So, I've been seeing a lot of things on the news and around the world lately that have gotten me thinking about integrity. You know what exactly does the term mean after all? Are you born with it, or can it be cultivated? And can it be recovered?
Webster's says it is:
"1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2: an unimpaired condition : soundness
3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness"
Incorruptibility... we've seen lots of examples of the opposite recently. You know, like the Lehman Brothers and their shady accounting and the dictatorships in Egypt and Libya covering up their human rights abuses as they tried/try to put down opposition.
One of the examples that hits closest to home at the moment is Scott Walker's attempt to pass budget legislation through a political sleight of hand move. Scoffing at the thousands of people who are unhappy with this move, rather than listening to unhappy constituents (there are plenty of constituents who voted him in and are okay with what he's doing, too, but his job is to listen to everyone!), he is taking calls from "David Koch" (or so he thought!), one of his key campaign contributors, to discuss how to get around the opposition. Meanwhile, he refuses to take calls from the average, everyday citizen, or you know, Democratic senators. Money and power apparently get you on the fast track to be heard. How's that for corruptibility? Ezra Klein has more to say about the subject here, but I think the key lesson in the exchange is you never know who you may be talking to, so it's better to try and live a life above reproach. Sure, we all mess up, but I think that's the biggest part of integrity, really. Being able to acknowledge your shortcomings and say when you've done something wrong. Facing the music is more honorable than covering it up. The truth usually comes out anyway.
On a related note, there's the question of reporting with integrity... The O'Reilly Factor did a story on the "violent" union protests taking place in Madison, WI. Lacking any truly violent footage from the Capitol, images from some other protests in a land populated with palm trees (read: NOT Madison) were spliced in. The uninformed viewer may simply latch on to those images and think, hey! Violent protests are BAD! Those union workers in Wisconsin are BAD! Did the dog wag its tail here, or did the tail wag the dog? Here it is: Palm Trees (and p.s. what does that phrase mean, anyway, "professional left-wingers"?)
And then there's just the idea that integrity consists of what you do in your life when other people aren't watching. That's what J.C. Watts said integrity is (well, character anyway): "Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught." The whole ethical question of... Do you take massive amounts of office supplies because you know it won't be detected? Would you report an accounting error that's working in your favor? Or would you cheat on your partner if given the opportunity, and you knew he/she would never find out? Or let's say you hit a parked car, and there's some damage but no witnesses, would you hit and run? Or leave a note? Feeling bad because you get caught doesn't count... it's what you do when you know you won't get caught that counts, at least as far as I can tell, in terms of integrity. I'm sure French Prime Minister François Fillon and French Foreign Affairs Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie would take back those free private jet rides to Egypt and Tunisia if they could. And Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Nelly Furtado would probably like to take back their private concerts linked to the Qaddafi family, too. (They have, donating the millions to human rights groups instead. Wrongs can be righted, after all. Would they have done it if the press hadn't found out though? Did they know that was who was paying them the millions or not? Food for thought.) I guess the minute you think you're above reproach is when you tend to fall off the bandwagon.
What about intellectual integrity? Did you see the story about the German Defense Minister who resigned due to plagiarizing his doctoral thesis? I mean, I'm working on a doctoral thesis at the moment, and it's a tough slog. But taking credit for someone else's ideas and passing them off as my own would make me feel unworthy of and more than a little guilty about those three letters after my name. Hence, my utter familiarity with the quote mark key on my keyboard. It's not so hard to use, really. Apparently, it's beginning to be a common thread though, as some of my teaching colleagues have discovered, and considering the success of outfits like these: The Shadow Scholar. What kills me about this guy is that he isn't willing to own up to his profession and provide his true identity. If you're ashamed to claim your job (and not under a pseudonym), shouldn't that tell you something? How do you market those skills on a resumé? (Although maybe the folks on Wall Street would eat it up.) And why the hell were details of assignments changed to protect the students in the article? They're being PROTECTED from being found out as cheaters and plagiarizers? Because they paid a fee and had a contractual bargain with this dude? Doesn't that just REWARD the behavior? Few things make me angry in this world, but this? Kills me.
So, to close this little reflection, I'll post one of my absolute FAVORITE movie scenes. It's about integrity. Not selling your soul and stepping all over someone else just to get ahead. The reality is... you have to take responsibility for your actions. And live as though everyone is watching (I mean hey... YOU are watching).
My favorite parts of the clip (the really good nuggets, in my opinion, are underlined)?
Col. Slade: "I don't know who went to this place — William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead; if they ever had one, it's gone. You're building a rat ship here — a vessel for sea-going snitches. And if you think you're preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham! What kind of show are you guys puttin' on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sittin' next to me. And I'm here to tell you, this boy's soul is intact. It is non-negotiable. You know how I know? Because someone here, I'm not gonna say who, offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't selling."
Col. Slade: "Out of order — I'll show you out of order! You don't know what out of order is, Mr. Trask! I'd show you, but I'm too old, I'm too tired and I'm too fuckin' blind. If I were the man I was five years ago, I'd take a flame-thrower to this place! Out of order? Who the hell you think you're talking to!? I've been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen, boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin' like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sending this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executing his soul! And why? Because he's not a "Baird man." Baird men — you hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird bums, the lot of ya. And Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there — fuck you, too!"
Col. Slade: "As I came in here, I heard those words, "cradle of leadership." Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here, it has fallen! Makers of men, creators of leaders — be careful what kind of leaders you're producing here. I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong, I'm no judge or jury. But I can tell you this — he won't sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That's called courage. Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. [pause] Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was; without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too... damn... hard. Now here's Charlie, he's come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle, that leads to character."
Now that's good writing. And it wasn't plagiarized. We should be thinking about how to instill that value in our education system, rather than rewarding the kids who pay to have their essays written or the bankers and investors who have made a big mess of the economy thanks to some accounting adjustments. Thank goodness some models of integrity--incorruptibility, soundness, completeness--still exist. (I know a good number of them :)) And they should be the ones rewarded...