Recently, Forbes ran an article on integrity titled “Success will come and go, but integrity is forever” (LINK).
The author starts the article with this set of comments designed to define integrity:
“Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing [emphasis added], no matter what the consequences will be. Building a reputation of integrity takes years, but it takes only a second to lose, so never allow yourself to ever do anything that would damage your integrity.”
What wasn’t defined is “right thing” — as in what is that “right thing” we would do at all times and in all circumstances?
Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines integrity as a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic” (adhering to the “right thing“).
So what happens when my code differs from your code? If I define the “right thing” as doing whatever it takes to elevate my lifestyle as long as “it doesn’t hurt anyone else” then I can take broad liberties along the path to success.
Further, if a person is chronically dishonest because they believe that dishonesty is morally neutral or “it’s ok to lie as long as you don’t hurt someone else” then how can they ever be trusted?
Integrity, if not based in absolutes, but based on relativism, becomes an incoherent concept.
Where can we find common ground absolutes? Many people find these in the Bible, Koran, Torah or other religious or philosophical teachings.
Some examples of people found in the Bible that typify integrity (sticking to the code) might include: Job; Elijah; Noah; Joseph; David; Daniel; Josiah; Paul; Peter, et.al. — the greatest victories and successes attributed to their life stories came when they adhered to God’s code as it was given to them, and their weakest moments of failure came when they chose the easy, popular (listening to the culture around them) or selfish (relativistic) route instead of sticking to the absolutes revealed to them by God. After the departure from doing the “right thing”, they paid the price of lost integrity, but continued to strive through their lives to behave faithfully and predictably.
For scouts, we individually look to our own faith practices, too. Doing our Duty To God is paramount in our Scout Oath. We also have the Scout Law to help us define integrity as a set of behaviors which we adhere to whenever our duties to God and country are not already defining our behavior.
Again, I’d ask, what happens when my code differs from your code?
Tolerance is defined by Merriam Webster Online as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” Under the strictly defined model of tolerance, my code and your code can coexist peacefully even if they’re different. Unfortunately, the rise of social conformity (e.g. behavior in accordance with socially accepted conventions or standards) has driven a wedge in the practice of integrity when the code is in direct conflict with accepted social norms (which change over time based on popular opinion.)
If a scout strictly adheres to his code (including a call to be unbending morally), then he exerts and exemplifies “integrity.” Under true tolerance, society should allow him to pursue that integrity. However, when a society disagrees with his code and pushes for conformity, then he may be attacked for not “bending” his code to conform with their beliefs regardless of how contradictory those belief systems may be (i.e. abandon his “integrity” in order to preserve conformity as opposed to mutual tolerance of conflicting ideals).
Let’s examine one aspect of a moral code — honesty. Truthfulness, as a defined ideal, never changes through time (bending or twisting the truth is the same as lying, right?); however, the way people perceive, define or treat that ideal can change (it is OK to lie vs. it is not OK to lie). I think that’s where we see this article highlight individual’s ease of telling lies to “work the system” conveniently. Examples provided included: lying on one’s resume to get a job; lying about one’s desire to have a family to avoid not getting hired; calling out sick to complete personal errands when you’ve already failed to budget your personal leave time properly and so on. Some people in society would attempt to justify lying by arguing that the system is unfairly biased to begin with or that “everyone else does it; therefore, it’s expected of you to conform to that same practice.” The pressure of conformity to justify inappropriate behavior has been around a long time and even gave us the use of the term “boy scout” as a pejorative to mock people who would be honest instead of “working the system” for easy, personal gain.
As a businessman and as an Eagle Scout, I liked the article because it gets people thinking (we hope) about the choices they make on a day to day basis. It points out how some people lie, cheat and sidestep responsibility when they’re up against the wall or feel that their own needs exceed the value of their commitment to behave “within the absolute rules” (or that they can simply change the rules to suit their personal interests.) In the end, it DOES hurt other people — their feelings, and results at the company measured in incomplete, inaccurate work product, or displeased customers, et.al.
The article included a quote by Warren Buffet, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway:, “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.” This is an apt warning since it’s easy to find people whose personal or professional integrity shifts like blowing sands in a desert, but hard to find people who really stand up to testing by unwavering in doing what’s right even when it hurts.
Remember that quote to start off the article?
“Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching. It takes having the courage to do the right thing, no matter what the consequences will be.“
It’s not easy to live up to that standard of integrity — the potential cost is great.
- For the cheaters, the consequence of adhering to an absolute code of total honesty would mean giving up everything that they’ve gained by unfair means and possibly standing up to be punished for any of their past choices which may have been illegal. They might lose their job for having been dishonest in the past. They’d have to be prepared to live in the light of scrutiny and distrust for the rest of their lives. For people who’ve already abandoned absolutes it must seem easier to keep up the old ways than to change (John 3:19-20)
- For honest people, it may mean watching dishonest people “get away with it” and being tempted to renounce their code for an apparently easier life (Proverbs 10)
- For others whose code is no longer “popular” with the current culture who have redefined what’s OK and not OK to suit their current conditions or thinking processes, it could mean ostracism and it’s consequences (i.e. loss of social status, loss of business contracts or support, personal attacks, etc.)
As scouts and scouters, do we adhere to a code (Scout Oath, Scout Law, personal faith practices, et.al.) and claim the virtue of integrity (at whatever cost), or do we abandon our code to avoid ostracism (take the easy path of self-interest instead of self-sacrifice)? If we bend to accede to peer pressure, have we lost our integrity?