Integrity

As you know, I have a penchant for a little etymology from time to time, so here goes (and bear with me!)…..

INTEGRITY: c. 1400, "innocence, blamelessness; chastity, purity," from Old French integrité or directly from Latin integritatem (nominative integritas) "soundness, wholeness, completeness," figuratively "purity, correctness, blamelessness," from integer "whole".                   Online Etymology Dictionary

The concept of moral rectitude and honesty in the word “integrity” I think we are all familiar with. However, this idea of ‘wholeness” or ‘completeness’ is interesting isn’t it? Mathematicians are more familiar with it, I suppose, as “integer” is the term we still use for a whole number.

This talk of wholeness and purity reminds me of the background of another Latinate word with similar implications that we all use quite often (usually as an adverb in our communications) which is the word “sincere” (as in, “yours sincerely”). Legend suggests (incorrectly, as it transpires, but let that not get in the way of a good anecdote!) that “sincere” derives from the Latin phrase sine cera meaning “without wax”. Back in classical times it seems dishonest sculptors would use wax to disguise flaws in their work and so a statue that was without flaws was whole and perfect. The less poetic, but more likely, explanation is that the word derives from the Latin word sincerus (clean, pure, sound) made up of the prefix sin- (one) and the word root crescere (to grow) and so meaning literally “single growth” (perhaps agriculturally pure-bred or pedigree). So, whatever origins one credits, there is still this strong sense of unity, oneness, purity and intactness (a word, incidentally, from the same origins as integrity).

In education, as in many other fields and contexts, we use the term “integration” to mean bringing someone or something in from the outside and aligning her, or it, perfectly with the direction, purpose, values and ethos of the whole, creating a larger but still homogeneous and discrete entity. In other words, integration is about inclusivity and sharing a unity of purpose. Its opposite, of course is “disintegration” which is defined as “the process of falling to pieces or losing coherence and strength” (Oxford Dictionaries).

I have worked hard during my time as School Director to engender a greater sense of community (notice the word root, “-unity” here) and a clearer sense of a shared purpose and values in our school and I hope you will agree that we have moved forward at least some way in this sense. And we must continue to draw upon and enhance this community spirit, even in the most difficult of times for, in doing so, by acting with integrity, we teach our young people powerful lessons. We teach them to be inclusive. We teach them that a group with shared values and purpose (as the U20 boys’ football team so clearly demonstrated last Saturday) is an almost irresistible force for good. We teach them perhaps the single most important lesson of all in securing their future happiness- that by speaking honestly, and acting with integrity, they will always be able to look into themselves and like what they see.