Be of Integrity

Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.

“Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”

This phrase has been very much on my mind in the last week or two.

Right now we all (yes, me too) face some frustration as we remain at home, dutifully following lockdown rules day after day, week after week.

Today I’d like to focus on integrity, looking at the importance of what we do, then also, beyond that, the importance of why we do it.

“I’d be ‘sneaking out’ (responsibly) by now”

Someone said this to me over the last week. I had shared my mild frustration at being in solo isolation for so long. Today is, in fact, exactly two months since that started.

Whilst I was surprised to see them text these words, I do understand. As time passes, I see more and more people rationalising to themselves breaking the rules in ways small and large.

It does feel hard for all of us to be separated from the people we’d most love to be with. Could I rationalise meeting up? I mean, we’ve all been super careful, isolated from others. Hey, what harm could it do?

I saw this play out in front of me about a week ago. A few days beforehand the UK Government first leaked that they were considering allowing households to “mix”, then the next day said they were not going to consider it at that time. Well, days later I saw someone pulling up in their car down the street from me, then unloading it to move in with their partner. My guess is that the back and forth rumours first raised their hopes of being able to be together after more than six weeks, then dashed them, at which point they rationalised “well, let’s just do it anyway, I’m sure we are safe to do so”.

So, back to: “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”

I am reminded again of the words of Queen Elizabeth in her televised address on April 5th. Wherever you live in the world, consider for a moment the integrity this woman has consistently exhibited for so many decades. A woman of integrity indeed. She said: “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.

So, at the level of doing the right thing, I like this anchor, to be proud in the years to come of how we responded, how we acted.

Integrity is doing the right thing for the right reasons

Now, in my musing, one deeper thought to explore.

The phrase giving that definition of integrity I’ve used today is widely attributed to the author C.S. Lewis. However, what he said was even richer in meaning:

“We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it—whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue’, and it is this quality or character that really matters.”

C.S. Lewis

I love this quote. It really has me thinking about why we “do the right thing”.

If we do it out of fear of being judged by others, then I put it to you that, while there can be societal value in “guilting” action, it is far more powerful to do the right thing for the right reason.

I’ve written a lot in the last week about trust and responsibility, including self-responsibility. For me, whilst I am doing the right thing (following the rules), this C.S. Lewis quote has me pondering why I am doing that despite the fact I could rationalise otherwise in some cases, why it goes beyond simply being able to say I followed the rules.

At essence, it comes down to leading by example.

Musing, this has two levels for me.

First, I want my children (in particular) and others to know, expressly, that I have followed the rules all the way through. Through this, I lead by example and tell them I am doing it, to both reassure them and lead by example.

Second, and this one is more subtle, if I do not or have not acted with integrity by following the rules, whether or not I tell or admit that to anyone I will know that I was out of integrity. That lack of integrity would show through in my energy and behaviour in some way.

What do I mean by “show through”? Ever seen a dog look embarrassed or ashamed? Sometimes they know they’ve done something, and even if you don’t find it in the house, they know.

Dogs don’t hide their feelings, you can read them like a book, always. Humans can be more challenging to read, but if you are someone of true integrity, if you do the right things for the right reasons, I assure you people will be able to sense you are someone of deep integrity, whether or not you tell them what you have or have not done to follow the rules.


Also published on Medium.