A Value of Integrity

“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

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brett on November 2, 2011 at 1:36 am

    I agree. No amount of regulation can substitute for individual integrity. But our current government structure with the aid of our teachers has created a mindset of collectivism, where an individual acts within the expectations of the group and is limited by its laws. I believe the destruction of the individual in favor of the collective has created these flaws in our current society. Individual rights (both social and economic) need to be returned, but also with individual responsibilities and the negatives that can result when one makes bad decisions. On a side note, you might give us your def. of values and ethics. I think the definitions are illuminated by the text, but it might help if perhaps you wrote about the differances between the two.


  2. Posted by thevanbrown on November 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you Brett. While it has been my practice to reply privately to comments in the past, I felt the clarification you asked for was worthy. Part of what prompted this writing was how the word “values” has come to be so often used. Just because a person wants or desires something, or some collective set of circumstances, does not guarantee the desired thing or circumstance to be necessarily good. Wanting something doesn’t make it good or bad, it just establishes a presumed quality, and even a presumed utility. And often, as is the case with presumption, the outcome of getting those desires realized may not have a desirable effect on everyone concerned.

    In sports, each team desires to win. Neither team desires to lose. One team will get the prize they value, and the other will not. But if the game is not played fairly; if the competition is not ethical, then the outcome of it, whether valued or not, will not be a product of integrity. If a man robs a store at gunpoint, and leaves with the items he values (covets), it can be qualified as a win for him in some sense, but certainly not in a moral one.

    I’m sure you’ve heard it said: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure; one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure…”, and while there may be truth in that, it does not imply that there is anything ethical in the wanting. What a person may desire depending on their tendency to be altruistic, sadistic, or masochistic is no measure of what is the right thing to do. Just because someone places a value on some object or idea does not make the idea or the object moral, ethical, or that there was any integrity in the wanting itself.

    Above, you spoke of: “mindset of collectivism, where an individual acts within the expectations of the group and is limited by its laws.” It may be the desired effect with an assigned “value” that folks act within expectations. But anybody that watches the news or reads newspapers can tell you that social control does not work very well where it is not monitored and enforced. Even when it is, you might expect compliance, but you would be foolish to expect commitment. Just go out to the interstate highway and watch how all the good people drive when they think the police are not looking.

    In your comment, you used the word “collectivism”, and you placed a value on it. You placed a low value on it, but a value just the same. It is from an assumption of what is forced or enforced, or what compliance is required collectively that we would see it that way. But whenever a collective effort is backed by a commitment from individual members of the group, what you have is cooperation. Cooperation in and of itself is neither good nor bad, but the outcome of it can be measured, and some “value” of it will be declared. Also, if the members of a society are unwilling to cooperate with each other, the alternative is some kind of anarchy, isn’t it?

    You expressed a concern by saying: “I believe the destruction of the individual in favor of the collective has created these flaws in our current society.” There is always a need to seek a balance in any culture that sets value on both liberty and equality. Our own constitution declares certain values for both, and it is certainly true that we have not reached any perfection of either. Everyone, depending on what they value, seeks to enhance their on situation up to a point. If two men agree to plant and harvest together cannot cooperate, they both run the risk of starving to death. But if one gets plenty while the other starves, the cooperation is flawed. One of them may get what they valued, but do not presume their “value” to be based on any integrity.

    For the past few decades, I’ve watched the demonizing of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the conflict always seems to be associated with “values” of one group being forced on all other groups. It doesn’t matter which side of a value argument one chooses as much as it is the question of the integrity of individual liberty and at the same time, the equality under the law of all persons. I have also watched the demonizing of all organizations that use the words “union” or “collective”, while those who join together in the name of “association” are given praise and places of honor in society.

    If a group of people with a common mindset gather under the name “academy” is it not likely that part of the reason for so gathering is to enhance the benefits of those who are members? Does not the American Medical Association collectively bargain on behalf of its members, and on behalf of corporations that hire its members? Some feel it is right, and morally right for them to do so, but it is wrong and morally wrong for truck drivers to become members of the Teamster’s Union. It doesn’t matter what you opinion is of either union, but instead the question is why is there a disparity between who is allowed to collectively bargain for benefit, and who is not?

