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Friday, June 10, 2011

To Be Honest With You...

When should a person be honest?
When should a person act according to the good values he or she holds?

Do most people today answer these questions with "It depends"?

Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and best selling author says, "Everybody lies.  It may only be “white” lies, but everyone tells lies or “omits the truth” sometimes. We start lying at around age 4 to 5 when children gain an awareness of the use and power of language.  This first lying is not malicious, but rather to find out, or test, what can manipulated in a child’s environment.  Eventually children begin to use lying to get out of trouble or get something they want. White lies, those concocted to protect someone’s feelings, are not a big deal at all.  The person, however, who seems to feel compelled to lie about both the small and large stuff has a problem." ("Why People Lie -- And How To Tell If They Are," Today Health, MSNBC, 2011)

Children and white lies - OK. But, what do honesty and integrity mean to adults? In a world where lies and deceitful behavior seem increasingly commonplace, more and more rascals have little concern for virtuous qualities. Honesty and integrity should go hand-in-hand and represent commonly practiced behavior, but people do not even seem to place consistent value upon these traits.

When people see public figures lie, they often excuse underhanded behaviors as products of a world filled with duplicity. They say things like "Oh, that's not so bad" or "Everyone tells lies these days." Coverup and damage control have become more important than consistently practicing honesty and integrity.  

The word "integrity" stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete). In this context, integrity is the inner sense of "wholeness" deriving from qualities such as honesty. Integrity demands uniformity of character. As such, people "have integrity" to the extent that they consistently act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

People who practice integrity must first know who they are. Without self-insight and self-evaluation of feelings, people can't even be true to themselves. For example, people with integrity must explore their reasons for beliefs about important issues such as jobs and the economy. They cannot be content to let one-sided arguments or personal gain sway their understandings of important matters. They must consistently reach for information that gets them closer to the truth of any belief.

After people discover the intrinsic value of truth and integrity, they have ample opportunities to exhibit their sense of character. Some of these occurrences may be very important, but some may be minor. Here is an example of a simple brush with internal values. When a person realizes that the cashier at the lunch counter gives him too much change, he encounters a test of integrity. A simple mistake puts him in the cross hairs of honesty and integrity. The stronger the values he holds, the more likely he will give back the extra change.

So, integrity may be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue.  Hypocrites pretend to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings that they do not actually have. People with integrity do not pretend; instead, they live and practice their beliefs.

Isn't withholding vital portions of the truth the same as lying? In other words, to withhold information that should be shared is to be dishonest. Many people today seem to play games with the truth. They use context and opinion to reveal slanted facts and warped actualities. A person with true integrity feels an obligation to tell the whole truth, not partial bits of information that color a matter. A person with integrity also feels the need to act with honest convictions.

A Particular Case

I have heard people who frequent a pain clinic that they suspect of criminal behavior justify their own actions by rationalizing that the clinic does legitimately help them. I'm sure the pill mills do help some legitimate patients who seek relief from pain, BUT if people pay their money to a criminal enterprise, aren't they contributing to the crimes perpetrated by the shady business? Shouldn't they stop going there themselves as soon as they suspect foul practices?

How could someone who values truth and who practices integrity continue to frequent a pill mill that contributes to the ills of the general public? In essence, their money is used to facilitate the weapons of destruction that take the lives of others. No one with integrity would want to do anything to advance such behavior. I would hope a sense of duty would override their allegiance to a pill mill.

Oskar Schindler, whose life was dramatized in the film Schindler's List, comes to mind. Schindler was a man who was instinctively driven by profit-driven amorality, but who at some point made a silent but conscious decision that preserving the lives of his Jewish employees during World War II was imperative, even if it required massive payments to induce Nazis to turn a blind eye and even if his actions put his own life at risk. He is credited with saving almost 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. 

The writer Herbert Steinhouse, who interviewed Schindler in 1948 at the behest of some of the surviving Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews), wrote:

"Oskar Schindler's exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in. A repentant opportunist saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him. The inference may be disappointingly simple, especially for all amateur psychoanalysts who would prefer the deeper and more mysterious motive that may, it is true, still lie unprobed and unappreciated. But an hour with Oskar Schindler encourages belief in the simple answer."

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