I have always been resolute, at least in my belief system, that my personal integrity is something that I hold dear, something that cannot be touched or compromised. I feel so strongly about it that, in fact, it was the subject of my dissertation study, “An Heuristic Exploration of the Effects of Compromise on One’s Integrity.” I can sometimes be dismissive of others who appear to compromise their personal integrity so easily, but if you’re with me, just back up a minute, because it is something we all do, probably every day, without giving it too much a thought. The issue is though, when it REALLY matters, for you or for another human being, do you have the courage to really be true by maintaining your personal integrity? I was just wondering……
I thought a lot about this issue again recently after reading “LITTLE BEE” by Chris Cleave, a powerful story about the struggle of an innocent Nigerian teenager to find physical safety while interfacing with a young professional English wife’s effort to honor herself while she struggles painfully to find herself. Both women, in their own way are struggling with very different issues of personal integrity and they each make some very difficult choices in order to honor their convictions, choices many of us may not have the courage to make.
I am reminded of the Milgram electric shock experiments where volunteers participated in a study in which the true purpose of the experiment was hidden from the participants. While being coached by the experimenter, the research volunteers were urged to deliver over and over increasingly large electric shocks to the subjects in the next room. Despite the subjects’ cries of agony, pleas to stop the experiment, and even screams of fear of death from the electric shocks, the research volunteers almost unanimously continued to deliver the shocks as instructed by the experimenter. Almost none of the volunteers delivering the shocks refused to continue. Among other things, this experiment demonstrated the powerful influence of a fellow observer who spurred them on. This, I believe is when the subject becomes really sticky.
I am reminded of another time when I felt personally betrayed that none of my co-workers stood up for me. I had been out sick for two weeks as my physician had ordered me to rest in order to avoid another hospitalization for a serious chronic disease (one, by the way, which I no longer have, but that’s another whole story). I was working in child abuse at the time and when I returned to work there had been a huge increase in the referral numbers, so a meeting was called to discuss and assign new cases. Now mind you, I was already behind due to my illness, but nevertheless it was determined that I should take two new cases that were not even in my assigned territory. One of my co-workers noted that I had been seen in the grocery store, so my illness was being questioned. At the time I was a struggling single parent with a 7 year old child, and the nearest relative was 600 miles away, so of course, I had to take care of necessities, sick or not. The incident was devastating to me, especially as I considered all my co-workers to be my friends, but not one of them would take a stand to support me at this difficult time for me. I was reminded by a very wise therapist friend that it is a rare individual who will take a stand in the presence of a group.
And that reminds me of a recent film, “Twelve Years a Slave,” when the protagonist, saved from a hanging, but not released from the rope or tree, continues to dangle precariously, balancing delicately on tiptoe from one foot to the next, as the other slaves watched in horror and despair, yet did nothing to release him.
So you see from these examples that maintaining one’s personal integrity can be a very slippery slope. It is often compromised in the presence of a group but even the presence or influence of just one individual can alter the choice we make. It can easily be compromised by fear, fear of physical harm or death, fear of judgment, fear of ostracization, fear of humiliation, and so on.
But even more critical, what happens to your psyche when you do compromise your integrity? Do these instances adhere to us like inner scars? Does it change us in the long run so that we give up, stop worrying about our integrity? Does it make us less true to ourselves? No one can be true to themselves 100%. But when you do have the courage to honor your convictions you will feel better for it. You will like yourself better. It will enhance your self-esteem. I challenge you today to become more aware of your personal integrity, what’s really important to you, and what issues cause you to compromise it. You can begin by just being honest about how you feel. Monitor yourself. Try it. How does it feel? I was just wondering……..