    There are many fraternities, sororities, clubs, benevolent societies, brother & sisterhoods, professional and trade associations, trade guilds and labor unions. All of them, and without shame, claim to take an interest in the kinds of things that directly benefit the members of their group. Some of them are more obvious than others about restricting benefits to those who are not members. But stating this is not to presume anything good or bad about their “collectivism” which hopes to capitalize on the law of large numbers; it is to simply point out that they do exist.

    What I would say to all groups that gather intending to strengthen the position of its individual members is this: I understand that you have values. But I ask you to to consider if what you value is ethical. Is it fair? Is it about integrity, or is it just about what you want (value)? The answers to those questions are not so much for me to decide as much as it it is for them to think about. Simply put, are all actions of the collective group subject to the same standards and principles of you as an individual within that culture? If so, fine. If not, what are you going to do about it?

    I invite you to take a lecture series from Harvard University that is offered free of charge on the internet entitled Justice with Michael Sandel. There are 12 lectures in the series, so it will take you about 12 hours to view all episodes. So is a class in philosophy from Harvard worth it if the only tuition is the time it takes to see it?



  3. Posted by little d on November 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    These examples and others that you have posted in this blog are typical in effect and outcome of the recording of Mans deeds through time. I, as well as are most people not totally ignorant of history, am not in the least surprised to find Mans behavior, and
    interaction with others to be paradoxical in nature.

    Could anyone purposely deprive a Child of food or shelter or safety if it was within their means to do so? No one comes to my mind, but there is and always has been.

    Could anyone purposely deceive another for his personal gain? Sure, I could name
    many that do it on a daily basis, and few haven’t been guilty of this sometime in their life span. Jokes are frequently told of how someone slyly took advantage of another.

    I type this to suggest that even though Man is somewhat more aware of his nature
    than he may have been thousands of years ago, he still is alone within the corridors
    of his mind to justify his actions, and the consequences involved.

    In a environment of savagery, he is commonly savage. In a environment of love, he is commonly loving. In a environment of lawlessness, he is commonly less lawful ect….

    Sometime back I was pondering and writing a bit about this paradox, and I suspected
    that what Humanity had failed to adapt for itself was one of the simplest of items, I
    would think as individuals, everyone of us to some degree or another had had one or many, and most may still be advancing upon them. Goals

    Can anyone name a universal goal for all Humanity? Now I realize there are populations that haven’t set any goals other than what they hope to eat today,
    but have you heard one tossed around lately? Or ever?

    We, as a species, unlike the domesticated and wild beast around us, have direct
    influence over our destiny, we shape our world with an intelligence superior in its
    effect to all other species. Perhaps our visions remain impaired of the need of
    Human Goals, but what would have come of any of us had we not been inspired by
    others who set and attained their goals? likely we would agree that goals were important to us at one point or another during our lives, we seldom reach all goals,
    but we remain the better for targeting them, and goal oriented people are the reason we can read and write today.

    I suspect it was someones goal to prevent Humanity from ever having any,
    and just like that, we went for basketball, and the rest they say…is His-Story

    Integrity is a business always hiring, the reason being there ain’t no pay.
    You can make more money stealing pennies from the cashiers cup!!!

    Who would have ever thought that a piece of stinking ink paper with a picture
    of a dead man and a one eyed pyramid could buy out integrity? Prioritize.

    Thanks again for your moments Van


  4. Posted by Mickey Foster on November 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Van, I usually enjoy a laugh when I read your musings. I find it hard to laugh, even smile, at what continues to happen in Africa and other places. I find it difficult to smile at any sentence that contains the name Bernie Madoff, and there are many others. But, being a simple man I have a simple solution. The solution has been around for a long long time…we learned it as children, little children…treat others as you want them to treat you…would it not be a wonderful world if every person treated his fellow man the way he wants to be treated???? We are One Human Family.


  5. @ Mickey Foster – Sometimes people prefer not to be treated as I wish to treat myself.

    @ Moliere – The virtue of kindness will only get you so far in life.

