Are We Losing Our Personal Integrity?
The Changing Concept of Personal Integrity
It seems that the very concept of personal integrity is changing in our modern world, and not for the better. Our leaders do not seem to understand the very idea of personal integrity, truth or honesty. Our role models lead lives that often have little connection to ethical standards espoused by the rest of us, breaking rules and laws for fun or profit as they see fit. Theft is off the charts to the point that most cases are never even investigated by police; personal integrity does seem to include the thought of not taking what is not yours.
Personal integrity is a simple concept, though there are many facets to the phenomena. As our integrity is breaking down all around us, it might behoove us to try to understand it a little better. Lets look at just a few cases and try to understand what is happening and why.
Butch Cassidy, Bank Robber
A lie about to happen
A Lying Epidemic?
Telling the truth is an integral part of personal integrity, but it would seem that lying has become as common as the air we exhale today. The joke of "How do you tell when a politician is lying? - when their lips are open" has too much truth in it to be a joke. The leaders of our country tell us anything they feel will get our votes regardless of how tenuous a connection it has to reality. The recent outburst during President Obama's speech proclaiming him to be a liar was certainly out of place, but it is far past time to call our leaders on their lying. Believing in the integrity or honesty of a politician is impossible when every word from their mouth must be thoroughly investigated to be sure there is even a grain of truth in it. This seems to have always been a problem, but also seems to be getting worse as the years pass.
Business advertisements are, at their root, a lie. They are intended solely to convince a possible customer that a particular product is necessary for that customer and, like the politician, an ad will say and show anything necessary to promote that purchase. What seems to have changed is that instead of calling it a lie we now call it a clever marketing strategy as if a fancy name will somehow change the lie itself to something else but it doesn't - it is still a loss of honesty. Truth in advertising laws are a joke - information necessary for an informed decision is hidden in small print for a reason, and that reason is deceit. To present part of the truth is not truth at all, and does not promote any of the personal integrity lacking in the ad designer.
Nor is the art of lying left out of our daily lives - our own integrity seems to now include the idea that it is OK to lie. We not only make the little "white lies" ("Honey, does this make my butt look big?") on a daily basis, we continue to add to the idea of just what constitutes a white lie. We demand that other people tell us these same lies as we don't want the truth, just a compliment. We lie to our spouses about what we spend and who we are with to "prevent a fight" or some other trumped up reason. Do we really need to lie to our own family members to keep the peace? Just what kind of honesty are we showing when we act wrongly then lie about it to prevent controversy?
Small children lie all the time, but we're supposed to grow out of that with the growth of our own personal integrity. It just seems that growing out of it doesn't happen anymore - we just continue to lie and accept more and more that because others lie we can too. It really does impact strongly on that concept of integrity though, destroying it from our own intentional actions.
Open Doors Are a No-No
Theft Comes in Many Forms
Most of us with any personal integrity at all would never steal; it is an affront to the very idea of our own ethics. Yet theft has become rampant in our society and takes all kinds of forms.
Shoplifting is often considered to be OK - the big company or an insurance company will pay for it. We frequently hear of our role models, in the form of movie stars or other people with absolutely no need to shoplift, being caught shoplifting. The excuse is a "compulsion" to steal; nonsense! The theft is performed for the simple thrill of it, and is rooted in a very lack of personal integrity, yet these are the same people we look up to and, in too many cases, emulate.
As a child, we never locked our doors at home and the only problem we ever had was a neighborhood 4 year old that wandered in once and consumed a bottle of vitamin B-12. Can you imagine leaving your home unlocked today? Not a chance - the lack of personal integrity of far too many of our citizenry will dictate that they simply take what they want from anywhere they can get it. What has happened? Is it because our own theft of a writing pen from the bank or a piece of candy from the bulk foods bin at the grocery store does not go unnoticed by our children? Either one is theft, but our integrity has become so low that we now accept such theft as OK and our children take notice and build on our own thievery.
Theft can also happen in the workplace - it is all too common to arrive late to work and expect to be paid anyway. It is, in no uncertain terms, theft from the employer but we do it anyway. Some people make such a habit of it that they lose an hour or more each week, neither realizing nor caring that their own integrity is compromised each time they do it.
I would hope that none of my readers would rob a bank, but what about these smaller thefts? Is your own personal integrity high enough to stop you? Or do you feel that small thefts are OK (especially, maybe, if inadvertent like the pen at the bank) and just forget about it? I assure you that it is not OK - it can be the beginning of the crumbling of your integrity.
Is Minor Theft OK?
You have made a bank depost and inadvertently walked out with the bank's pen. Will you
Fulfilling the Commitment
I'm a Man of My Word
How many times have we heard or used that phrase? Again, certainly a part of our personal integrity, but are we truly a man (or woman) of our word? Do we always follow through on promises or agreements, or just the ones that are easy, or that we later decide we like?
The mortgage crises in the country is a case in point - thousands upon thousands of people agreed to pay for a house, only to decide later that the terms of their contract weren't "fair" somehow and demanded that interest rates be lowered or payments deferred as they are too high. Others refuse to make any payment at all, while refusing to move out either. We deplore the bank charges for overdrawn accounts as "unreasonable" or "unfair", and do our best to get out of them and complain to the world when we can't. But these are the same fees that we agreed to pay! Where is the personal integrity in refusing to honor a contract we agreed to?
How many times have you been stood up for a date (romantic or otherwise) because the other party changed their mind and didn't want to meet? Their word wasn't worth much, and yours won't be, either, if you decide to ignore such meetings. How many times have you used the words "I'll call you" with no intention whatsoever of making such a call? Real integrity, there! Or is it just another "white lie" to avoid an unpleasant conversation?
One of our largest failures here is the failure to fulfill our marriage commitments. Most marriage ceremonies include some kind of commitment prohibiting infidelity, but most people seem to conveniently forget that commitment whenever the urge to stray hits them. Somehow their personal integrity permits them to ignore commitments they no longer like for......I guess I don't know for what. Whatever it is, though, it isn't worth the loss of their integrity.
If you are to make commitments your integrity requires that you fulfill those commitments, whether they be to a child to play with them or a written formal contract or anything in between. To even fail to fulfill the commitment on time simply because you couldn't be bothered to make sure you were on time impacts your integrity and again can be the beginnings of failure.
Our integrity is tied inextricably to our ethical and moral structure, but it does not define that structure. Instead it is our commitment to our ethics and morals, whether self defined or defined by religion, society or politics, that is the driving force behind our integrity. Ethics and morals differ between individuals, but if we ignore our own ethics in favor of personal gain in some manner we have not only lost our morality to some degree but we have lost our commitment to that morality; we have lost our integrity. Without integrity we have no need of morals or ethics; we won't follow the guidelines of that morality anyway, and that is what we stand to lose by letting our integrity fail. We know that stealing is wrong, but our commitment to that particular ethical stance, our integrity, fails us when the theft is small. Likewise, "white lies" are accepted morally, especially if for the good of someone else, but continual usage has expanded that to the point that anything we want to lie about is also accepted as necessary, or for someone else's good. We have lost our personal integrity there almost totally. Let's not lose the rest of it as well.
© 2010 Dan Harmon