Integrity is an essential building block in our society

Published in the Courier Mail 7 July 2009

Google ‘integrity’ and you get 66,500,000 results. There’s certainly no shortage of integrity online, but headlines at the moment suggest it may be in short supply in the real world. Cast your eye over some of the news stories at the moment, such as Madoff’s sentence, the Nuttall trial, and British MP allowance rorts, and you may wonder if there is an integrity crisis. Even our NRL players seem to be concerned, according to a survey just published in the magazine Rugby League Week. The Courier Mail this week reported that the survey indicated 60 out of 100 players surveyed were embarrassed to be associated with the sport.

Integrity is the adherence to moral and ethical principles, and soundness of moral character. Far from being a noble aspiration, which may have belonged to earlier times when vice and virtue were part of public language, it is an essential building block within a society. This is at least organisationally acknowledged by the appointment next week of Dr David Solomon as the Queensland Integrity Commissioner.

The role, which was formerly filled by Gary Crooke QC, gives advice to Queensland politicians and senior bureaucrats regarding conflicts of interest and how to avoid them. This is something for which Dr Solomon’s legal and journalistic background should have well prepared him. His role is significant, for integrity and trust are essential to a strong social fabric, and successful community.

Elaborating on this idea in a radio interview late last year was Parker Palmer, educator and author of “A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life”. He said, “One of the breakthrough studies recently done in what makes schools successful on behalf of kids is a factor they call “relational trust.” They found that if a building is full of people who trust each other, you’re going to get great outcomes for kids even if that school is unfairly deprived of the resources it needs. Because if people trust each other, they will come into community, they will generate abundance, they will love the kids and love each other, and good education will emerge. If a building is full of people who don’t trust each other, you can throw a lot of money at them, state-of-the-art curriculum and teaching technique, and not much good will come out the other end.”

I would suggest that in the same way, if a state is full of people who don’t trust each other or their leaders, we can throw money at public relations, photo opportunities and smart state slogans, but we’ll never see great outcomes. For a group of people to thrive, and to generate abundance, there must be trust, and for there to be trust, we must be people of integrity.

Politicians and public servants aren’t the only ones who need to display integrity for that to happen though. We all do. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I cannot find language of sufficient energy to convey my sense of the sacredness of private integrity”.

Unfortunately, we don’t get the benefit of a personal integrity commissioner. Just imagine if we did – sort of a personal trainer, but advising us (and sometimes cajoling us) to live honest, ethical and moral lives. Sometimes we’d love them and, in all honesty, sometimes they would be jolly frustrating. However, I suspect that we’d be thankful when the moment of temptation had passed and we had been able to act with integrity. We would be free of justifying our errant behaviour, free of reconciling broken and damaged relationships and free of guilt over wrongdoing.
Integrity is an essential ingredient of being a trustworthy person, and of being a part of a trustworthy society. As Tom Peters, one of the fathers of modern management, said, “There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity”.

Dr Solomon has his work cut out for him – but then again, so do we all.