Integrity is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility.” We are told in our formative years that “honesty is the best policy” and “you’re only as good as your word.” Tim McGraw in his new song, Humble and Kind, sings, “Don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie.” Oprah Winfrey inspires us with, “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” Thomas Jefferson tells us, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” William Shakespeare wrote that “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” And the Bible teaches, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…think about such things.”
For as far back as we want to research, integrity has been ingrained in our society and in our own character. So, why does it seem lately that just the opposite is being admired and rewarded? We open newspapers or turn on televisions and computers and are inundated with scandals and cover-ups. We are drawn to the “bad boy” because, although they are acting in ways that we were told not to act in, they are finding fame and success with what appears to be little negative consequence. (At least little consequence outwardly. I would venture to guess that there is a great deal of inner turmoil that is unseen to the public.)
A few years ago, while driving home late at night at a very slow speed, I accidentally bumped into a neighborhood light pole, which toppled like it was made of paper mâché. My daughter was in the car with me. We were stunned by what had happened, but laughed a good amount as we went into the house to explain the situation to my husband. We went back to the scene and moved the fallen light pole out of the street.
The next morning I faithfully reported the downed light pole to the power company and thought that would be all. But as it turns out, a police officer came to my house, inspected my vehicle and asked a lot of questions. I was issued a careless driving citation, a $200 fine, and billed $1,200 for the replacement light fixture. Did this feel like the “best policy”? My honesty cost me a good deal of time and money for a minor accident that I could have easily turned my back on and drove away from. But every day that I drive by that light pole, there is no guilt or turmoil in the back of my mind. Instead, there is only the freedom of getting through an incident with integrity.
Our personal lives and our business dealings would be best served if we give integrity its due in every transaction and every situation. In the short run, a lie or a twist of the truth may give us some success or recognition. But the long run, the benefits of honesty will far outpace those successes as we move forward instead of backward, trying to cover up or correct those lies. As financial professionals, there is nothing more important than maintaining our integrity. The burden lies with us to operate with complete truth and honesty, and to encourage it in others.