Today is Tuesday, October 8, 2013.
is the fourth in a series of articles about eight universal spiritual
principles for success in any occupation of life. Previously, I wrote
about humility, purity and compassion. Today's spiritual principle is integrity.
Integrity means that there is consistency in what you believe, what you say, and what you do. Your words and actions match your true beliefs, and you act according to your beliefs, whether or not others agree, whether or not others are doing the same thing, and whether or not others see or acknowledge what you did. C.S. Lewis said, "Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching." Oprah Winfrey reiterated the idea this way: "Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not."
In business, especially, integrity means choosing business methods and practices that are based on ethics, values and principles, rather than on what you can gain. It also means adjusting your expectations for outcomes according to your principles. If you are concerned about the environment, for example, then your company will use clean sources of energy, reduce and safely dispose of waste materials, and practice recycling. Your products will be biodegradable and your business practices will leave no footprint, or a very small one, on the physical earth. You would not sell a biodegradable product that is made using a process that involves pumping waste products into the air or water.
Personally, it means putting your principles ahead of immediate gratification or material gain. It means acting in ways that transcend fear of not having enough, fear of not being good enough, fear of being ostracized because you are different from others. It means leading by example. It means actually doing what you tell your kids to do. It means matching your behavior at work or in public with your behavior at home. For example, would you leave rotting garbage out in your front lawn? Probably not. But surprisingly, many people leave rotting garbage at camp sites in national parks. What's the difference, really? At home, you put your garbage in a covered receptacle where it can be picked up. At a park, you should be doing the same thing. If they don't have a receptacle (and they usually do, but you have to ask where), then take the garbage home with you.
Integrity means filtering our choices through some hard questions: Is my action best for my client, my student, my patient, my co-workers, my company – or is it only best for me? Are my actions based on anger or fear? Am I being defensive because I feel hurt, criticized, or threatened? Am I rationalizing?
In business as well as in personal affairs, integrity means keeping our agreements, even those that are "understood" or implied. Integrity is important for governments doing business in the international community, as well. When people look at the United States going through all this rigamarole about passing a spending bill and raising the debt ceiling so we can "pay" our bills, it gives them pause, as it should. They wonder whether we will keep our agreements. If our government were to be judged solely on how well it has kept its agreements with Native Americans, for example, it would have to be judged very harshly, indeed.
There are several components to integrity in business. One component is honest business dealings with customers or clients. Another is integrity with respect to the surrounding community - how the business supports the community and its individual citizens. A third component is environmental sustainability - how the business promotes the health of the natural environment. A fourth component is economic integrity - how aggressive the company is in seeking out tax breaks, with respect to how those taxes might be used to support the community or national infrastructure.
Integrity often means doing what is best, saying yes or no, taking action or not, even when the situation is very uncomfortable for us. It may mean taking an action for the greater good that will not be beneficial to us, personally – perhaps financially or politically. It may mean agreeing to replace a product that is malfunctioning at no cost to the consumer.
It would be very nice if the U.S. Congress were to think in these terms. What's best for the American people (all of them, not just the ones in your party), as opposed to scoring political points. The current situation is doubly painful for the Republicans, who – if they give up their fight to defund Obamacare – will renege on some promises they obviously made to a faction of the party, but if they keep their promise to try to defund Obamacare, then they will be doing damage to individual citizens and business owners, as well as to the national economy, as long as the government shutdown drags on. The Repubicans are, indeed, between a rock and a hard place.
Integrity may mean seriously bucking authority. Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, did a famous experiment in 1961 to find out why people participated in the Holocaust. Since people are generally inclined to follow orders from authority figures, he wanted to know whether they thought they were "just following orders" when they committed acts of violence on the Jews. Participants in the study met one other participant, who was really an actor, and they "drew straws" to see who would be the "teacher." All of the participants were the teacher, and all of the actors were the student. The participants had a face-to-face meeting with the actor before the experiment started, then the "teacher" and "student" were put into different rooms, and could communicate only by audio. "Teachers" were told to teach a list of words to a learner, and to administer an electric shock to the learner when he made a mistake. Silence from the learner was to be considered a "mistake." The voltage would increase for each mistake. The actors, who were not actually getting shocked, made noises as if they were receiving a shock. In some versions of the experiment, the participants were told that the "learner" had a heart condition.
Milgram found that the "teachers" were willing to administer shocks that were clearly uncomfortable to the "learners." Had the shocks actually been administered as labeled, they would have been enough to kill a person, but the majority of participants probably didn't realize that. A number of subjects expressed concern and asked to check on the learner when the voltage got high, but most of the participants went ahead and administered the shocks when ordered, even though they were reluctant to do so, especially after being told that they were "not responsible." Very few people totally refused to go along with the authority figure who was urging them to continue with the experiment. The experiment concluded when a "teacher" had administered the maximum shock three times in succession.
Milgram had posited that no more than 3% of the participants in the study would administer the maximum shock, but in fact 65% did so. That's 26 out of 40 people. Only 14 people stopped and refused to go on with the experiment. For those of us who would like to believe that humans are basically "good," this is a shocking finding.
The results may be somewhat skewed, however, when you consider that all of the research participants were paid $4.00/hour for their time, plus 50¢ carfare. As well, all of the subjects were males between the ages of 20 and 50, the ages when testosterone production in the body is at its peak. No high school or university students were used. There were only 40 subjects for this experiment. If more people had been used, and if they had not been paid, would the results have been different? If women had been used in the experiment, would the results have been different, even though it is a fact of history that women also played a perpetrator's role in the Holocaust? We'll never know, now, because an experiment like this would never be allowed, due to ethics rules put in place for psychology experiments using human subjects. (I wish they would put ethics rules in place for experimentation of animals, as well, but that's another story.)
Whether you believe that Milgram's experiments proved anything about human beings, it appears that very few of us have had our integrity tested to the same level as those in Nazi Germany during the reign of Hitler. Many of these people said that they feared for their lives if they disobeyed orders. It's an open question, though, whether that is as important as it sounds, because none of Milgram's subjects was ever led to believe that they would be killed if they disobeyed. Perhaps money has more to do with it - people will do things for money that they might not ordinarily agree to do.
The word "integrity" is often contrasted with its opposite, hypocrisy. If integrity is consistency between words, beliefs and actions, hypocrisy is inconsistency: doing something you say you don't believe in or the converse, failing to do something you say you do believe in. It also means failing to do something you've agreed to do or criticizing someone for doing something that you, yourself, have done in the past.
Here's an exercise to try: List at least 5 beliefs you have regarding personal conduct, business conduct, or responsibility for the environment. Next to each belief, write down something you have said or thought to yourself in this regard. Next to that, write down something you have actually done by which an impartial observer might use to come to a conclusion about your beliefs. Do your actions match your words and beliefs? If so, congratulations. If not, how could you change either your beliefs or your words and actions so that they match?
Tomorrow: forgiveness. :-)