Integrity, The First Great Virtue, represents a triumph of character. The triumph, develops advantages ranging from trustworthiness and reputation to enforcement of purpose, strengthening of standards, defeat of ill-advised compromise, and adherence to values and ideals. Its rewards include loyal friendships and clients, devoted customers and vendors, confident investors, and enlargement of the name and brand.
Efforts to implement and practice it are neither easy nor ending. The pathways are strewn with obstacles. Among them are blind group loyalty, impregnable custom, and unquestioned conformity. Add a bent for avoiding the issue, straddling the question, side stepping it, or splitting the difference. All negate independent thought and clamp the exercise of will intrinsic in shaping sound standards.
The vices of highest rank are the big three: hypocrisy, expediency, and the lie. Expediency consists of placing self-interest first. The just and right are relegated. Neglected are considerations best for the long term. Expediency places overwhelming emphasis on the immediate, the pressing, the crisis, with little thought for future consequences. Says the expedient, “I will pursue a course that gives me immediate gratification. If in the process basic beliefs are smothered, so be it.”
Hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another, has numberless variations. In their confines are insincerity, deception, and superficiality. The hypocrite is constantly pulling off layers of personality hidden from him and the world. He assumes a superficial semblance to the real thing, if you will—a counterfeit display. The effect deprives one of principal instruments for action—trust and belief.
Today, hypocritical specimens abound. Officials gain and hold positions they are incompetent to fill. Public figures and sports celebrities promote products they do no use. Lawyers advertise as advocates who never enter a courtroom. White coated hucksters hawk medical products. The list is long. Twentieth-century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, is reported to have declared, “I can excuse ignorance. On occasion I can overlook stupidity. Hypocrisy—never.”
Last of the well-marked adversaries is the lie. Truth is a supreme value, and though universally practiced, the lie is universally condemned. Gissela Bok gives a good definitions. She defines a lie “…as any intentionally deceptive stated message.” Cases in point include lying under oath—any oath; distorting accolades in recommendation letters, false promises of public office seekers; expedient falsehoods in everyday life; lack of disclosure in financial statements. Fabrication, in matters small and large, those that negate good faith, truth, reliability, and commitment shatter the virtue of integrity to its very core.