A while back I entered into a business arrangement with a long-time family friend. I know in hindsight this was a grave mistake, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. I was confident that the consistency and strength of our friendship was without question and that this arrangement was mutually beneficial. Boy was I naive! From the start things did not go well, and over time they got progressively worse. Conflicting loyalties were forcing disagreeable decisions and soon a stalemate arose concerning some patents and their proprietary ownership.
It’s interesting how greed has become such an integral and powerful part of our behavior in a market society. As it turned out, the issue that arose was more than his need/desire to own our product. It appeared that his company was embarrassed that they had not developed the product themselves. Trivializing the significance of my company’s discovery, “selective “blindness” appeared to have distorted my friend’s very reasoning. “How could a small insignificant entity such as us develop something NEW, especially in an industry that they dominated?”
Our friendship had been taken to the extreme, but I still felt it would prevail due to the duration, depth, and breadth of it. Negotiations stalemated and litigation seemed imminent. Then one afternoon my friend and his wife came by our home. Small talk aside, we began discussing our history together, the project, and ultimately his company’s position. Obviously he had been sent by assignment. The problem could have been resolved by an easy concession on their part. At the time, I couldn’t understand why it had become such a big issue. My entire life was but an ink spot on his bottom line, but that wasn’t the issue here. It became evident that his concern was about precedence. What if “the company” developed a reputation of concession? What if “the company” lost its standing of industry dominance, supremacy, and conquest? Competitors would come, and eventually solid issues would give way to nuisance cases. This would not be in “the company’s” best interest and so a line had to be drawn here and now. This narcissistic sense of superiority shocked me. He seemed to be blinded to what he had told us and the impact of his decision on my family!
Then came the words that still ring in my ears even today: “fiduciary responsibility.” He stated directly, confidently, and affirmatively that because of his position with “the company,” he had no choice! His fiduciary relationship with his board of directors and investors removed all his options. Like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, he was off the hook. The dilemma was now resolved, for him at least.
He then asked how much money I had personally set aside to defend our patents. Arrogantly he stated that “the company” was budgeting to spend ten times my total allotment monthly. “Litigating to the margin,” a common legal practice of delaying discovery through continuations and motions by evading the real issue and reducing the case to who is funded best. I guess he was doing me a favor by saving me additional legal losses.
So under the guise of fiduciary responsibility, my friend was under legal and ethical obligation to perform his duty in support of “the company’s” best interest. Does this mean that if it is legal it must then be ethical, moral and right? Does fiduciary responsibility provide the ability to transcend ethics, integrity, and truth? How convenient that he could maximize “the company’s” interest at the sake of an irrelevant entity such as my fledgling company. Wasn’t it opportune that because of his fiduciary responsibility he could do all this with little or no residual guilt? It wasn’t about money as this man made millions of dollars annually. This act, insignificant to him, set in motion the dismantling of many lives. The right thing is rarely the easy thing, the obvious thing, or the profitable thing.
What is wrong with American business? How much profit is enough? When did a handshake lose its importance? When did a man’s word lose its significance? When did corporate greed and short-term returns bypass truthfulness and decency? What would I have done differently if it had not been a “friend” I was contracting with? Just a small company in a small city, our passing was of little consequence and without notice to the world at large. We became just another casualty amongst the myriad of similar “victims of war” in the high stakes game of business. Like so many others, we became the fatalities of decaying business ethics, crumbling business values, and decomposing business integrity.
Like the negotiations between friends, decisions are made individually to be equally honest in all dealings by adhering to mutually assumed ethics. When there is variance between the party’s behavior, ethical challenges arise. Integrity, envy and greed are about honesty. Honesty is real, genuine, and authentic. Dishonesty is fake, fictitious and deceitful. Dishonesty is a counterfeit that covers and conceals the truth. Eighteenth century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant stated it well: “Honesty is better than policy and rules.” Integrity is about truthfulness to self and others. In the Iliad Homer states it accurately: “We hate the man who says one thing but hides another in his heart!” Integrity is consistency between thoughts, words, and deeds. This consistency of thought and deed frees us from the anxiety of duplicity of thinking and the mental discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Integrity is people-centered whereas greed is self-centered.
My friend’s loyalty was to his company before it was to me. Accepting responsibility for other people and their needs increases in direct proportion as our concern for them grows. The importance of others to us varies by circumstance as well as by age. The older we get the greater our relative awareness and attention to others becomes. There is a pivotal moment in the humility/pride relationship when we choose to see the true importance of others’ in our lives, when we see them as more than just a means to promoting self.
