What Is Integrity?

On March 5, 1770, nine British soldiers opened fire on the citizens of Boston, killing five of them, in the incident that would come to be known as the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were arrested and charged with murder. Tensions between the American colonists and the British were so high that no lawyer came forward to defend the accused soldiers—until, that is, John Adams.

Moved by his conviction that everyone, regardless of the heinousness of their crime, deserved a fair trial, Adams agreed to defend the British soldiers. Even though it posed a serious risk to his own reputation, Adams acted on principle, and not because it would gain him anything personally. His outward actions were integrated with—they matched—his inward beliefs. In other words, Adams showed integrity.

Integrity is the virtue of doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

At Great Hearts, students have the opportunity to show integrity when they make good choices even when no one is watching. In the bathroom, on the playground, or even when the teacher has gone around a corner in the hallway, students can show integrity by following their conscience and meeting the expectations of a scholar, whether they might be able to “get away with it” or not.

Examples of Integrity from the Great Hearts Curriculum

In the history of Ancient Greece in the Second Grade, students hear the story of Aristides. Aristides has become unpopular in Athens and a vote is being taken on whether he should be banished from the city. On the day the vote was to be taken, Aristides encountered a man who could not write. Not recognizing Aristides, the man asked Aristides to write Aristides’ name down for him. Aristides asked the man what wrong Aristides had done him. The man replied, “None, but I am tired of hearing him called ‘the Just.’” Disappointed by the man’s envy, Aristides nevertheless complied and wrote his own name down so that the man could cast his vote as he intended.

In Third Grade, during their study of Ancient Rome, students learn about Regulus, an important Roman general during the First Punic War. Finding himself defeated and captured, Regulus strikes a deal with Rome’s enemy Carthage: Regulus will be allowed to go to Rome with Carthage’s offer of peace, but only on the condition that Regulus returns to Carthage to deliver Rome’s answer personally. The Carthaginians, of course, assume that Regulus will want to bring good news back to Carthage and will therefore work to convince the Roman Senate to give in to their demands. In fact, Regulus does the exact opposite. The peace terms are bad for Rome, and Regulus successfully convinces the Senate to keep fighting. Nevertheless, Regulus keeps his word and returns to Carthage to deliver the message and accept his fate.

In Fifth Grade History, students learn about Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and a committed Catholic at the time that King Henry VIII determined to break with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Though Thomas More did his best throughout the controversy to find a middle ground that would allow him to remain true to his conscience without offending his king, in the end, Thomas refused to acknowledge Henry’s claims, was convicted of treason, and went to his own execution never having violated the principles he believed in. “I die the King’s good servant,” he said, “and God’s first.”

Core Virtues