most well known hero of the civil rights movement was very clear about the connection between integrating people and integrating the movements methods with its goals. In his 1963 book, Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, Immoral means cannot bring moral ends, for the ends are pre-existent in the means. The brief statement goes beyond making judgment calls about moral and immoral methods. It reveals a plainer truth that explains the movements commitment to nonviolence: means and ends cannot be separated. No matter what we think is right or wrong, the way we do something becomes part of the result.
Later that day, I heard presentations by two actual soldiers back from Iraq who indicated they didnt feel like heroes. In fact, one of the young vets said that it hurt to be called a hero because it made him feel empty inside. The loneliness of your self-sacrifice only grows, he said. Ive been out of the Army a year and some change, but it hasnt gotten any better. I dont know how I can deal with this for 30 years. Talking about it helps, but I cant ever get to specifics. Why would I tell my mom what a burning baby smells like? His Army unit was one of the first to enter Iraq on March 20, 2003, and later he was transferred suddenly from field artillery to military police and assigned to Abu Ghraib. The divergence of ends and means, the lie that claims peace will result from war, can rend a soldiers heart.
On Martin Luther King Jr.s birthday, my brother-in-law, a reserve officer in the US Air Force, is scheduled to be en route to Iraq. He and I are the same age, and as a 48 year-old professional in the medical field, he believes that part of his duty as an older reservist is to provide needed leadership to younger soldiers regardless of his personal views about the war. He volunteered to go. I didnt stay home and hide, he explains.
My brother-in-law, who I love dearly, knows that I support other ways to not stay home and hide that dont involve carrying a gun. And when I ask what I should do to support him, he says I should continue to work against war, because the civilian politicians are the ones who stick us in it. He is entering the maelstrom, and the only way I can think to save him is to follow that advice.
Susan Van Haitsma is active with Nonmilitary Options for Youth in Austin, Texas and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org