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April 30, 2013

Tired of the Lack of Integrity

I did it again. I started writing for one blog and realized I was overlapping myself.  Instead of linking you to Patchouli Haze, I’m just going to repeat myself here. Nothing like self-plagiarism!  But the version you’ll read here is a little longer and a bit sharper in tone, I think. Instead of being optimistic, I’m slightly bitter, I fear.

So, here goes:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

The more I read things Eisenhower said, the more I think he had great common sense and great moral fiber. I think this is easy for me to say because I wasn’t alive when he was president. Looking at his record, I think we may have had slight differences of opinion.  But this quote? Amen, sir.

I’m thinking a lot about integrity in office today.  I’m not picking on any one sitting office holder. I’m thinking of all of them. Ethics have become “situational” in the 21st century. I’m not saying that politics have been cleaner in the past. Far from it. But I do think that when people transgressed, they knew they transgressed. There was a sense of crossing an ethical boundary for expediency’s sake.

But today, I no longer think the boundary exists.  And it’s not just politicians. I see it every day with students–I’ve been asked when it’s “okay” to steal and lie. When I say never, I am laughed at. Students routinely cheat in their homework. It is so endemic to college classrooms that I have colleagues who have given up even trying to stem it.

But those of us who are striving to “be the change we want to see,” still try to live with integrity.  I know I encourage it as a worthy value in my students.

It’s hard for them to take me seriously, though. They see politicians lying boldly. CEOs lying, sports figures lying, and not only lying, getting away with it! Being rewarded for it!

I know from class discussions that many of them pity me because I am so adamant in my sense of right and wrong.  It’s not all bad. Some I know admire me, and I appreciate that.  I don’t do it for admiration, per se, but I do take my job as role model very seriously.  I am not just teaching my students English. I am modeling a life that I think is well lived. At least I try very hard to demonstrate qualities I think are important for success.

Of course, my students and I often have a very different definition of “success”.  Mine comes from Bessie Stanley in 1905.  It is often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, though he never said it. When I first saw it, it was as an Emerson quote. I’m not surprised he didn’t write it, as it’s not his style, but I still think it’s perfect:

He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.

Many of my students see success as quick wealth and an easy life, and this is what they tell me themselves.  Not all of them, but enough for me to sigh heavily on many occasions.

I know I am not alone in this cry for more integrity in American public life.  And I don’t mean a false integrity hiding behind words like “Family,” “Marriage,” “Christianity”.  I mean real integrity with a value system based on not putting one’s self and one’s desires first.

It’s time for our society to start rewarding integrity more.  It may seem like an impossible task, but society has changed, improved, many times in the past. And it can again.

If we don’t start real reform soon, we are doomed as a nation. I don’t usually use such bleak words, but the hollowness will destroy things.


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