Why Integrity Matters

Last week I commented upon the importance of having a clear ethical framework from which to operate, which is essential not only from a professional standpoint but also for one’s personal conduct. In this technology obsessed age in which information can be disseminated widely in a matter of seconds, minutes or hours (forget days, weeks or years!), one’s conduct can be backtracked and analyzed rather easily by savvy parties, and “old school” differentiations and firewalls between “personal” and “business” behavior are rapidly eroding.

There have been numerous examples reported in the media about people that have damaged their credibility and hiring prospects through comments, photos or other material posted on social networks or mass communication services like Twitter. Once information is “out there,” controlling it becomes increasingly challenging, especially if it is lurid, controversial, or generally considered “inappropriate,” which naturally tends to increase its likelihood of becoming the next big Internet viral sensation!

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “integrity” as follows:

  1. : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values
  2. : an unimpaired condition
  3. : the quality or state of being complete or undivided

Let’s briefly examine these definitions from the Zentropist point of view to reinforce the notion that integrity is one part of the necessary equation to live the ideals that we have previously worked to define as the Seven Primary Attributes of the Zentropist.

“Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” At its heart, the ideas which I have advanced as crucial to cultivating a Zentropist outlook in one’s personal and professional life (which quite frankly, are usually intertwined despite efforts by some to deny this) are all drawn from “universal truths” encountered in existing philosophical traditions. It is my belief that many of the problems that we face today are largely due to a lack of ethics, or the application of “moral relativism” or “situational ethics” to provide justification for self-serving or inappropriate behaviors which we pursue more often than not for short-term gain. You see, having a code of ethics is far different than actually living and abiding by these rules, and we often see the hypocrisy of those that claim to embrace such thinking in theory, but in practice continuously act in a manner which gives lie to their alleged commitment.

Having integrity means that sometimes we must set aside personal gain or convenience so that our actions reflect our purported values. There’s little point in proclaiming one set of values when one’s behavior suggests these values are not truly held. In business, this is commonly observed by the lip service that many firms and individuals will give to “transparency” or “best efforts” or other supposed competitive differentiators often found in their marketing collateral and reiterated during the sales cycle, yet when the rubber meets the road, these individuals and institutions do not act in a manner consistent with the client’s best interests, but place profits first. I’ve never quite understood why some believe that operating with integrity and living one’s values and honoring commitments in both the letter and spirit in which they are made must in due course be sacrificed on the altar of profitability. Is there some unwritten law which states that you cannot be profitable, perhaps even highly so, while still engaging in “right behavior?”

The second definition of integrity as, “An unimpaired condition” is quite revealing. As I see it, those that lack integrity actually display “impairment” in the moral sense, and perhaps even the psychological one. I have previously heard “character” defined as the, “Way in which someone behaves when they think no one else is watching” and that’s arguably a pretty compelling illustration of integrity as well. If acting with integrity carries the connotation of being “true to form,” we must accept the notion that those with integrity will reflect the values and ideals which they publicly or privately ascribe to regardless of the size or composition of the audience which may be watching. For example, some people seem to feel the need to “cheat the system” or “bend the rules” whenever they feel they can get away with it, sometimes for reasons which seem almost pathological rather than carefully considered. Now we might accept that ultimately, they are only “cheating themselves” by betraying their supposed values, but such behavior does have very real repercussions on others. These days it seems that a number of firms and individuals in the financial sector (the current whipping boy of choice for the media, although we can find examples in every conceivable sector) are routinely exhibiting an appalling lack of integrity, either due to a complete absence of values or an unwillingness to actually behave accordingly.

The third and final definition, stating that integrity is, “The quality or state of being complete or undivided” carries interesting connotations of both structure and purpose. From the Zentropist point of view, we cannot be complete or reach our full potential without integrity, for the lack of this essential ingredient renders all of our other achievements or qualities quite moot in application. If we consistently state that we believe in a certain value or set of values, yet we fail to “practice what we preach,” then the lesson is not learned and we are doing a disservice to ourselves and those whose lives we touch.

Marketing messages, mission/value statements and sales pitches are meaningless if we don’t back up our words with deeds. As the creative writing adage has it, “Action reveals character.”

It’s not enough to say that you believe in noble goals, or truths or behavior. You must set the example and light the path for others that will walk beside you or follow. This “echoes through time” far more than the material things which we may accumulate in pursuit of the Tao of the Zentropist.

Seek “completion.”

You just may find that temporal and spiritual enlightenment follows…

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