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Integrity in Personal
and Professional Life
In the context of human psychological issues, integrity means congruence between one's expressed principles and internal values and one's external actions
(Branden, 1985). A person who professes to respect honesty, for example, must conduct himself honestly in his relationships and affairs to maintain his integrity. The challenge of living a life of integrity arises when circumstances and situations make it easier to violate one's own values for the sake of convenience or personal gain.
Therefore, a person who considers honesty a particularly important value may not choose to be dishonest where doing so might be advantageous without violating psychological integrity.
Similarly, psychological integrity requires situational objectivity, which simply means that one must uphold the exact same rules for one's self as one believes appropriate for others in similar circumstances. Therefore, a person who considers it inconsiderate for someone else to double-park next to his car may never double-park next to anyone's car, either. Ordinary observation and experience reveals that most people lack psychological integrity, because they routinely violate the very same rules that they expect others to uphold (Branden, 1985).
Finally, a person of integrity does not choose to maintain close friendships with others, whose conduct and values conflict with what he believes is appropriate right, and just. Therefore, a person who claims to uphold honesty and righteousness does not chooses friends whose conduct violates those values, except at the expense of his own integrity.
Integrity in my Personal Life:
In my life, the concept of personal integrity first arose, specifically, in the context of my mutual friendships with several other friends and social acquaintances.
Prior to my discovery of Nathaniel Branden's The Psychology of Self-Esteem (2001)
and Honoring the Self (1985), I was comparatively unsure how to handle situations involving disputes between mutual friends of mine, particularly where my own analysis of who was right about the issue between them conflicted with conventional
"wisdom" that friends should remain completely impartial where the dispute between mutual friends is none of one's business.
In retrospect, I realize that maintaining complete impartiality is nothing short of cowardice, anytime one believes that one or the other of his mutual friends is right to be angry at the conduct of the other, in an objective sense. My personal commitment to psychological integrity (now) requires that I support the position of whichever of my mutual friends is right against the other, precisely, because my allegiance is (now) to objective principles of right and wrong, rather than to either person by virtue of the chronological length of our friendship, or even to which friend is closer to me than the other.
As a black man, I have encountered overt racism on the part of neighbors and coworkers. Several times, situations arose where a person who was clearly not racist himself, maintained a friendship with me as well as with mutual acquaintance who he knew had expressed a racist attitude toward me. Prior to my current understanding of the concept of psychological and philosophical integrity, I accepted the impartiality of mutual acquaintances in these situations. Now, I realize that the appropriate response of a person in the position of the non-racist is either to reject any friend who expresses racist (or other objectively offensive attitudes), or to understand that his continuation of any friendship with someone who harbors inappropriate ill will toward me necessarily precludes any continued friendship between us. Whether the issue is racism or anything else that is objectively offensive to my values, I no longer tolerate any "friends" whose values and conduct I cannot respect. As a corollary of the importance of psychological integrity in my personal life, I no longer tolerate friends who tolerate inappropriate conduct or values in others, regardless of whether those friends know me, or whether their conduct has any bearing on my life, in particular.
As a consequence of my standards for friendships, I have encountered criticism from people (and former friends) who believed that it was "none of my business" who their friends were or what their friends believed or how they conducted themselves unless their friends' behavior affected me personally. My response has always been to explain that a person with integrity never judges other people by the degree to which their conduct necessarily affects him, because moral values and issues of right and wrong are not subjective and do not hinge on the identity of those impacted by their behavior. This objectivity is a fundamental component of true psychological integrity (Branden, 1985).
Finally, my firm position on issues relating to integrity have also necessitated a response to (at least) two other closely related concepts: namely, human judgment and objectivity. Many of us have been taught, by religious figures, for example, that only God judges moral right and wrong, and that human beings may not judge other human beings, lest they be judged, and so forth. Personal integrity, on the other hand, absolutely requires that a person be willing to make moral judgments about the conduct, values and lifestyle of others.
In actuality, there is absolutely no conflict between these two notions, when each is defined and understood appropriately. In the context of religious philosophy, judgment refers to punishment. In the realm of theology, it may indeed be true that only God may fairly judge the moral conduct of human beings, notwithstanding the fact that penal laws also empower judges and juries to judge conduct and even impose punishment in other situations. So, while it is true that, ultimately, only God may judge human moral conduct in the context of eternal reward or damnation, human beings judge each other's conduct all the time in other respects, most notably, in connection with criminal statutes of human origin.
The only judgment one makes in the context of integrity is whether one wishes to associate with another whose conduct or expressed values he does not condone. He does not presume to judge another in the sense that he condemns him or assigns any punishment, which is purely the responsibility of God, and in other instances, human judges and juries. Without making certain appropriate judgments about human conduct, one could not ever justify the decision to refrain from friendships with people he does not respect, in which case, every child molester and serial killer
"deserves" my friendship as much as anybody else.
The other argument that often arises in connection with my standards for maintaining only friendships that do not conflict with my personal integrity is the concept of objectivity. I have encountered the argument that any view is necessarily subjective and that it is simply impossible for me to know with certainty who is right and who is wrong in any given situational conflict. The fact of the matter, is that in many situations, it is absolutely possible to determine who is right or wrong as between two people in conflict. Judges and juries award damages in civil matters all the time, precisely, by listening to the respective arguments and justifications for human conduct. Sometimes it is not possible to reach a firm conclusion, in which case, there is no award and defendants prevail.
There is absolutely no difference, in principle, between objective analyses of court cases and every day situations among mutual acquaintances and friends.
Wherever sufficient information exists to enable an impartial person to determine
Fault objectively, an individual with personal integrity has a (self-imposed) duty to support whoever is right. Where insufficient information exists to know who is right, or where it is impossible to determine for any other reason, even a person of integrity remains impartial. The essential difference between a person of integrity and others is that the former wishes to know (if possible) which party deserves his support while the latter wishes not to know (even where it is obvious), precisely, so as to avoid having to make any difficult personal ethical decision.
Integrity in Professional Life:
Personal integrity applies to professional matters in the same manner as it does in personal life, except that certain issues that preclude personal friendships are acceptable in professional relationships, provided the relationship remains strictly within the professional realm. Therefore, even a person with personal integrity who also abhors racism, for example, may continue to do business with an individual he knows to be a racist in his personal life. On the other hand, if the racist sentiments impact the actual professional realm, then a non-racist businessman with personal integrity may not do business with a racist professional acquaintance without violating his commitment to integrity. By way of illustration, a non-racist professional car mechanic with personal integrity may fix the vehicle of someone he happens to know harbors racist sentiments in his personal life. Likewise, the car mechanic may also maintain a professional relationship with a murder suspect he believes is probably guilty of the crime.
On the other hand, a non-racist person of integrity may not engage in a professional relationship with a racist where his professional services help further his…[continue]
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