Integrity is the virtue trait for the month of October. Vital to society and business, integrity prevents corruption. A person of integrity is not just a trustworthy friend, but a valuable employee and leader. Words, deeds and actions show whether someone is genuinely an individual of integrity.

What is Integrity?

Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character, honesty.

Where does the word come from?

Word etymology: Integrity comes from the Latin integritatem, which means “soundness, wholeness, completeness,” or figuratively “purity, correctness, blamelessness,” and from the Latin integer, which means “whole.” It is derived from the Old French integrité, which means “innocence, blamelessness; chastity, purity.” The mid-15th century meaning is a sense of “wholeness, perfect condition.”

Integrity in Action: Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986)

Do you obey superiors or do you risk your livelihood and your family’s life by going against their orders to potentially save the lives of 10,000-40,000 strangers? In 1940, Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara was serving as the vice-consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania when he was faced with a flood of Jewish refugees fleeing Poland and looking for an escape from Europe. However, travel visas were limited.

Sugihara’s main role in Soviet occupied Lithuania was to watch German and Soviet troop movements. As the German army threatened to invade Lithuania, the Jewish refugees surrounded the Japanese consulate and asked for visas to escape. Three times, Sugihara contacted  his government asking permission to issue visas to the Jewish refugees. After repeated denials, he chose to disobey orders and began issuing visas.

As word spread that the Japanese council was granting visas, the crowd outside continued to grow every day. Meanwhile, the German army was rapidly approaching and the Soviet Union instructed all people working in foreign embassies to leave. Sugihara decided he still had more work to do and requested a 20-day extension. From July 31 to August 28,

Visa issued by Sugihara

Sugihara wrote more than 300 visas in complex Japanese longhand a day. When he was finally forced to leave, Sugihara was still writing visas as he traveled to the train station and handing them out the window as the train departed.

Before the Soviet Union liberated Lithuania in 1944, close to 95 percent of the country’s Jewish population had been killed. It is estimated that today, there are more than 40,000 living descendants of those given visas by Chiune Sugihara.

Between his actions in 1940 and his recognition by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations in 1985, Sugihara led a life of obscurity. He had spent eighteen months imprisoned by the Soviets and was dismissed from diplomatic services when he returned to Japan in 1947. To support his family, he sold light bulbs door-to-door, worked as a translator, and took a job in Moscow working for a trading company.

In 1968, he was located by Joshua Nishri, the economic attache to the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo and of the people Sugihara had helped escape Lithuania. In all that time, Sugihara had not known if the visas he had issued had saved anyone’s life.  When he died in 1986, despite receiving international recognition, he was still virtually unknown in his native country of Japan.

Quotes From Chiune Sugihara

Do what is right because it is right; and leave it alone. 

I may have disobeyed my government, but if I didn’t I would be disobeying God.”

“I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives.”

“I took it upon myself to save (the refugees). If I was to be punished for this, there was nothing I could do about it. It was my personal conviction to do it as a human being.”

Discussion Questions

  • Chiune’s decision to issue the visas could have led to the persecution of his family. However, he held certain moral and ethical principles that he would not compromise. What are some moral and ethical principles that you will not compromise?
  • Integrity is often described as wholeness. Does this mean that a person of integrity also possesses the other core character virtues? Which virtues are necessary for integrity? Which virtues are a result of integrity?
  • How does integrity require courage? How does it require humility?
  • How are people of integrity good for society? How do dishonest people and businesses hurt a society? What kinds of crimes result from a lack of integrity?
  • How can you practice integrity? When is it hard to be a person of integrity?
  • Who are people you know who have demonstrated integrity? Do you respect them?
  • How will having a reputation for integrity help you in your career and personal life?

Resources

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