Courage Integrity and Honor
The dictionary defines “Integrity as a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes.”
Integrity is important as we live and work with others. Integrity is that quality that allows those around you to turn their backs on you. If you are short on integrity you are less of a man or a woman. A person of integrity doesn’t use the phrase, “I was just following orders”. A person of integrity does not follow orders that are questionable. Within the acceptable boundaries of the environment you work in, a discussion can take place about the details and ethics of a task.
When your boss instructs you to do an inventory of the same material you just inventoried, that may be a senseless task but a task you shouldn’t question other than for its repetitive nature. The boss has a legitimate or a less than legitimate reason for instructing you to do it. Performing that task may be unproductive but it is not an ethical issue. There is no problem ethically with performing that repetitive task.
When your Boss instructs you to open someone’s purse and go through the contents, then you’re being given a task that can and should be questioned. If the owner of the purse is having a seizure and requires medication or their cell phone to contact a family member due to the medical crisis, then that extenuating circumstance would make the ethical decision easier to make. A minor invasion of privacy to save a life or notify the emergency contact person of the emergency makes sense. To invade someone’s privacy on the instructions of your Boss for whatever reason the Boss thinks is acceptable, should cause any of us to question why?
If the Boss expects me to invade another person’s privacy for no good reason, I can expect my privacy to be invaded as well. It’s wrong for my Boss to do it, it is wrong of me to do it: I will stand my ground and refuse to invade a coworker’s privacy.
Honor is defined by a dictionary as “an abstract concept entailing a perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects both the social standing and the self-evaluation of an individual or corporate body such as a family, school, regiment or nation.”
Honor is an abstract that defines who we are as individuals. Our actions define us, when we act in a way that negatively impacts our character and our credibility we impact our own honor. Our honor is defined by our code of conduct in the world. I want my friends, family, and peers in the world to see me as a man of honor a man of integrity, not a mind numb robot who is willing to do whatever my Boss tells me to do regardless of the consequences.
Actions have consequences. We don’t live in a vacuum; whatever we do will impact the people in our lives. When you as an individual go into the refrigerator in the break room and drink a cold bottle of water that belongs to someone else, or take someone else’s lunch and eat it as your own, you’re creating an environment where suspicion and distrust will rise to the surface. You are now a thief and your integrity and honor will suffer, even if you’re never identified as the thief.
Currently there are three scandals in the news, one involving the AP and some subpoenas, one involving Benghazi and one involving the IRS. As time passes more and more information will come to light about all three of these, but where did they all start? Someone in a superior position instructed someone in a subordinate position to do something that was unethical. To do something that was wrong. Time will tell how far along the chain of command the instruction started, but where exactly this point is, is immaterial for now.
The recipient of the unethical instructions did what they were told. They took the unethical action, knowing they were in the wrong. At what point did Integrity and Honor lose out to job security and pleasing the Boss?
The individuals, who did what they were told, had to know they were doing the wrong thing. Could they have been so naïve that they believed in the higher good they were doing when they did what was wrong? Could it be that they never recognized that the tasks they performed were wrong? Could they have believed that it was not their fault, they were only following orders?
Whatever the answer is Integrity and Honor were never considered. How an individual’s actions impact their own integrity and honor never became part of the thought process as they did what they were told.
I’m not naïve; I understand that significant pressures were probably identified as the consequences of a failure to obey. Direct or indirect threats were made to gain compliance as well as plausible deniability. We spend a lifetime building a reputation of Honor and Integrity, but it takes a few minutes to lose it with a lapse of judgment, making decisions for the wrong reason.
The loss of a job is a significant event in a man or woman’s life, especially when jobs are hard to get and the cost of living is so expensive. These are the value judgments we have to make in our lives. Most of the ethical questions we have to deal with involve shades of grey and rarely distinct black and white lines. We must make them based on our lives and our reputations. Integrity and honor demand it. We must all draw our lines in the sand and live within the lines we draw.
When my Boss instructs me to step outside one of my lines, I have to make a decision based on my own reputation. Will I draw a new line and expand my box? Or stand my ground and insist I stay inside the boundaries I’m comfortable with?
From what I see in the news the boxes we live in have become far too big. Not enough of us are trying to stand our ground and defend our own integrity and honor.
As these scandals see the light of day the individuals involved closer to the unethical actions will pay the price, not the ones who masterminded the unethical behavior. Those who pay the price will wish that Integrity and Honor were more important to them earlier in the process.
Some jobs are worth losing. Most Bosses don’t have the Courage to challenge an individual who refuses to perform an unethical task. When you stand your ground and defend your box, a Boss who wants to keep their hands clean will usually not challenge you, but if they do, stand your ground and accept the consequences. As I said, some jobs are worth losing.
Find the Courage to defend your Honor and Integrity. It may hurt in the short term, but in the long run you’ll always come out ahead. Courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to act when afraid. In the workplace we occasionally have an opportunity to defend our box. Rarely but occasionally there is a price to pay for defending the box; Courage, Integrity and Honor determine for each of us when, where, and how far, we are willing to go to defend our own Honor.
We need more concern about Integrity, Honor, and Courage, and less concern about security. Men and women of integrity and honor should be in positions to protect and defend our tax money.