“Integrity has no need of rules.” – Albert Camus
A child stumbles and falls. You help the child up; check to see if it was injured in the fall, and offer a sense of understanding and comfort. Do you do that because there is a rule that says you have to? Do you do it because others are looking, and you want them to think well of you toward some benefit as such a reputation might bring? The only probable selfishness in the act might be that you couldn’t stand yourself if you didn’t. But while you think that may be universally true, it is not.
But the problem is not just in China. For almost a decade, a war raged in Sierra Leone killing and displacing thousands of children, and making soldiers out of many who could not run away. Then, after the war, children were put to work in diamond mines where there was very little respect for their humanity, much less for their childhood. But that is perhaps true of the lucky ones. Though the civil war ended in 2002, many children still live in a daily horror that many much more fortunate folks do not want to hear about. But just take a peak at it, anyway:
In another war that began earlier, and still rages in Somalia, children carry automatic weapons while most of the world looks the other way, and has been looking the other way now for almost twenty years.
So, what we think may be an internalized value associated with the word “child”, is not true for all children, is it? Further, there is a feeling among some that after a certain age, should the person stumble and fall, it is their own fault, and that they deserved it. But what if the thing that tripped them up was placed there intentionally and deceptively by someone else? What do you think of the con artist’s justification that the victims were adults, and should have known better than to trust him? The con artist has values: he values wealth and wants it now, but he has no integrity. When the inability to postpone gratification trumps integrity, society becomes ill, but doesn’t know it.
We need to get past the presumption that values equal integrity. It is normal for most people to feel their own values have some integrity. But the mental picture of what that means for each of us is likely to be as different as it would be if were using the word “quality”. Some folks think it unethical to compromise their values, but in fact, in some cases, it just might be unethical to uphold them. I think that’s what happened to Bernie Madoff.
The scams perpetrated by Bernie Madoff horrified many people. It is common to speak of him with condemnation, and with sympathy for his victims. It would be most unpopular to call his victims foolish, or to in any way imply that they had it coming. Due to the size of his scheme, it seemed unprecedented, but it is not new: the term “moral hazard” has been used in business since the 1600’s. Bernie Madoff, as it turns out, was not a man of integrity, but he was certainly a man with values: money, and lots of it.
In recent years, folks have become quite nervous about things they value, because there has been so much change and upheaval, not just here, but worldwide. While corruption is not new in high places (businesses, governments, and other institutions), there is more media now, more than at any other time in history, to talk about it. And they do. Consequently, a lot of people do not respect their own leaders in business, government, and some other institutions, and suspect the feeling is mutual. This breakdown in even the minimal appearance of respect seems to feed on itself, and results in other breakdowns. And with this comes no common opinion shared by all as to who must suffer the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility. Yet a lot of people on both sides of the isles applauded when Bill Clinton signed the CFMA into law:
So much strife and confusion about the breakdown of economic and social systems, as well as the morality that should have prevented these breakdowns, have people clamoring for new rules. The purpose seems to be, as always, so that we can monitor the behavior of others (it is always the others). It is believed justified, and even necessary, so that the fear of losing things we value will subside. The leverage for who gets to make the new rules is politics, and it is about values.
It is always about values. If it were a matter of integrity, Would the world’s huge investment bankers gotten themselves bogged down in such a mud hole of fraud and deception over the years leading up to the debacle of 2008? Would there be any environmental issues in politics? Of course not, but don’t expect integrity to creep in and take over politics, because that is not going to happen. Politics manages (and manipulates) the fears related to loss of values, and it very much needs the public to keep values confused with ethics. And because of it, the term “moral hazard” will not go away.
No matter what your political thoughts are, it will be true that you fear, and cannot help but fear, that the party you see as opposition threatens to take from you something you value. Additionally, you are likely to believe that the opposition party lacks a sense of honest integrity. Trust me, they feel exactly the same way about you. The political process will be driven by values, but not by integrity. The belief that ethics are even a small part of it is a myth. There are quite a few popular myths about ethics:
But is that kind of thinking applicable to the differences that divide the worlds religions? There must be some reason they treat each other so badly, and do it in the name of the highest ethical authority they can think of. It is common for respective members of any religion or denomination to want to believe they are driven by the very highest integrity and ethical standards. Yet what keeps them at war with each other is not so much ethics, but what they’ve chosen to value (even though those values change from time to time), and the fear (nurtured by intentionally and politically imposed misunderstandings) that those values are at risk. What IS at risk is not integrity, but dogma, and the people empowered by it.
Adolf Hitler was empowered by what the German people were lead to believe. They also thought that he believed in them. Towards the end of WWII, Hitler said that if the German people would not willingly die for the fatherland, they deserved to be defeated. Then, he committed suicide. By then, over fifty million people were dead, and not because they were victims of integrity.
What people value does change. My grandfather wore a proper hat whenever he went into public places, and thought it to be important. At the time, it was customary. It was considered impolite not to. So, hats were valued in some way different than they are today. But does it mean that men who go into public without a proper fedora today are rude, or disrespectful? No, of course it doesn’t.
Some years ago, the idea of universal suffrage was considered by some to be serious attack on core values. At the same time, many thought the idea represented principles of fairness, and implied a respect for a person’s humanity. As it turned out, the old value system proved to have no sustainable integrity, and was changed. Today, universal suffrage in the United States is considered to be a part of “core values”.
So, values and integrity are not the same thing, are they? What one person values may be seen simply as covetousness by another person. So it is not that we should seek a society of values AND integrity as much as we should want a society that has a value OF integrity. But is such universal respect likely to happen? At Christmas time, many people sing about “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men”, but is it sung widely by people with no hatred, or fear of mankind in their heart? Will all the people in the world resolve all of a sudden to be committed to treating each other with respect? Not likely? Well then, I guess it is up to each individual to decide if what they really want is to do the right thing. It’s always been that way.
“If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless.” – Moliere