Thursday, February 10, 2011

Response to a Recent Harvard Business Review Article on the Complexity of Integrity: A Testimonial

This article in the Harvard Business Review discusses INTEGRITY, how people’s definitions of integrity differ, and how maintaining integrity in the workplace and beyond is not as easy as we’d like.

We are all different, but we believe people have an innate since of right and wrong.  Maybe integrity isn’t so difficult after all.  Here’s one person’s view on integrity.  What’s yours?

To be a person of integrity, one must first know his values. And to know one’s values is to have strong character.  My parents began building my character at a young age.

The first time I contemplated the meaning of “character building” I was about eight years old.  My sisters and I had complained of hearing the scamper of little claws in the ceiling above our heads.  The memory of half-walking, half-crawling, through our cramped, creaky old attic, holding a flashlight for my dad as he set out rat poison, and not knowing what sort of animal eyes were glowing out of the dark recesses, is forever imprinted in my mind.  I don’t know how to describe to you the unpleasantness of that experience.  Obviously I had a lucky childhood, and my parents took great care of me.  But at the time, I remember feeling shocked that my dad would inflict such inhumane conditions on his daughter!  I remember telling him so.  And most of all, I remember his response.  “It builds character,” he said.

Kids have a way of absorbing information more deeply than adults suspect.  I doubt my dad has any idea how seriously I considered his words.  For the remainder of what seemed to me then a grueling task, I took comfort – pleasure even – in knowing that I was building my character.  The impact of my father’s response reached far beyond that one afternoon.  I’ve carried his words with me ever since that moment.  Whether I am on my hands and knees scrubbing my bathroom floor, completing a difficult work project, or picking myself up after a temporary life setback, I remind myself that I’ll come out of the situation a better person.  That simple realization motivates me to complete the task at hand.

When the time comes to make any decision, let’s make it based on our values.  Even if the decision makes our lives a little harder in the short run, it builds character.  Character is who you are.  And integrity is steadfast adherence to that person.

A sales representative recently sent an email to my boss, complimenting me.  After my boss forwarded the email on to me, I thanked the sales rep.  His reply email (which I printed, and which means much more to me than the one he sent my boss) read “You seem to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

He was defining integrity, which often takes root in the most unglamorous of places – like rat-infested attics.

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