    @ Van Brown – Good read. How would you compare “integrity” vs. “decency”. Are they essentially the same in your mind?

    @ Little D – Far out. Hi 5



  6. Great essay. When I hear or read someone who bemoans the loss of “old-fashioned values,” I often wonder if they mean the values that stratified society according to the colour of people’s skin, allowed priests to molest children without being questioned or forced other people to work in unsafe conditions for little pay.


  7. Posted by Lynn Sigmon Foes on February 23, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Great food for thought, Van. I value community more than collectivism; the community is divergent and many in it don’t share my values at all, but we all share life on a planet with limited resources. We all need to be loved and to give. The older I get, the more I need to be an active member in the messy notion of community. Bringing people together for the common good and practicing the Golden Rule seem to permeate all my old age activities. There’s a profound sense of joy associated with connecting with others to strengthen our town, whether it’s working with my “book club” for struggling readers who hear only Spanish at home, building ramps with a Heart and Hammer project, or simply sharing the load of caregiving with neighbors who, like me, deal with a parent’s Alzheimers pain. I can’t claim integrity because I clearly recognize that I benefit far more than I give, but perhaps integrity begins to grow in settings where we strive to find our common humanity.


  8. Posted by Chris Aristides Pappas on July 13, 2013 at 1:23 am

    Hi Van: I submit that survival is not all “red in tooth and claw”. Primarily, it is about adaptability. But this is closely surrounded by behaviour. This stands for the earliest organisms to the most recent. Appropriate behaviour is a matter of appropriate response. Any organism that exhibits inappropriate response is exhibiting survival risk.

    The more complex the organism, the more complex the interaction with the environment. This includes all other organisms. In complex organisms, this includes every other cell in that organism. Where any organisms interact, we have social behaviour.

    If we jump to mammals, we may consider these interactions closer to home. Even asocial species exhibit general social behaviour. Primarily, the genesis of social behaviour arises from the relationship of an asocial species mother with her young. Leopards are the predecessors of all the other roaring cats. They have a wide range of prey. Yet studies and their observations show both high adaptability, which includes trans-species social behaviour. Of the roaring cats, the Leopard is the only one resisting decline. They have so adapted to the human presence, that they are as common in Indian villages and cities as racoons, skunks, coyotes and even deer are in North American urban areas.

    Animal societies depend upon cooperation, altruism and even fondness. These are all matters of “integrity”. Competition within any group diminishes external vigilance. Bullying directs the bully’s attention towards their victims and their victims’ attention towards the bully(s). This only makes any ambush predator’s job much easier.

    Humanity, as a whole, has been led away from integrity. When technology allowed an accelerating population bloom, predation vanished as a control of bad hominid behaviour. The result has been both the accumulation of inappropriately conserved genetic mistakes but also increased expression of counter-survival and even directly anti-social behaviour.

    But technology cannot be held to blame. Technology was simply a process of developing prostheses towards survival. Developing technology drove emergence of language, and the entanglement of these unfortunately inspired mystical thinking. This, and the preceding, have driven social polarizations and fractures from the largest to smallest scales. Subjectivity has trumped objectivity in general human social behaviour. We must consider that cancer cells are simply human cells that have become anti-social. They pretend self. The difference in humans is not racial, as these are only species varieties.

    The difference is in belief systems. When such face off, integrity, empathy, altruism and cooperation are the immediate victims.


  9. Posted by thevanbrown on July 13, 2013 at 2:19 am

    Chris, many belief systems that are steeped in superstition seem to be belief disorders. In fact, most individual belief systems tend to view all others as somewhat disorderly, which I suppose is the reason for the “face off”. If humankind could find a way to free their minds of spellbinding myths long enough to be rational with each other, perhaps integrity, empathy, altruism and cooperation would not become casualties.


  10. Posted by Chris Aristides Pappas on July 14, 2013 at 4:35 am

    Van:The greatest difficulty is in the great length of time that superstition, mystical thinking has been with us. It may have arisen in hominids at least two ancestor species prior to H. sap. It may even have arisen at some period in the long existence of H. habilis. We know that H. neanderthalensis employed mystical thinking from objects they left and their burial sites.

