Influence of Integrity

picture of author with the quote “integrity is more than honesty”

I’ve been thinking about integrity quite a bit lately. I’ve been thinking about the integrity of the people with which I interact. I’ve been thinking about the integrity of our leaders, especially our political leaders and our social leaders. I think when it comes to integrity, it’s a way of understanding our perceptions of other people.

Often when we think about integrity, we think of authority because we’re often assessing the integrity of an authority figure. So when we think about our political leaders, we’re looking at them through that lens — What is their sense of integrity? It can come down to a basic sense of honesty. — Do we view this person as being honest? Are they telling us the truth? This is part of it. This is the baseline of integrity. Are we seeing someone as being honest? Beyond that, it comes down to someone’s moral compass. In their minds, they have a kind of separation between right and wrong, good and bad.

It doesn’t matter whether that’s a dichotomy or some big spectrum of rightness and wrongness, what it comes down to is that all the decisions that an individual make, can we consider them being honest or not. The person’s decisions are embedded with their moral fiber. Their moral compass helps guide them in their decision-making.

When we look to others, whether they are authorities figures or other people in our lives, when we’re trying to understand how honest they’re being, we’re trying to understand their level of integrity as a person. At the same time, it’s important for us to look a little bit deeper and identify the value systems that are guiding their decision-making. These are not explicit value systems. Nobody sits down and makes a decision and says, “I think these things in my life are right or wrong, and therefore I will make this decision”. No, those value systems are subconscious. They lie at a very subterranean level of our psyche.

When we’re making decisions, those value systems, what we think is right or wrong, affects the outcome of our decisions. When we start talking about things like ethics and ethical decision-making, what that really means is “what is the morality behind that decision-making?”, “what is the value system behind that decision making?”, and “do we see that value system as lending someone integrity or disingenuousness, dishonesty?”.

Voltaire has a famous saying about morality. He says “I have no morals, but yet I am a very moral person”. What that comes down to is that morality isn’t a specific set of criteria. This is my interpretation. It is a very vague and ambiguous statement. My interpretation is that value systems are not something we set out to as criteria for decision making. What they are is something that lies beneath our decision making and influences our decision making. If you need no morals, it’s because your character is such that you will make the decision that is best for others in your life.

I want to close this with one aspect of integrity that I think is most important. I judge a person’s integrity by the decisions they make that affect other people. People in positions of authority are often asked to make decisions that affect others' lives but don’t affect them. When we look at the integrity of someone, when I look at the integrity of a leader, I’m often trying to assess in what ways their decisions might affect others. What is the moral compass guiding those decisions? Is it guided by compassion or is it one of selfishness?

I think integrity is something we’re not paying close enough attention and something that we can pick apart in much more detail when we start looking at the motivations behind everyone’s decision-making.

This article was first published as part of the Universal Design in Life and Work podcast.

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Dr. Anthony Giannoumis

Dr. Anthony Giannoumis

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Action Researcher. Social Entrepreneur. Equality Advocate. Podcaster. Hamster Dad. Follow me for all things universal design and social innovation.