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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

When Honesty and the Golden Rule Aren't Good Enough

Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. To truly grasp the word integrity, one must understand some fine delineations between the word and a few related concepts. Integrity in an individual is rare but, perhaps, it is one of the finest human qualities.

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 and consistency of character.

One who possesses integrity cannot be hypocritical. Internal consistency is required. For example, if a person who has integrity confronts a conflicting value, that person must either account for his particular views with a credible defense or alter his beliefs. To refuse to do so would be deceitful. So, one may judge that others "have integrity" to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

According to law professor Stephen L. Carter, integrity in ethics involves not only a refusal to engage in behaviors that evade responsibility but also an understanding of different modes or styles in which written and spoken communication attempt to uncover a particular truth. He regards integrity as being distinct from honesty. (Stephen L. Carter, Integrity, 1996)

David L. Miller, senior editor of The Lutheran, speaks of Carter's belief concerning the distinction of integrity from honesty: "Consider, for example, a dying man who confesses to his wife an adulterous affair that occurred 35 years before. He dies, conscience clear. He was honest. But is this riskless confession an example of integrity or just another self-serving violation of his marriage vows? Or how about the man who says he will support his live-in partner, unless she gets pregnant. Honest? Sure. But integrity? No." (David L. Miller, "Integrity: Why We Need a Transfusion," The Lutheran, 1996)

Carter writes that integrity requires three steps:

(1) Discerning what is right and what is wrong,

(2) Acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost, and

(3) Saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.

Discerning right from wrong takes time, considerable thought, and support. People must realize that a broad range of issues allow those with integrity to take different sides. For instance, a person with integrity may oppose the death penalty while another with integrity may support capital punishment.

Their belief doesn't make them evil, stupid, or worse than the other. They have merely discerned a different view with support.

However, some issues cannot be supported from different sides with integrity. Consider this: racial hatred and mass slaughter are wrong. People know this from history. They don't need to agree on a philosophical system to come to an agreement on these issues. Why? Universally, these heinous acts are morally wrong.

Many humans, however, tend to view one side (their own belief) of many arguments as universally accepted. People without integrity refuse to consider the oppositional view. In fact, many times these people do not even thoroughly investigate another viewpoint. They prefer to jump on the "moral" bandwagon without thinking. These "flaming" issues are subsequently fanned by the media and become "hotter" topics.
David L. Miller says, "There is a lot of moral agreement in America. The amount of moral disagreement is exaggerated because the media focuses on a handful of issues on which people have sharply different views--abortion, gay rights, affirmative action. But beyond this there is a large core on which we can reach agreement. These teachings are common to various religious traditions. They also show up in public opinion surveys and in the Constitution. For example: respecting others, believing in family, not lying or stealing, being courageous." (David L. Miller, "Integrity: Why We Need a Transfusion," The Lutheran, 1996)
Miller believes Americans react to moral disagreement and often swallow "the expedient lie, the one that greases the wheels and avoids problems." And then, one lie leads to another until people become entangled in a web of lies. Then, they live enormously skeptical lives. Miller says, "It's unreasonable for us to demand of ourselves and others the kind of perfect integrity that no mortal has. But I do suggest we pay close attention to it. Otherwise it's pointless for us to demand integrity of the media or politicians when we don't demand it of ourselves."

What do people demand of themselves these days? Years ago (1991), James Patterson and Peter Kim wrote a book titled, The Day America Told the Truth. The goal of the book was to get at the moral views and ethical disposition of Americans. The results of their research concluded that the majority of Americans lack moral integrity. According to the authors...
74% of those surveyed said they would steal without regret.
* 64% said they would lie if it was to their advantage
* 87% said the 10 commandments have no moral validity
* 86% of those who participated in the survey admitted to lying regularly to their parents and 75% say they lie to their friends.
* When asked, "What are you willing to do the $10 million?" 25% would abandon their families; 23% would become a prostitute for a week; 7% would murder a stranger.

Those things that do demand integrity must not be left to sway. With its consistent framework, integrity demands avoidance of any unwarranted exceptions for a particular person or group -- especially the person or group that holds the framework.

Take law, for example. In law, this principle of universal application requires that even those in positions of official power be subject to the same laws as pertain to their fellow citizens. In personal ethics, this principle requires that one should not act according to any rule that one would not wish to see universally followed.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant described this universal application as the categorical imperative. It is categorical in virtue of applying to all unconditionally, or simply because all possesses rational wills, without reference to any ends that they might or might not have. It does not, in other words, apply to anyone on the condition that he has adopted beforehand some goal for himself.

Kant saw the importance of the human will in integrity. Acts that are morally praiseworthy are done out of a sense of duty rather than for the consequences that are expected, particularly the consequences to self. The only thing "good" about the act is the will, the "good will."

Then, the duty of all is clear. That duty stipulates a person must act in such a manner towards all others that he would want them to act in similar circumstances. Very simply, Kant believed people
must act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law.

This integrity is not the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Categorical Imperative exceeds the Golden Rule with his demand to create a general law (maxim) out of one's actions (on the basis of moral thinking).

Think about it -- the Golden Rule involves reciprocation. The categorical imperative states that what makes an action moral is whether the action can be universalized in every circumstance towards every agent. If it cannot, then a person will contradict himself by willing the action in the first place. The Golden Rule has good will as its foundation, whereas to infringe the categorical imperative, according to Kant, is an infringement of reason itself. Persons are always ends in themselves, not to be used or exploited by anyone for whatever purpose.

To illustrate the difference between the Golden Rule and the categorical imperative, here is the "horny Martin" example:

"Suppose that Martin is a 20 year-old college student. Suppose further that Martin has never been out on a date. The woman of his dreams finally agrees to go out with him. So, Martin gets dressed up and takes her out to a nice dinner, after which he drives up to Lookout Point. And.... Martin 'does unto others as he would have done unto himself' with disastrous consequences."

My Take

Integrity can't simply be passed on. It must grow inside of you. And, it continues to develop as you consistently practice it. Yet, you cannot just desire the characteristic of integrity and will it upon yourself. Integrity is steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. It is proven through thoughtful judgment, action, and complete understanding. In brief, integrity can be summed up simply as doing the right thing for the right reason even when no one is watching.

I believe in order to possess integrity, people must question their beliefs and move beyond their personal frames of reference. They must explore their sources for developing beliefs (through parental advice, direct personal experience, teachings at school, church or through organizational involvement, reading, research, etc.). They must find evidence that both supports and contradicts their beliefs. In addition, they must digest all the information and arrive at good conclusions.

People need to be receptive to acquire integrity. They must be flexible enough to change their beliefs when the truth stares them in the face. Having integrity means they will sometimes be humbled by others, and it also means being significantly compassionate.
Integrity involves the three R’s:

* Respect for self,
* Respect for others,
* Responsibility for all your actions.

"No one can be happy who has been thrust outside the pale (boundary) of truth.
And there are two ways that one can be removed from this realm:
by lying, or by being lied to."

-Seneca, Roman philosopher and writer

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