Self-Integrity – The Foundation of Ethical Decisions
How can someone who is educated and, by all appearances, living the American dream - end up in prison for unethical choices? Were the issues which gave rise to such a dramatic downfall easy to identify? Read how self awareness and integrity can bring about a dramatic turn in ones life.
“As authentic self-knowledge begins to unfold, our principles, thoughts, commitments, and actions rise up to be in accord with who we truly are.” (Yasukiko Genku Kimura)
Typically, integrity is perceived as it relates to the external world such as integrity in relationships, integrity in business, or integrity in financial decisions – as examples. There is much said on the subject today as the country, as a whole, evaluates and debates ethical behavior. Many have said that Kenneth Lay and others lacked integrity because of their participation in, what most would call unethical decisions. Yet, people who knew Kenneth Lay believed him to be a man of high standards.
How did he get involved in business issues that lacked integrity or ethics? Many have said that he and many others never intended to do wrong. What happened? They were lead by their ego rather than by their authentic self?
Self integrity is truly the foundation of ethical behavior. Wikipedia defines integrity as “the basing of one’s actions on a consistent framework of principles and adherence of each level to the next are key determining factors. One is said to have integrity to the extent that everything he/she does and believes is based on the same set of values”. Self-integrity is being what Socrates stated “to thine own self be true.”
We are all born with a pure essential nature, and self-integrity exists by being true to that nature - our authentic self. It is through awareness and knowledge of your authentic self - that self-integrity, which is the foundation of ethical behavior, is created. When you have that authentic awareness, you then can have self integrity as well as integrity with other people and situations. When our ego can be set aside, our lives can be truly open. How we live and what we say in private is no different from how we live in public. There is congruency.
With self integrity - our principles, our public behavior, our decisions are all in alignment and it is easy to make good ethical choices. It is difficult with self-knowledge and self-integrity, to behave contrary to that knowledge. If you truly have self-integrity, then it is not natural to live in ethical illusions or create ethical dilemmas. Behaving ethically to and with yourself translates into behaving ethically with other people.
As I write this – I must say – I wish I had gotten this concept much earlier in life. Reality is, I spent many months in Federal Prison because of my unethical choices. I had a great life. I was a college graduate with a Masters Degree in Accounting. I was a partner in a very successful CPA firm and I taught seminars within the accounting field. I had a wife, two beautiful sons and a large home in the suburbs. We attended church. I was even the choir director. I truly appeared to be successful in the community. People trusted me with their money and I was considered to have a lot of integrity.
However, all that was just an illusion – a manifestation of my ego. I did not know my authentic self and had no idea what that even meant. All I knew was that my ego had to “be somebody.” And, everything I showed to the public, I believed, defined me as a “somebody”. I felt I had to maintain that illusion in order to be accepted and highly thought of by community leaders. Unfortunately, I was living beyond my means and in order to maintain the illusion, I chose to embezzle money from my clients. There was a need – an opportunity – and I rationalized it. It was, frankly, easy. I had no intentions of doing harm to my clients, my partners or my family. I was, after all, a good person. I was only borrowing the money – so I thought.
As all illusions are prone to do, it broke apart when a client wanted to liquidate and “cash in” the money he invested. What he didn’t know was - the money was invested in my lifestyle. There is a consequence to every choice we make. It was now consequence time. Because I was unable to produce the money, I had to confess to my embezzlement. The illusory life was over. I lost everything: my job, my license as a CPA, my house, my family, respect and trust from the community. The consequences were swift and devastating.
Even though I paid restitution, I was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion. Apparently, if you steal money, you still owe taxes on it! And to think I was a tax partner in a CPA firm, yet that never crossed my mind. Go figure. Going to prison was the worst day of life and yet, the absolute beginning of my new life.
Had I truly known about “to thine own self be true”, my life journey would have been completely different. I knew only what the ego wanted and the ego wanted to be perceived as being successful, wealthy, well-liked. Had I known my authentic self, then living a truly principled life would have been easy. Perhaps, I would still have all the external definitions of success as a bonus to living a principled life.
Do you live a private life congruent with your public life? Does your intrinsic self lead or does your ego lead? Are you aware of your authentic self? Many people are not and it is a process to find yourself and then find your self-integrity. There are many ways, other than going to prison, to do this. Today, as a Motivational Speaker, I share my story with others in hopes that it might spark an awareness of self-integrity. When you find your true self, you lay the foundation for positive ethical behavior.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chuck Gallagher is an international keynote speaker on ethics and ethical behavior. For information on his presentation Choices: Negative Consequences – Positive Results - go to www.chuckgallagher.com.