The Meaning of Integrity: A Lifestyle Choices Series
There has been quite an uproar of late concerning the blatant theft of online articles by a company in India. Deplorable acts for sure, acts that I simply cannot comprehend. How does one justify that sort of action? What must they be thinking? How do they live with themselves?
All valid questions and those questions turned my thoughts to the subject of integrity. What is integrity? Well my good friend Webster defines integrity as: a steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. So far so good! Surely those who would plagiarize are not adhering to a strict moral or ethical code for there can be no doubt that plagiarism is theft and what moral code would include theft?
My mind then shifted to the number of times I have heard someone say that they know a person who is a man or woman of integrity. Using the definition from Webster I have to question just how many people are there who are truly people of integrity? Let’s take a little deeper look at this concept.
MORAL AND ETHICAL CODES VARY FROM PERSON TO PERSON, DON’T THEY?
What is good for the goose may not be good for the gander, or so my grandmother believed. What she meant when she uttered those words is that not all people have the same moral code and I believe that to be true. There are places in this world where young girls of thirteen are still sold into marriage arrangements and it is a perfectly acceptable part of that culture. Are the parents who are selling their daughters people of integrity? If they are living in a culture where that type of action is accepted does that make it an action of integrity? We are in a pretty gray area when we talk about a strict moral code because that requires a definition of a specific moral code and that is a subjective issue.
My concept of a strict moral code differs considerably with many who live in Iran as it does with many who live in China, Cuba, Kenya or Borneo simply because what is moral or ethical in one culture may not be in another. That begs the question of why? Why is the concept of morality different depending on the culture? What is morality?
THE ISSUE OF MORALITY
Again I turn to the dictionary and there I find an interesting definition of morality: a complex of principles based on cultural, religious, and philosophical concepts and beliefs, by which an individual determines whether his or her actions are right or wrong.
Well now we have a rather sticky wicket don’t we, for if morality does indeed depend on the cultural, philosophical and religious beliefs then by extension morality changes depending on where you live. Can it be that some actions like murder, rape and theft are acceptable and thereby moral in some cultures and thus those who would do those actions are still people of integrity? I would never marry my sister or first cousin and yet I have no doubt it happens in some rural areas of the United States. Are those who would marry blood kin people of integrity? Am I standing on higher moral ground simply because I do not believe in that practice? Is it possible that to steal the writings of another person is morally acceptable? We obviously have a problem of definition and if we have such a problem then how are we expected to all get along with each other? How can I expect someone else to live by a moral standard that I have set? Is there no common ground on which we can agree so as to establish a morality we can all live by?
MY GUIDING LIGHT WITH REGARDS TO MORALITY AND THUS INTEGRITY
I live by a pretty simple code: treat others as I would like to be treated. There is no wiggle room in this code of mine, no gray area where debate can be fostered. If I am treating others in a manner that I would consider unacceptable if it were done to me then I am not a man of integrity. I cannot under any circumstances justify stealing from another human being. I cannot under any circumstances justify cheating in marriage. I cannot under any circumstances justify hurting someone’s feelings or demeaning them; to do so lessens them and lessens me and thus makes me less than a man of integrity.
When I am rude to another person I am acting against my code of morals. When I get even with someone for an injustice they did to me I am acting against my code of morals. When I cheat on my taxes or shoplift a candy bar or lie about the condition of the car I am selling then I am acting against my code of morals.
But what of others who would do what I consider to be immoral acts against me simply because they consider those acts to be acceptable? Maybe in India there are some people who feel it is alright to steal the literary work of another. Maybe these were acts of people of integrity and I simply do not understand their culture. Well I say bullshi_ to that! If we use my simple code as a basis by which to judge all actions then it is impossible to conclude that it is alright to steal the writings of another for no one would want that done to them. If we use my code when considering paying for a child prostitute then there is no culture in the world where that would be acceptable because no one would want their own child sold for sex. Again, I see no wiggle room in this. I have struggled for years over the issue of slavery that has littered the history of the United States. My historical mind understands to a certain degree that when slavery was at its peak in this country that slaves were looked upon as labor implements and nothing more, simply tools to use in doing a job. However, my rational and moral mind reasons that standing before that slave owner were human beings, breathing, breeding, functional human beings and as such should never have been owned or treated with indignity. So, because it was an acceptable practice at the time were the slave owners men and women of integrity?
MAYBE THERE ARE DEGREES OF INTEGRITY?
Now we are approaching some serious moral quicksand. If a man or woman has dedicated their lives to the betterment of humanity and yet choose to have affairs outside of their marriage are they people of integrity? On the one hand their public actions are helping millions of people; on the other hand they are breaking their marriage vows. Where does integrity begin and end in that scenario? As a teacher of eighteen years I have helped hundreds of children over the years and made a difference in their lives. If I were to cheat on my taxes year in and year out am I still a man of integrity? If any of you out there have dedicated your adult years to caring for your crippled parent and yet you steal groceries on a regular basis are you a person of integrity?
IS THERE REALLY AN ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION?
If there were an integrity scale with 0 being the lowest scum of the earth and 10 being a candidate for sainthood I’m guessing most of us would be somewhere in-between those two extremes. I would love to think that most would score 5 or above but I’m just cynical enough to doubt that possibility. We are, after all, just human beings and as such we are imperfect to the extreme and rarely predictable. My own personal belief is that most of us have a degree of integrity; how much of a degree is up to each individual because it all comes down to choice.
I have told you my basic moral code. Yes, it is based on the culture I live in and philosophies and religious beliefs that I have been subjected to, but more than that it is based on a fundamental belief that all men are created equal and as such should be treated as equals and any action of mine that upsets that equality is an immoral action and thus diminishes my integrity. I have heard it said that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and although that pre-supposes a life force in each of us that will continue after our earthly journey it is still a fairly good description of why we struggle with regards to integrity. I believe that each of us has an unlimited capacity for good when we are born but that capacity is severely limited as we go on to live our lives. In the end, when the tally has been made, our level of integrity will be determined by the number of times we chose to set limits on our own good nature.
2012 Bill Holland (aka billybuc)
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