Monday, February 23, 2015

Integrity, Like Pregnancy, Is All Or Nothing

Much of life we perceive in 50 shades of gray, so to speak. It all depends on your point of view. But some things are stark black and white. Like being pregnant. You can’t be “a little bit pregnant.” A woman either is – or she’s not. It’s the same with integrity. One can’t have “a little bit of integrity.” It’s pretty much all or nothing.

Once again the thorny issue of integrity has popped up, thrust into the spotlight by a figure in the public eye. This time, instead of a football coach or politician, it was NBC News anchor Brian Williams, an admired member of the national media, who “earned” the spotlight of scrutiny.

Information surfaced disputing Williams’ story of having been aboard a military helicopter in Iraq that was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2003, a report that had seemed to grow over the years. Confronted by eyewitness accounts debunking his claim, Williams admitted “a mistake in recalling the events.” NBC News, faced with an assault to both Williams’ and its own credibility, suspended him for “misrepresenting the facts.”

Even a tiny crack can be the start of a spoiled egg,
a sinking ship, or a shattered reputation.
Another example of the strength – and fragility – of integrity. We can spend our lives building a reputation for integrity, and this can serve us well. But it can all be destroyed in a moment, even by a isolated occasion of misjudgment or misbehavior.

But why should someone who has been trusted for years and years suddenly have that swept away by a lapse in honesty? Maybe it’s not fair – but that’s the way it is.

Whether you’re a media star, business leader, educator, pastor, police officer, parent or a spouse, trust is not optional to the “job description.” It’s essential, non-negotiable. If someone were to put a drop of poison in your favorite beverage, you wouldn’t want to drink it even though the poison would be only an infinitesimal percentage of its volume. In a similar way, a tiny bit of deceit can spoil a lifetime of trust and confidence.

That’s why I’m so impressed by the wisdom of the Bible. It tells it like it is, even though we often don’t like what it says. For instance, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9). Another passage underscores the point: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful will be destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).

Just as a tiny crack can cause a ship to sink, even a small act of deception can bring about the destruction of one’s once-sterling reputation.

I don’t know how the rest of the Brian Williams saga will play out. Some might ask, isn’t it harsh to condemn a man for distorting the truth on such a seemingly inconsequential matter? Shouldn’t he be forgiven?

Yes, forgiveness certainly could be warranted. As we so often hear, nobody’s perfect. But it’s also important to recognize our actions – good and bad – have consequences. When a person is in a position of public trust, as someone like Williams has been, there are expectations, even demands, for retaining that trust. Once that is compromised, it’s not easily regained.

But as someone wisely said, when we point a finger at someone else, the other fingers are pointed toward us. Rather than looking down our noses, reveling in the quandary resulting from someone else’s moral or ethical misdeeds, we need to remember we’re all only one selfish, thoughtless, reckless act away from a similar plight. As the Bible reminds us, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

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