Ian and I were discussing politics at our meeting this morning. Though we come at our opinions from very different places, one thing we agreed on was that integrity is critical in government. As business people, we also both agree that integrity is one of our most deeply held values. While it’s right and just for a business to earn a profit, it may only do so by providing a real benefit to its customers. That’s integrity. If a business earns a profit by making the customer think he’s getting a benefit when he actually isn’t, that’s a lack of integrity.
The Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher developed a theory called “situational ethics.” Basically, he taught that to serve the ultimate law, that of “love thy neighbor,” some flexibility in one’s ethics was acceptable. It’s probably true that, within certain limits, we should forgive ourselves our minor trespasses as long as we are striving for a worthy goal.
Where this kind of ethics goes wrong is when it becomes a driving principle rather than a way to recognize the inherently imperfect nature of human existence. “Hey,” you say, “I’m not going to try very hard to do the right thing because, after all, I’m basically a good person.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it leads to a progressively more slipshod and uninspired view of life.
I think that if a personal credo is going to allow for errors, it should be very focused on what is actually right and good, and avoid building in excuses for behavior that lacks integrity. If you strive for great success, strive also for great compassion. If you desire riches, accept great responsibility. If you wish for happiness, learn how to bring happiness to others.
Start with integrity, and build from there.