‘Integrity – A Complete Life’

An excerpt

By Bob Docter

Life: what’s it all about?

That question asks about the meaning of life. Only a few of us inquire. Many of us, maybe most of us, slip through life and simply take it as it comes: some good, some bad, whatever comes along, I’ll cope, they say, as long as I’m able. In order to exist, I’ll try not to make waves and just get along.

But this seems unfocused, irresponsible, incomplete, powerless, and indicates self-abandonment to the will of others. Life’s a lot more than simply coping. It’s all about integrity—being complete in every dimension of life.

This book explores five interrelated dimensions of human existence, which function and merge together as the prefrontal cortex expands its management role. Each needs to be recognized, developed and balanced during the process of living as they rarely function independently.

1.   Cognition, the mind: thought, belief, planning, developing age-related identity, conceptualization of self, self-judgment and various labels used to provide meaning. Different sections of the brain perform different roles under the management of the prefrontal cortex. It initiates our responses to our environment.

2.   Emotions, feelings: plus hundreds of words that describe various responses to emotional triggers from external experiences and internal cognitive interaction. Differences within these lists describe subtleties of affect as individually interpreted.

3.   Social, relationships: otherness, building and supporting community, obedience to law, generosity, morality, character, identity.

4.   Spiritual: hope, spiritual development, morality, faith, justice, love, aspects of neurotic guilt, peace, actualizing potential, ethics, achieving meaning in life through development of a personal belief system.

5.   Physical: health, exercise and conditioning, quality medical treatment, nutrition, regular check-ups, disciplined choices, avoiding danger, active doing.

Integrity is the goal—an “adherence to sound moral principles and character,” as Webster defined it. He amplified: “the state of being whole, entire, undiminished, and an unimpaired perfect condition.” Without moral principles one is not whole.

C.S. Lewis, in “The Abolition of Man,” titled the first chapter, “Men Without Chests.” He wrote: “The head (reason) rules the belly (emotions) through the chest (sound moral action). We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding to be fruitful.”

He perceives that the absence of integrity (incompleteness) damages decision makers and believes that while the brain—in conjunction with our feelings—activates decisions, values reside in our hearts. A lack of personal awareness of one’s values results either in dumb luck or disaster. Most of us have a difficult time identifying our personal values.

We are told to always be good, but rarely taught how. We have a hard time figuring out what it means to do the right thing and often conclude that circumstances, rather than basic criteria for a choice, should determine right action. We have little understanding of the meaning of such words as virtue or justice. We move through life like a ship in a heavy fog among a group of icebergs. Sometimes we collide and tear the belly of the ship, which then loses its integrity and sinks. We are very human.

So, where does the word virtue fit? We have serious problems in having an accurate definition of the term. Webster defined virtue as “conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles.” I think we “acquire” it as humankind’s pre-disposition toward the “good” battles the human condition of the “bad” (immorality). We discover virtue if we choose to engage behavior according to high cultural standards of morality.

Cognitively, humans learn from the modeling of others. We internalize what we see and use it. It comes through interpersonal association with the family of origin playing the most important role. We develop language as people talk to us and repeat the words with us. We develop the meanings of words through specific interest and repetition, and learn how to converse in talking with others.

Social learning instructs the will relative to the behavior we engage with either guilt or pride. We build a framework of continua for right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust according to the culture of those whom we make our models.

Emotional responses trigger affective (feeling) states within us accompanied by physiological arousal (increased heartbeat) and visible behavior (smile or glare). Some of us, when confronted with certain situations in which we feel enormously threatened, respond with an ancient behavior and engage a “fight or flight” pattern led by the “old” brain buried under the cerebral cortex.

We know that spirituality (faith) evolves. Psychological literature is interested in exploring the developmental aspects of human growth pertaining to moral and spiritual values, to faith development, and moral development. Paul Tillich, a spiritual leader and psychologist, saw this evolution not only as a religious concern, but also as a “universal concern” that we can relate to the family, the country, money, even to oneself.

My family of origin brought strength and confidence to my life. The four of us, two parents and two twin sons, not only loved each other, but, also, liked each other. We got along imperfectly, grew together, learned from one another and developed our own individuality. No rules ran the family. Implied confident expectations replaced them.

About four years prior to the birth of my brother and me, our parents suffered a severe and painful tragedy with the accidental death of their first son, Wilfrid Barnard Docter, at 18 months of age. They called him Billy. He and my mother were outside in the backyard when he came upon a small pan of cleaning fluid that a neighbor left unattended. As she carried a basket of clean clothes gathered from the yard, Billy saw the pan, unknowingly filled with poisonous fumes. He looked down at the clear liquid, getting close enough to see his face in the reflecting liquid, and either took a deep breath or actually swallowed a mouthful. He collapsed and immediately went into cardiac arrest, unable to breathe. It predated artificial respiration and 911.

My mother called my father, who was at work as a Salvation Army officer in Pasadena, Calif., as she tried to revive Billy. She suffered the crisis alone until my father arrived. Emergency hospitals were closed. Nothing could be done. The pain never left as my mother blamed herself and carried the trauma with her for the remainder of her life.

As a parent myself, having raised six children with my wonderful wife Diane, I have always wondered how they survived together, how the marriage survived, how their faith survived. This kind of situation often bends relationships to a breaking. My parents must have felt a need and a deep love for each other—and they must have had great faith.

Three years after Billy’s death, my mother was pregnant. My dad predicted that God would provide twins, and he even chose the names. He had great faith, and he was right. Twins.

We grew up as the Roaring Twenties became a stifled gasp and the Great Depression emerged. Yet, my brother and I felt no hardship. We moved together through several elementary schools, two junior highs, two high schools, and attended a community college together. Both of us finished our education with doctoral degrees; mine was interrupted by the draft during the Korean War while Dick finished as a psychologist at Stanford. Both of us were married in the early 1950s, and the four of us have a longstanding tradition of going out to dinner each Friday night.

My family is the origin of who I am and of my experience with the five dimensions of human existence. My brother, especially, to whom I dedicate this book, has played a significant role in my life. Our personalities differ, but our values have much in common.

In my experience, two essential concepts bind these five dimensions of human existence together. First, balance presupposes guidelines to avoid an overemphasis at any one time of a single factor. Even though the separate factors merge together within the human organism, they distribute themselves unequally depending on need, and balance keeps us from falling flat.

Second, character brings the rich fruit of love, kindness, patience, and gentleness to relationships. It interpersonally guides the merging of the factors, so that we do live with integrity. So that we live a complete life.

“Integrity – A Complete Life” is now available from

Sharing is caring!