Build Character Through Integrity

The wonderful thing about character and integrity, which are intimately related, is that they are one of the few things in life that no one will ever be able to forcefully take away from you. Your choices are your own. Even if someone can take your life, they cannot force you to make a choice that you believe is wrong. The actions below cannot be done all at once, nor should they be. Each of them takes time to fully understand and apply towards your life. Learn about your own virtues and values, and how they correspond to your life and the world around you.


Getting a Sense of Character

  1. Understand what character and integrity are. The definitions of these words are often stretched or misrepresented. Learn what they truly mean:
    • In this use, character is the sum of qualities shown up in a person or group, moral or ethical strength, and the description of a person's attributes, traits and abilities. Character is who you are. It defines you and guides your actions, hopefully in a positive way.
    • Integrity is steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code, being unimpaired, sound, whole and undivided.[1]
    • Integrity can be summed up simply as doing the right thing for the right reason even when no one is watching.
  2. Learn about different codes of ethics. Some people turn to the ethics of a particular religion for their moral principles, others turn to moral philosophy, or develop their own sets of ethics based on their own experiences.
    • Two main codes of moral conduct are utilitarianism (or consequentialism) and deontology. Utilitarianism refers to the idea of maximizing the greatest good.
    • For example, a utilitarian may not think it is wrong to do property damage if it meant helping chimpanzees who were being experimented on unethically.[2]
    • In contrast, a deontological view holds that some things are just plain wrong, regardless of the ultimate consequences. Someone with this view may view property damage as wrong, no matter what.[3]
    • You do not need to adhere to one set of principles from one source; as you get a sense of what feels right and wrong for you, in any given circumstance, you can adjust your sense of right and wrong accordingly.
  3. Examine your past. Look at the choices you have made before, and observe how much you have or have not lived by those principles.
    • However, don't waste time feeling regretful or guilty. Think about your mistakes, acknowledge them, and do your best to change for the future.
  4. Look up to others. There is no need to start from scratch when deciding how to live with integrity. Take note of people who have come before you, both in your own personal life, as well as known figures from history who have lived a life full of integrity. You may find that looking up to others motivates you to live with integrity, yourself.[4]
    • If there is someone in your life who is a moral exemplar, setup a meeting to talk together. Ask about how to manage life your way. Specifically, you might ask questions on how to maintain a great attitude. What does he/she say about feelings of receding (withdrawing), giving in and compromising values and not holding facts higher than anyone's self-serving opinion?
    • Do not emulate others. Keep in mind that you are a unique individual with a unique life, and you should not try to emulate anyone else's personality or character; instead, learn from others' character and apply what rings truest for you.
  5. Be persistent but patient with yourself and others. You have embarked on a lifelong journey and there are many hurdles. Give yourself credit when you act with integrity, and acknowledge when you don't, but don't give up on your goals and purposes when you slip or fail. Just as you probably forgive others over time for their mistakes, don't forget to also forgive yourself.
  6. Decide on your code. Choose a set of rules, morals, or principles that you believe will lead to a happy, satisfying, and righteous life, and to a better world.
    • Be willing to update your code as you gain more experience in life. It is ok to adjust your sense of right and wrong and your moral reasoning. Most people change how they think about right and wrong across their development. [5]
    • The code you live by will depend on what your values are.
  7. Determine your values. To figure out the type of broad moral code that you want to live by, it is time to think about what values in particular are important to you. You may be aided in figuring out your values by asking yourself some questions[6]:
    • Think of two people that you admire highly. What is it that you admire about them? Is it the fact that she is always honest, even when it makes her look bad to be so? Is it that fact that he is generous with his time? What do they do that you find inspiring?
    • If you could change just one thing in your local community (or your country), what would you change? Why is that important to change, and more so than other things you might haven picked? For example, would you make some part of your community more fair? Would you want people to respect their country more?
    • Think about a time or moment in your life when you felt very satisfied or fulfilled. What was happening at that time or in that moment? Why do you think that you felt that way?
    • What global issues get you the most excited or the most upset? Why do you think they affect you in that way? Is it space exploration that excites you? If so, maybe you value improving humanity through science. Is it reading about starvation that makes you the most upset? If so, maybe you value caring for others and using your empathy.
  8. Look for patterns in your responses. Once you have answered the questions, check to see if any patterns or moral principles have emerged. For example, perhaps you admire a friend who never speaks negatively about others, and you also felt very fulfilled when you had the chance to gossip about someone but you refrained from doing so.Or, perhaps you look up to someone who is devoutly religious; this likely suggests that you value such things as well and can help you to determine the type of code you want to live by. [6]

