Integrity in a role model is hard to find these days. It seems that not a day goes by where we find a politician is found to be corrupted, a teacher is having an inappropriate relationship with a student, a union official is taking kickbacks, and the list goes on and on.
These are all very extreme examples and no one would suggest that a role model needs to be perfect. Far from it, if we do not make mistakes we cannot grow and learn from them. I can tell you that I learned more from my mistakes when I was in a position of leadership. I tried to be a good role model, but often found myself falling short. I decided to discover what integrity really is.
That is when it hit me. Integrity, in my opinion, is not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Jean Valjean has an alias, Monsieur Madeleine, and he’s mayor of a small town called Montreuil. He encounters Javert, a ruthless prison warden from his past now a police chief who confronts Valjean about his identity as an escaped prisoner. Javert is ruthless in his pursuit of Valjean who had only stolen bread for his sister and nephew and then tried to escape.
Javert is an idealist who is relentless in his pursuit of justice. In him, there is only black and white. In fact, he refuses to call prisoners by their names, calling them by their numbers. There is no mercy, only justice.
Javert pursues Valjean endlessly, but at one point, he comes to believe Valjean’s alias and throws himself at Valjean’s feet. He tells Valjean to show him no mercy, to punish him because he deserves it. Valjean forgives him and shows him mercy, though none is offered.
I found myself in the minority when I was discussing the 2012 film adaption with some friends. While they spoke of the performances of the actors, the music, and so on, I told them that part of me admired Javert, the ruthless antagonist. Though I was briefly ridiculed, I explained to them that I admired Javert because, though no mercy was offered, none was expected. He expected to be judged in the way he dealt judgement. To me, that is integrity.
This might seem like another extreme example, but it is no less significant. Be the leader or role model you say you are and though you make mistakes, you admit it and learn from it. That way, when you teach your students, employees, or congregants, they know that they can trust you and what you say because, as imperfect as you may be, you are integrious.