Plato once said “All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue.” When I think of Plato’s idea of Virtue, two things come to mind: Integrity and Principles.
Regardless of the society we live in, the laws that govern us or any other external factors; the primary compass through which our lives are guided are our internal Principles. These Principles form the code by which we live by; they form our Integrity as people and, in my opinion, they are the Virtues that Plato expounded as our means to live by.
So what does it mean to have integrity? How do we preserve ours? We live in a world that demands much of us, at times we may even feel pressured to compromise our own principles for a (perceived) beneficial outcome.
I like to think of this in the way Plato might: by laying it out logically to best examine each part of the problem and eventually develop a conclusion.
- Firstly, I think it is important that we understand that “The meaning of life” or the pursuit of finding meaning is subjective (if there is indeed any meaning at all). This means that there is no one particular meaning that is true for all, it is fluid and plural.
- Regardless of whether our lives do indeed have meaning or not, we have been fortunate enough to have a life to live. So we may as well find a way to navigate through it.
- So how do we navigate through the journey of our lives? With a core set of principles– a code- that acts as our compass. This governs what satisfies us, our interpretations of success and failure, what we value and what we inevitably judge to be good and bad for us.
Okay, at this point you will have to do some reflection for yourself. What are the principles you live by? At the core of who you are, what are your values? Understanding yourself is something that Plato emphasized to the extreme, and for valid reasons too: how can we live a good life if we don’t know what a good life is to us? Let’s continue…
- Once you understand what makes you the person you are, once you understand what you value, what your principles are, do not compromise them. By compromising your principles, you compromise your integrity and begin the process of losing yourself. Remember, our goal is to be True to yourself, that means that we cannot just have a quarter, half or even ninety-nine percent truth. It’s either all true, or it’s not. Don’t compromise.
- Learn to accept that there will be those who will dislike you, or even hate you, for sticking to your principles. Just like some people hate being told the truth when it inconveniences them, people will hate seeing a person staying true to themselves, who does not compromise their principles for anyone else. (Interesting little piece of trivia: This is actually what happened to Plato. He was put on trial by the people of Athens and stood accused of ‘poisoning the minds of the youth’ as his teachings promoted critical questioning and thinking for one’s self. He was found guilty and was forced to drink the poison Hemlock. He was hated by many of his contemporaries and persecuted for his beliefs, but he did not compromise.)
So, to conclude: Preserving your Integrity means not allowing your principles to be compromised. To stay true to yourself means sticking to your guns, even when you know you’re possibly going to be unpopular for your beliefs.
In my opinion, and to some extent Plato’s, this process is crucial to living a ‘good life’; a life that you are satisfied living is one in which you have not compromised your values, your principles or your integrity.