Living with Integrity

  1. Decide to change. Look at how you ideally want to behave, based on the values you have identified, and how you currently behave and take steps to change your behavior to align your life more closely to what you believe living with integrity involves.
    • You can do this by actively seeking out opportunities to show your integrity, and also by trying to prioritize integrity change in your life, and being aware of opportunities to behave how you want to in circumstances that happen upon you.
    • For example, say you want to be a more generous person. Do not sit around waiting for opportunities to be generous. The things you want in life may pass you by if you do not make active attempts to seek them out. You could, right now, research a worthy charitable organization and offer some of your time or money. You could go outside and give a few dollars to a homeless person for a warm meal, or you could pay it forward and pay for the person's movie ticket behind you.
  2. Believe in yourself, and in change. Tell yourself that you can make decisions that you want to make. They may be difficult and you may stumble, but you you will also have more control over your behavior if you believe in yourself and believe that you can change and improve yourself.[7]
    • To believe yourself, think about past successes that you have had. This will provide concrete evidence to you that you can succeed in being the kind of person you want to be, as you have done so in the past.
    • Also think about how you have changed for the better in some way and use that information to remind yourself that you can change in the future, too.
  3. Foster your self-esteem. Integrity and self-worth go hand in hand. Going against your integrity can damage your sense of self-worth, and having high self-worth can make you feel like you can live up to challenges and live with integrity by doing the difficult thing. [8]
    • There are a number of ways to improve your self-esteem. Start by setting realistic expectations for yourself and allowing yourself to fall short sometimes. If you set your expectations for yourself too high, you will always fall short of the mark, and in your eyes you will be a 'failure' when the reality is probably very few people if any could accomplish the goals you set for yourself.[9] You can also improve your self-esteem by being willing to change your self-image, that is, how you view yourself as a person. You can do this by adjusting your beliefs about yourself as you change.[9]
    • For example, perhaps you were once actively involved in sports and part of your self-esteem came from your self-view as an athlete. However, times change and responsibilities in life can change our priorities such that we no longer have time for sports. Think instead on how you might define yourself today.
    • Rather than thinking of yourself as a 'washed up' or 'no good' athlete, think of yourself in a more positive light based on what you actively do at present. Maybe you are a great father or sibling, or a hard worker at your job. Incorporate that information into your self-view and you may find that your self-esteem improves, which might make living with integrity all the easier.[9]
  4. Be conscious of the decisions you make. No matter how big or small, or how close they bring you to being the person you really want to become, be fully aware of the decisions you make and their implications.
    • Part of this involves being cognizant of the consequences of your decisions, both for yourself and others. Take an example where even a small decision has implications for one's integrity. Say you are eating dinner with friends and you want the last piece of pizza, but you can tell that your friend really wants it, too; you also know that he didn't have lunch that day. Think about the consequences of taking the last piece of pizza for yourself and your friend.
    • Your friend will be hungrier than if he had the last slice of pizza. If you knew your friend needed it more but you ate the last slice anyways, this may affect your sense of character. That is to say that, when you compromise your integrity, even in small ways, it can change your own and others' perception of the kind of person you are.
  5. Place yourself in a facilitating environment. It will be easier to live a life with integrity if you take steps to avoid spending your time in environments that can drag you down.
    • For example, if you have friends who do drugs and this violates your sense of integrity, consider removing yourself from that environment by finding new friends. You will be less likely to do drugs, and violate your integrity, if your drug using friends are not around!
  6. Avoid succumbing to peer pressure. Living with integrity means living by your code of ethics despite what others think. Do not give into others who try to get you to do things that you don't want to.[10]
    • If someone tries to get you to do something that you do not want to do try reminding yourself that you alone have to live with the consequences of your behavior for the rest of your life.
  7. Be polite. Do not be rude in your interactions with others. Follow social norms like not burping at the table or playing loud music at night when others are trying to sleep. Do not talk about other people behind their backs.[11]
  8. Empathize. Think about others from their perspectives. This can be difficult to do, but it will make you more likely to act in ways that are pro-social (i.e., in ways that will likely be aligned with your definition of integrity).[12]
    • To empathize with another person, think about the situation that she is in. Ask yourself if you have ever been in that situation. If yes, imagine how you felt about it. Think about her particular circumstances and how they differ from yours, though, and how that may result in her having different feelings to the situation, compared to yours. If you have not been in the situation you are trying to empathize with, imagine how you might feel in that circumstance.
    • For example, if someone is homeless and asking for a dollar for food, think about how you would feel if you were hungry and cold and did not have a roof over your head.


  • You'll probably feel your self-confidence and personal strength growing as you face and overcome challenges in sticking to your values, whatever they may be.
  • Don't think about what the world can offer you, think about what you can offer the world.
  • Consult the life and work of Victor Frankl, survivor of the concentration camps during WWII, best summarized by this quotation:
    "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances - to choose one's own way."
  • Keep a journal, and record your progress every day - this way you can look back on your successes on a rainy day when you are struggling to maintain your integrity.


  • Your character is unique so do not try to match it exactly with anyone else. Build it based on your own aptitude and your own strengths. Self-assessment, self evaluation, introspection etc work well to figure out how you are unique.
  • Beware of people who'll try to convince you to give up on your character or integrity. Individuals like this might try to tell you that nobody's perfect; he may taunt you for being an idealist. Keep in mind the fact that just because nobody's perfect doesn't mean you have to violate what you believe is right. It's good to learn from our mistakes, but we don't always need to make mistakes to learn. Remember that striving to be perfect and being perfect are two different ideas; the former is integrity, the latter is futility.

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Sources and Citations