“There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.” (Tom Peters)
There are few things in life harder to win back when lost than trust. And whether I am trusted is greatly influenced by my level of integrity. To me there is a difference between merely doing right things, and doing things right. It is the latter that defines my integrity.
Many times I am faced with circumstances where I can shave an edge and get something done quicker. Sometimes these are just a matter of a simple trade off. I might sacrifice a bit of accuracy for speed, or a bit of quality to get something done. These choices are part of the normal negotiations of life.
Other times the choice can be between what I can get away with versus what might come back to haunt me. This is where my personal integrity must come in to play. Whether I will be caught in doing something that isn’t 100% ethical is never a part of my decision. To me that would be a breach of integrity.
When I was in college and just beginning to date my wife, I had a 1:00am curfew. I lived at home, and my mom expected me to be there, inside the house, by 1:00am on any given night. It didn’t matter that I was 19 or 20 years old, it was her rule and I had to live by it. As is the case with anyone who has a curfew, I pushed the limits. I tried to see just how long I could stay out, and still be inside the house when the clock reached the top of the hour.
One Saturday night we had gone out on a date to see a movie. Afterwards we had gotten something to eat. When I dropped my future wife off at her dorm, it was dangerously close to the time it would take me to drive home and make the curfew. I made sure she was safely inside, and off I went.
When I was less than a mile from home, it was 12:58, and I was stopped at a red light. The street I was on was deserted. There wasn’t a car in sight ahead of me, behind me, left or right. And yet, I sat there at the light. I had been taught to obey traffic signals. I knew that if I went through the light there was a 0% chance I would be caught, and a 100% chance I would make it home on time. But, there I sat. After what seemed like an eternity (it was probably not more than 30 seconds), the light turned green and I went home. When I keyed the door it was 1:01am.
As it turned out my mom was asleep, and didn’t know that I was 1 minute late, and truth be told it wasn’t like I was going to have a stiff punishment anyway. The next morning as we were getting ready for church she asked what time I came in, and I told her I was a minute or two late. She accepted the answer and the day went on.
I had, in that example, two opportunities to sacrifice my integrity. I could have pushed through the light and been on time, and the next morning I could have lied and said I was there at or before 1:00am. But, my conscience would never have let me do that. My integrity won the day.
I am not going to sit here and say that I am perfect, or that I have always made the right choices in life. To be sure I could fill a book with the details of my mistakes and bad choices. I even could write a chapter on times when I violated my personal integrity. I regret all of my bad choices, especially those where I risked my own good reputation for expediency.
There are no minor breaches in integrity. Even if I am not caught in it, my own personal feelings about the situation are forever altered. I could not celebrate success in something if I knew that I had shaved the edges of my integrity to reach the end. To me, the end does not justify the means, if the means include sacrificing my precious integrity.