I don’t know when I learned the meaning of the word, but my father had a lot of it. I know because he said what he thought and did what was right. Sometimes he didn’t get the job or irritated the neighbors, but his bids were fair and his backyard policies equitable. The word is integrity and I didn’t realize what a powerful concept it is and how much of my life hangs on it until recently.
To me, integrity involves the ability to take a situation, analyze it, determine a course of action that will result in the right thing being done and, importantly, proceed with that action to fix the problem. It also means admitting that it was you who ate the last chocolate chip cookie.
Recently, my job has confronted me with policies and situations that are untenable and have impeded my efforts to do research and report on the resulting data and expert opinion that make up the body of peer-reviewed, useful scientific information. The less egregious limits include restrictions on the hours when work can be accomplished which equates to managing creativity, an important aspect of biological research, and the excessive review by bureaucrats unfamiliar with the work at hand which is an insult to a scientist’s integrity. When questioned, management cannot respond with concrete answers as to why such policies have taken over. When questioned further, I’ve been told that I’m the only one complaining. Organizational failure is preceded by an inability to be self-critical and a lack of integrity.
This recent shift in values at my job has me not only examining the integrity of my employer, but re-examining my own integrity in the face of these obstacles. The fine line of changing what you can versus accepting what you cannot rears its head. Which path shows real integrity? Other clichés come to mind, like would one rather die by the sword or live a life of groveling?
I believe in integrity. I believe that those with integrity will find a way to do the right thing regardless of the circumstances. In my case, it may be giving up a well-paying job when business practices or values are wrong or demand that individual integrity is compromised. It may be voting for the person who will do the right thing for the country and for the planet regardless of their party affiliation. It may be giving up the SUV or the holiday to do one’s part in combating global climate change.
In making the decisions I am currently faced with, I am clinging to the principle of integrity and hoping that I make the right choices. I think that Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter’s headmaster at Hogwart’s provided an accurate definition: “The time will soon come when you must make a choice between what is right and what is easy”. That is integrity.
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