The Slow Painful Death of Integrity
What would you do if you found fifty dollars in a wallet at the park?
Reader’s Digest once conducted an experiment to answer that question and more. Their staff placed 192 ‘lost wallets’ containing the equivalent of about $50 in 10 cities around the world. The wallets also held a cell phone number, a family photo, coupons, and business cards to make them seem legit. Of the 192 wallets ‘lost’, only 90 were returned. That’s a measly 47%.
Less than half of all people that find a wallet with cash in it will return it to its rightful owner. It’s shocking how little integrity some people have these days. It truly seems to be a lost art, or better yet, a lost wallet.
Maybe it’s the times we’re living in, being able to hide behind a computer screen or create fake social media accounts. Maybe it’s that the cost of getting ahead means giving up doing what’s right. Maybe I come from a time when a handshake actually meant something. Integrity has been dying a slow painful death, and it sucks.
This is not to say that every individual out there lacks moral decency. In fact, some of the kindest, most genuine, and trustworthy people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing have come into my life via my work where we deal with money on a daily basis. And for them I am eternally grateful. There are however, much to my surprise, an extraordinary number of people that seem to have no moral compass whatsoever.
Integrity is often defined as doing the right thing when nobody’s watching. Sure, you might hold the door open for a little old lady at the grocery store when you have an audience. And yes, you might hand that credit card back to the man that dropped it in line at the movie theatre. Because you know that people are watching and you do the right thing at that time to look good in front of them.
But what about finding a lost wallet with cash in it on a trail in the park, or sticking to your word and the handshake you had with the salesperson at Best Buy, or god forbid – the vows you took on your wedding day? It’s easy to do the right thing when your reputation is on the line, but behind closed doors it seems, for some—all bets are off.
Different Codes For Different Folks
In the real estate world, agents are bound by a code of ethics. If only there were such a code for society in general. Of course every individual is going to have a different code by which they choose to live. Convicted felons, for example, might feel that burglarizing your home is morally acceptable because they don’t have a job and it is therefore their right to steal from those that have one.
White collar criminals might feel the embezzlement of company funds is justified because the CEO is loaded and probably won’t even notice. Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer felt completely at ease with his decision to eat his victims. Different codes for different folks.
Integrity can also be defined as having an unrelenting commitment to ethical behavior. So in the examples above I suppose these folks were within the confines of their personal code of ethics. But if you’re reading this outside of a jail cell you’re likely not a criminal (or a cannibal) so let’s get a little more clear on what we expect from ourselves.
Integrity is something we subconsciously seek in others, and subsequently look for in ourselves. Much of integrity comes via our actions, but it starts with the words we speak either internally or externally. In his all time classic The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
I would consider integrity, and therefore my personal code of ethics, to include things like honesty, trustworthiness, doing what you say you’re going to do, not intentionally peeing on the floor in the gas station bathroom, etc. But that’s just me. So what are the morals that you choose to live by and how do you know if you are in violation of your own code of ethics?
Simple, ask yourself, will this action make me feel good about myself and does it align with my code, or am I doing this for personal gain despite the negative connotations? Take a moment to think about what your personal code looks like and ask yourself if you are committed to following it. If you aren’t, then it’s time for an amendment.
Hell, even the Constitution of the United States had to be revised a few times. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and writing out who it is that you want to be, then sticking to that plan no matter the circumstances.
We all get the pleasure of living with our decisions and sleeping with our demons at night. As you make your bed, so you must lie in it. In other words, you must accept the consequences of your actions. And if your words and actions are not consistent with your personal code of ethics and your definition of integrity, then sweet dreams my friend. I hope you didn’t lose your wallet because you’re in for a long night.
Don’t forget to grab my new book!