How Much Is Your Integrity Worth?
By any account, the conversation was awkward. Imagine walking into a chat between a couple of friends and not realizing there was a tension-filled question in the air. I approached my friends looking to shoot the breeze, catch up, and maybe have a laugh or two.
Instead, I walked into an awkward silence followed by an even more awkward hemming/hawing/feet shuffling/stiff body language exchange that made my skin crawl. Fortunately, I pieced together the facts quickly and eliminated the possibility that I was the source of everyone feeling uncomfortable. (whew!)
Apparently my friend "Red" was flying cross-country and she knew that my friend "Barb" had an annual "Gogo" account that gave Barb access to the in-flight internet service sold by the airline. Red thought that rather than purchase her own pass, she'd simply borrow Barb's credentials.
No big deal, right? Wrong.
The conversation I walked in on was Barb explaining in a calm, quiet voice how surprised was she was that Red would want to "steal" a service. Red defended the request, explaining she was only asking to "share" the connection and that it wasn't "stealing."
Barb wasn't buying what Red was selling. After a couple of exchanges, Barb said in a disappointed voice...
"You DO know the service costs about ten bucks, right? Isn't your integrity worth more than that?"
Wow. Good question.
This wasn't about a moral dilemma of whether you should steal bread to feed your family, this was just a little compromise. The choice was whether or not ten bucks was worth turning a square or a round corner. The decision was whether to show integrity in something small.
We face similar questions every day:
- Do we take responsibility for the mistake we made? Or do we hedge the role we played in the process?
- Do we accept the decisions of the authorities in our lives? Or do we find ways to live beyond the rules?
- Do we do our best when no one is watching? Or do we perform on demand only?
- Do we pay our way? Or do we coast on the efforts of others?
- Do we act with transparency in mind? Or do we "put on" the face others expect to see?
Whenever I think about cutting corners, I recall this conversation. After all, if I'm willing to compromise on something small, I'm still standing on the same slippery slope as those who have made bigger compromises.
Albert Einstein famously said: “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
I would be wise to remember demonstrating integrity in the little things is practice for having integrity in important matters.