Can we afford our own integrity?

Integrity is a tough subject. Often confused with morals, ethics or some sort of joint agreement on what’s right and wrong.

What is it?

The collective web wisdom on this is it’s linked to those concepts. But it’s a very personal thing. An individual has integrity if their actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles. So the only testbed of our own integrity is our own conscience. Is our conscience healthy?

It’s a bit like saying “Am I doing the right thing by me?” We define the right thing ourselves rather than let society, the law or some general consensus tell us what the right thing is.

My friend Sophie and I were discussing this on Richmond Green. It came from something scribbled down in the middle of the night… “Every little lie I tell, every little thing I do wrong, hurts me”.

Which means if we go against what we know is the right thing, we pay. In our conscience.

Not necessarily big things, although obviously they’re included. Neither just things said or done to other people. Often things one says or does to oneself (or critically, doesn’t do) betray one’s integrity.

Things like not clearing that pile of admin. Like taking an afternoon off when there’s stuff to do. Or missing out on exercise. An extra donut. Or bag of crisps.

With other people, it might often be not contacting someone who we think we should contact. Or when ‘working at home’ not putting in the full hours (so many people will admit to doing that, though it doesn’t make it right, hey?)

These things all weigh on the conscience, and we can try to rationalize our way out of them of course. But they have a habit of staying there. Niggling in the background.

Courage. Some of the biggest breaches in integrity can come under the heading of not being courageous enough. Not following through on what we want. When we allow something to escape. Even pushing someone away. Or not taking an opportunity that was there. They’re the stingers.

In general life living, is integrity something we can always afford? For example: you’re a single parent, two children, you work in sales, selling high interest payday loans to people with no money who can’t afford the repayments.

Computer says yes to a loan for someone, but you know the computer’s an integrity-free machine and the people you’re selling to are even money to go deeper in debt or go bankrupt. You think what you’re selling is rubbish, but you need the work and there are no other jobs around. You’d love to be in advertising.

But you’re not. Do you quit your job for something lower-paid and sacrifice your children’s school meals and extra-mural activities in order to keep your career integrity? Or is it a question of competing aspects of integrity… wanting to do the best for your kids on one hand and doing the right thing by other people on the other. That could be unsolveable.

One of my friends recently criticised me for using Amazon. “They don’t pay their taxes in the UK, mate. I don’t use them, you shouldn’t.” Well, yes… that’s fine if you can afford not to, but Amazon are cheaper than other sources and we haven’t all got money to throw around. Same goes for the awkward subject of buying clothes made in non-ideal working conditions. Do we always ask what the sources are? Do we care? If we don’t think the working conditions at source is any of our concern, and our conscience isn’t pricked, it’s not a matter of integrity.

Integrity applies in a work environment too. For example in HR: one of the first questions that usually comes up from a manager when wanting to get rid of an employee they just don’t get along with is “Have a look through their records, timesheets, see if there’s anything we can get rid of them on, rather than having to pay them off a full notice period.” What do the people involved think of that? Does it challenge their integrity… or are they ok with it? (Either way, any HR professional who tells you it doesn’t happen should see the previous post.)

But all the above link to awareness, acceptance, acknowledgement. The foundations of change.

Posted by Jack