The core of the Chinese word for ‘integrity’ or ‘humility’ is uniting, in the sense not of merging into one, but of holding two things closely together. To make ‘integrity’, the element for ‘words’ is added to ‘uniting’. Some historical scholars of the Yi have concluded that the original character was meant to refer to the Korean grey hamster, whose name is literally ‘uniting rodent’. Others dismiss this as an absurdity, one that only diminishes the meaning of the hexagram.
I used to be one of the latter, until I started learning to experience images personally, trying to project myself into a world full of omens. The Korean hamster is a huge, rat-like beast, some two feet high. It lives on the borders of human settlements, and emerges from its deep, complex burrows to take the food it needs from cultivated land – or to eat other rodents. It is not particularly timid: if you met one, it might confront you on its hind legs, in a startlingly human stance. So what could such a meeting mean, and what is the connection with integrity?
I think that meeting the uniting rodent would be like meeting a part of yourself – a reminder of the essential simplicity of your existence, stripped of its pretence or self-consciousness. Its message could be a call to unity with yourself – including the parts usually hidden away in the dark, being not quite civilised enough. Along with its pair, Hexagram 16, this describes an experience of adolescence: encountering your whole self, and being impelled by surging energy to find new ways to express it.
As ‘uniting words’, the hexagram means not merely modesty, but integrity: words, spoken or thought, that hold together closely with the truth. In relationships, this can mean being the mirror to another person that allows them to be themselves. As personal advice, I’ve found that it is very often a call to realism – to be humble, and not ‘over full’ of myself. I’ve lost count of the number of readings where I ran to the I Ching for advice on some vitally important role I was playing, only to be informed patiently that no, in fact it did not all depend on me.
This ‘know thyself’ hexagram can also mean realism about your own capacities, as well as your own importance in the greater scheme of things. I last received it when I had the bright idea of turning an unpublished book of mine on preventing female baldness (!) into an ebook to sell online. Hexagram 15 brought me back to considerations of the number of hours in the day, and what it was most important to fill them with…
The Judgement says that ‘the noble one brings it to completion’, which I suspect means that not everyone manages this. Certainly, receiving this hexagram is not a guarantee of success: if you are not already being realistic, it might simply indicate that you will have realism forced upon you!
But what this hexagram does not represent is false modesty and self-abnegation: it is undeniably about a positive, decisive skill. The trigrams show an inner mountain, a firm, steady self, that is willing to serve others and support their growth through the outer trigram, earth. According to the Image, the noble one is involved in ‘reducing the many to increase the few, weighing things up to even out their distribution’. I imagine that this means not only creating a level field by sharing things out, but also building up the mountain of personal strength in the first place – a constant, cyclic process that creates equilibrium over time. After all, Integrity has its roots in Great Possession (Hexagram 14), which ‘does not allow arrogance’.
The Great Treatise calls this hexagram ‘the handle of de’: meeting yourself with unflinching honesty is what enables you to grasp and use your unique character and strength. This is perhaps explained by the Commentary on the Judgement, which describes how humility brings good fortune as well as popularity: someone with the inner space to accommodate the truth will naturally be more effective than one who is ‘over-full’ of her own dramas.