Integrity is understanding what is right, ethical, or best, and then acting appropriately upon that knowledge. Conversely greed is about competition for perceived limited resources. This is the Cancer of comparison. Personal deceit often covers the true motives. Greed cannot coexist with true integrity.
Greed is the opposite of integrity. It is about coveting something to the point of obsession. It’s about manipulation, dishonesty, and deception, all for personal gain. Greed is reacting on a desire to possess “all of it” regardless of what one needs or deserves. It is an unbalanced yearning to possess wealth, status, power, or goods. Greed is coveting what others have or are. It is a strong drive for excess attention, possessions, status, acclaim, and so on. Greed, like all vices, can dominate our thoughts. Greed is identified by disloyalty, deliberate betrayal, treason, hoarding, trickery, exploitation, violence, and corruption, all for personal gain.
Integrity is honesty within self. It is the alignment of actions with understood truths. The discontent of Envy derails Integrity. Envy is a hidden emotion of dishonesty and deceit. It begins as admiration and is about comparison. Envy is unhealthy comparison with others. It is insatiable feelings of discontent and covetousness toward another’s traits, status, abilities, rewards, possessions and appearance. It is the desire to deprive others of what is coveted. Personal pleasure is experienced when other people are brought low and sorrow is experienced when they succeed.
Resentments are created from the inability to conquer the ego’s insatiable desire to have and possess another person’s good fortune, success, qualities, possessions, or happiness. It is the sentiment that another person has something perceived as lacking in oneself. Greed is a desire to deprive other people of their belongings, wealth, relationships, status, and so on. It includes thoughtless, reckless, and self-absorbed thinking that leads to hatred and cruelty.
Integrity is accountability to self. Integrity is a deep-seated value of rightness. It is consistency of knowledge, actions, values, methods, measures, thoughts, standards, and principles. Integrity begins in the mind and soul, and for this reason it is difficult to measure because personal motives can rarely be validated. So many of our true motivations are at best unseen, or left to self-report. Cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort associated with words and actions in conflict, is minimized as integrity is practiced.
Integrity is consistency of character combined with a committed refusal to engage in behavior that evades responsibility. Integrity is freedom from deceit, hypocrisy, or duplicity. It is honesty in intention. At the heart of integrity is truthfulness in all conduct and all communications. Honesty and integrity are the marks of greatness. People with integrity seek to be sincere in all communications by becoming a person who keeps confidences, curbs sarcasm, and avoids dishonesty.
Another form of integrity is showing respect for information. When we share information about another person with others, we have no idea where it will end up. Like a bag of feathers thrown into the wind, it is impossible to ever account for each one. Most of us would never dream of robbing a bank or stealing from a friend, but many of us are far less careful with an equally valuable piece of property: private information. No matter how the information came, the sacredness of information possessed should be closely guarded. Integrity begs us to be such a person of honor. Gossip can hurt both the gossiper and the person being discussed. The gossiper loses respect because mistrust is validated by the very action of gossip, which is inherently dishonest. Even innocent or inaccurate allegations leave permanent damage.
Integrity is the ethics of the entire system of virtues. Being engaged in all the right performances for all the wrong reasons is vain and deceitful. Integrity is the act of taking personal responsibility for actions and decisions. Actions and behavior can be measured, but the effort of the internal struggle cannot be. By living the preceding values of courage, cleanliness, obedience and industry, success is achieved, and pride is gained. Once attained, additional efforts result in abundance. If all these efforts are approached with humility, fear disappears and confidence is built. Instead of success leading to envy, greed, and wrath, integrity opens the door to wisdom and gratitude and ultimately peace.
Children must be taught that integrity means being true to ourselves. It is being honest, upright, and decent in our everyday dealings with others. Actual conduct speaks for us more eloquently than words ever could. Integrity becomes the basis for both reputation and self-respect. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we won’t be honest with others. It requires self-awareness, since we cannot accurately communicate what we don’t know. People of integrity can be counted on to stand up for what is right even if it is unpopular, and to behave with honor even when there is no one around to see. Integrity allows other people to trust us because they know that we value our commitments and seek to live by them. There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught. Integrity is character. It is doing the right thing when no one is looking.
There are threats and challenges to safety and life, threats and challenges to pride and reputation, and threats and challenges to beliefs, values, and esteem. These threats and challenges either convert to fear and cowardice or to conviction and commitment. Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politically correct?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But, integrity asks the question, “Is it right?” There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, politically correct, nor popular, but we take it because our conscience tells us that it is right. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The degree of integrity one achieves is in direct proportion to the degree of mental harmony experienced through the lack of cognitive dissonance. As integrity grows anxiety diminishes allowing mature reasoning to increase. Integrity, therefore, sets the stage for increased wisdom and the attendant virtues of gratitude and peace.