    I hold that tool making was essential for hominid survival. H. habilis certainly did much better than its predecessors. Tool making was developing us in reciprocity to us developing tool making. I submit that this slowly redeveloped our vocal centre to a language centre. Simply as we developed technology, tool making, we had to mostly subconsciously and automatically, extend vocalization.in order to communicate regarding tool making and tool use. Tool making requires thought processes dedicated to that. This requires diverting vigilance and curiosity towards making and using tools; directed questioning behaviour. This also generates the expectation of finding answers. Certainly, as technology and language advanced, other kinds of questions arose. Human social structure and behaviour had advanced with these. Troops had “evolved” to larger units, tribes. We know that H. neanderthalensis lived in more complex tribes as did even early H. sap.

    Nature involves random behaviour. Vigilance is an absolute requirement for survival, for predators and prey alike. If you’re not paying attention, even entirely out of left field events may seal your “fate”. Note that fate may be considered as chance rather that determinant. Simply, the last penny-flip is our individual fate.

    However, technological thinking would clearly make hominids more uncomfortable about randomness than the other animals and fear has ridden hominid shoulders from inception of the genera. Tool use and then tool making arose coincidentally and not determinately. Other apes had developed some tool use before hominids appeared. Monkey see, monkey do. But hominids were at greater risk than the other apes. They were smaller and weaker and as johnny come lately, not capable of competing with others where those had the evolutionary head start. .

    But hominid fearfulness had even greater inspirations. The leopard has a wide appetite, but primates are high on the menu. Hominids were easier prey than baboons or chimps. However, the behaviour of chimps and baboons clearly suggests that they would have preyed on hominids as well. It is no wonder that hominids were drain circlers until they got a reasonable handle on technology.

    Millions of years of such exaggerated fearfulness could only become imprinted, hardwired, in hominid brains.

    So, when technological questioning behaviour and language had so progressed to where we started asking questions about why unpredictable things happen, there were already certain built in biases.

    Further, we stared asking questions that we simply did not have even the remotest ability to answer appropriately. So we made things up to quiet our minds.

    Now, the biggest problem is that knowledge and comprehension are necessary to even begin to think another way. But even this is not enough because education is no guarantee that educated people do not continue to harbour mystical thinking and mystical belief systems.

    I wish that I could envision some method to circumvent all this, but I can’t. However, chance rules all, so who knows? Maybe there will be some probability of initiating an accelerating change of human thought.

    The odds are very “dispiriting”.


  11. Beautifully interesting clarification of integrity and values Van thank you. Is integrity inherent in us I wonder or is it something (a value, since it is of value) that can be learned as we walk along our paths?


    • Posted by thevanbrown on November 30, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      The straightforward answer is that I don’t know. Perhaps some of both. We do have evidence that adaptability is the single most important trait for the survival of any species. Social animals, such as humans, have found some benefit in cooperation with adaptations. In fact, cooperation whether a conscious and aware effort or not, seems paramount to the survival of most plants and animals–and not just so within their own species. So it would seem some inherent values of safety, food, and the ability to care for our young may be hardwired in our emotional patterns. So there is some thought that the sharing of shelter, food, and childcare be perceived as “the right thing to do”, naturally.

      But as humans began to evolve, a curious thing called “imagination” began emerging. And with that, came ways to describe the imagined. Our ancestors expanded communication skills, and developed complex languages. This was the chance for stories, often little more than explanations, to begin to distance us from animals that had no such tools, or the ability to even use them. With stories, ideologies developed in ways not possible without the “telling”. Often, such tales include presuppositions about what to fear, and how to deal with perceived threats. Those who believe in the stories are far more likely to assign values to processes described in them.

      There are many religions found among hmans. All of those religions are a part of stories. Some people are more devoted to their stories than others, to the extent of becoming quite fanatical (perhaps as viewed by others less so devoted). While not all religious people are extreme zealots of their faith, it is realistic to recognize all extreme zealots of ideologies are (if only by their own claim to be) religious people.

      And as we face issues dealing with the acts of terrorists in our world, we must admit it would not exist without values. But that it is inclusive of integrity at all, seems to be disputed by the majority of human beings.


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