Integrity

Virtudes, de Rafael, na Stanza della Segnatura...

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Integrity. Dictionary.com says: “Adherence to moral and ethical principals; soundness of moral character; honesty”.

Of all the virtues present in the ADF 9 virtues, this one is perhaps most out of tune with modern society.  Part of the reason for that is because here in the US at least, we’re no longer a cohesive culture. How do you measure someone else’s integrity if there’s no standard moral and ethical principles that are held by society at large? The other reason is because the first and most important commandment in modern society is “Do what thou wilt, as long as thou shalt not get caught”.

The first of these issues with integrity is the easiest to solve. The second definition of integrity, “a sound, unimpaired condition” (referencing ship’s hulls) can be easily ported into the first. Is a person’s personal integrity sound and consistent within themselves? Does that person have a personal code of ethics, either developed individually or from a group, that is both followed and internally consistent? We don’t all have to have exactly the same code of ethics as long as it’s clear what our ethics are and we are practicing them with integrity, honestly and openly.

The second problem is one of hypocrisy. That’s harder to deal with because of the lies and hiding that it entails. In our media-driven society, if you do get caught out, likely it will be public knowledge at electron-speed, even if it’s only to your Facebook and Twitter communities. If you’re a politician or a media star, multiply that by “worldwide coverage” to get the final result.

Usually the result of getting caught is that the politician or media star confesses all and admits to having done something “inappropriate” (rarely just plain wrong, almost always “inappropriate”). This is of course straight from Evangelical Christianity. Confess your sins and all is forgiven in the eyes of God. Whatever, but these public confessions are not any by-product of integrity, even if they do come straight from a religious urge to be forgiven. Perhaps by Judeo-Christian rules, one can never atone for one’s sins, but by human rules, you certainly can. And your sense of integrity may be God-inspired, but it’s acted out in the realm of humans. Integrity is a question of how we behave with others.

Integrity is by its very nature a social question. We don’t act with integrity towards the Gods; that’s piety. We act with integrity not for ourselves nor for our Gods but for our fellow beings and our community. Sometimes it would be easier and better for us if we didn’t. Maybe we need that wallet full of cash that we found in the street. Maybe we can’t afford a ding on our insurance for that fender scrape in the parking lot.  If we want to build a better world as well as be the best people we can be, then we do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. And that at its heart is true integrity.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kévin Silverstag
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 11:11:22

    Good essay… certainly makes me think, especially the bit about partisan/sectarian splits in ethical norms. I’ll have to dwell some more on that when I get around to my Integrity essay.

    Good work!

    Reply

  2. Teo Bishop
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 13:00:30

    Thanks for linking to my article! I’m glad it resonated with you.

    You bring up a really interesting point – mainly, is there a way to agree upon a standard of integrity. How, in a culture as diverse as ours, do you reach that common ground? Do you have an idea of how we might move towards a shared cultural sense of ethics? Can you invision that?

    Reply

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