A favorite read of mine, by attorney and later fiction writer Stephen L Carter, is Integrity. Originally published in 1996 it is one of those books I continue to purchase copies of to have on hand, knowing I will again meet a person with whom I want to share his words and ideas.
He talks about integrity not only by the dictionary definition of doing what you say you will do, but begins with the very basic concept of knowing and honoring right from wrong. In his words: All too many of us fall down on Step 1: we do not take the time to discern right from wrong.
Carter doesn’t assume that we do not know right from wrong, but that we simply ignore this wisdom and knowledge. It seems so simple, we teach it to the youngest of children – it is wrong to tell other than the truth; it is right to keep your word; it is right to honor and respect others; it is wrong to provide advantage for yourself at the expense of someone else.
Today again, I am reminded that integrity is all too often not a guiding value in our workplaces. A commitment, broken, is simply dismissed without even an explanation of why it cannot be kept. Taking an unfair advantage, at the expense of another, is simply smart business – getting ahead in the workplace. What really constitutes a lie within the boundaries of the organization – surely not that omission to a co-worker or my boss?
Carter would call us to take the time to discern right from wrong in every decision we make, especially as leaders. And then to follow the path of what is right, no matter the cost to us personally. I agree, as the path of living a life knowingly making decisions that violate my own integrity could hardly be more wrong. There needn’t be heavenly rewards, it should be enough to know I have lived my life with the best intentions, in touch at all times with the best of my own integrity, to chose right.