Three recent events have illustrated the death of integrity in our modern culture.
- The commission directed by the US Attorney General investigating the Ferguson events found widespread misuse of police resources by local governments in St. Louis County. The report pointed to the use of police to serve as traffic revenue collectors to raise revenue for corrupt local governments. While the emphasis of the reports have been on the mostly black communities of north county, the same unethical practices are nearly as prevalent in west and south county. Using police to act in the excuse of traffic safety lacks integrity. It results in a destructive lack of respect for police by the public.
- The destructive negative campaign techniques of Republican politicians in the state of Missouri found the glare of the public eye when one of the Republican candidates for governor, Tom Schweich, took his own life. Clearly his personal demons caused him to overreact to the comments about him. But there is no place in a political campaign to criticize a candidate’s physical appearance or religious background. Neither of these items has anything to do with whether or not he would have been a good governor. Republican politicians, who want to be seen as more moral than Democrats, have now been called out for their campaign tactics which are shockingly hateful.
- And, on the national stage, Hillary Clinton sees nothing wrong with her unethical and possibly illegal actions to hide her emails as Secretary of State. She believes – a belief fostered by the ability of her and her husband to get away with this kind unethical behavior for years – that she can win the Presidency no matter how many unethical or illegal actions she engages in. Tragically, she can win with her unethical tactics. But if she does, she will not have the trust that a leader must have to lead our country.
Unfortunately the lack of integrity in the public realm mimics the lack of integrity and trust in our private worlds. Our tolerance of bad behavior by people in the public eye is directly connected to our ill-advised tolerance of destructive behavior in the local world we live in.
Integrity is directly related to trust. Whether it is politicians, governmental officials, or those in law enforcement, the effectiveness of these institutions is directly related to the level of trust the public has in them. Unfortunately, our culture is increasingly tolerant of people in positions of authority or leadership who either got there or stay there based on unethical behavior. Predictably, many of these unqualified leaders subsequently disappoint the people that they have been elected or appointed to lead. When this happens, the public loses trust in these leaders and the repercussions of this cause turmoil. Ferguson and the issues brought to light by the events are an example of this.
While this article has listed only examples of the loss of integrity in public officials and institutions, these mirror the private world. Large companies, employees, and small business owners often take actions that reflect a lack of integrity. Similarly, our increasing tolerance of leaders without integrity has an impact in the local community of family and friends where we spend most of our time.
Pop culture exacerbates tolerance and fascination with people who live questionable and often destructive lives. Too frequently, such people are elevated in popularity because of their talent or their beauty, and sometimes simply because they captivate people by their flaunting of destructive values. In our often-misguided culture, people who lead destructive lives are emulated despite blatant disregard for the ultimately disastrous impact of their actions on the people who try to love them.
Unfortunately, in our culture it is all too easy for those who do not deserve it to be suddenly famous – for all the wrong reasons. This fleeting fame juices the view that fame for any reason is better than living a life of integrity and service.
I am reminded of a description of television that I heard many years ago in a speech by a motivational leader. He described television as the media where we allow people into our family room that we would not let come into our home through the front door.
Only when we as individuals begin to demand integrity in the people we elect or make famous, will we escape the Machiavellian world that we have created where fame, power, and money are sought with no regard of the cost to get there. When pop heroes are held to the same standard as religious leaders and corporations, we will begin to return to a world where good and ethical behavior is emulated and selfish and self-promotional behavior is ignored or distained.
Our tolerance of pop culture and sports icons, as well as political and governmental leaders who lack personal integrity, makes all of us indirectly responsible for police who misuse power and politicians and government leaders who will do or say anything to get elected and stay in power.
I encourage you to do two things. First, when you choose who to vote for, make sure they have conducted themselves properly in their campaign. Don’t vote for candidates who run negative campaigns. When you choose sports heroes to emulate, make sure they live their lives with integrity and honor. Don’t, for example, authenticate the fraud of sports heroes by buying the jersey of someone who abuses women, or abandons their children, or use drugs, or cheats.
The point is to make sure that you do not give undo praise to people with talent or fame who are visible examples of behavior that destroys the lives of people around them.
Secondly, but more importantly, examine your own life. Check to make sure that you are living your life with integrity. Do you walk the talk? Do you fulfil your commitments? Do you live an honorable life and serve the people you love with integrity? Do you support people and institutions that operate with integrity and hold accountable those who do not? Are you a person who lives with integrity, who deserves the trust of your family, friends, and community? Or are you an example, like so many in the public realm, of the lack of integrity that is slowly destroying our country.