When integrity gets in the way of what you want

Maj. Charles Barrett

There you are, walking your dog, when all of a sudden nature calls and your cheeky pup leaves a present in your neighbor’s yard.

Integrity, and in some states the law, would tell you to clean up the mess, but how could you have possibly anticipated this would happen?  In a world of do-gooders, checks and balances and right and wrong, integrity sure can mess up an afternoon stroll with man’s best friend.  After all, who wants to walk all the way home with a bag of dog poop?  Luckily for me this scenario is not a problem.  My sweet dog, Floyd is a treasure fetcher.  How can I tell him “no” when he believes so strongly in recycling?  I’d be sending the wrong message.

Integrity is one of our seven Army Values.  Sometimes it seems like we merely check the block on doing the right thing.  It’s almost as if we do the right thing only when it’s convenient for us. We tell ourselves it’s OK to cheat the system just this once, but then cheating becomes the norm.  Over time, our definition of integrity becomes warped and we continue to waste energy inventing new ways to rationalize that we somehow still have it.

Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking – it’s an intangible quality that can only be measured through one’s actions and those seemingly harmless actions have the potential to become something altogether different.

It’s the little things that lead to the big things.  Think of integrity like the dark side of the Force.  Its power sure can be tempting, but it’s also empty.  You just don’t realize it’s empty until it’s too late.  So what if you’re late to work once; a quick phone call to the boss can fix that.  Then you’re late to work twice, which is not a biggie because you can always come up with another reasonable excuse.  Next thing you know, you’re Michael J. Fox’s character from the movie Bright Lights, Big City.

I suppose integrity prevents ordinary people from committing crimes; unless that crime is speeding, in which case I think there’s a clause that allows you to keep the moral high ground on all other matters, thus keeping your honor intact, never mind your reckless inconsideration on the road.  It could also be argued that integrity is what enables the strong to help the weak; unless you’re one of the victims on Animal Planet, in which case doing the right thing is running faster than your buddy.  Sorry, Herb.  And I guess for all intents and purposes that integrity can be cited as a major contributor toward world peace.  But apart from a lower crime rate, protecting the innocent, and world peace, what has integrity ever done for us?

It’s hard to outsmart Integrity, although plenty of people try.  I know some guys who drive pick-up trucks that will put their trash in the bed of the truck, and reason that their integrity is intact because they have disposed of their trash citing that they’ll clean it out later.  What really happens is the trash flies out of the back once they drive more than 50 mph.  It’s not their fault the laws of physics are against them and have involuntarily forced them to litter, right?  I’m sure it’s OK as long as they’re doing the right thing in their own minds.  Take that integrity!

Just remember that you can only lose your integrity once.  When it gets in the way of what you want, let it.  That’s why it’s there.  Whether big or small, we each have decisions to make that will affect our character, our honor, and our ability to do the right thing.

Blog post submitted by Maj. Charles Barrett, Third U.S. Army/U.S. Army Forces Central Command, Public Affairs 

How do you define integrity? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section