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On Honesty & Integrity

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

Universal Values

I’m sure that if you asked ten people at random what their values are, you would find them to be similar. In fact over the years, I have come to realise that values are pretty much universal. Whenever I facilitated a workshop on Values and Ethics and I asked for an example of a value inevitably one of the attendees would offer ‘honesty and integrity’. However, when I asked those same people for an example of a principle that underlies that value, more often than not there was a deathly silence in the room.

Values and Principles

Let me define these two, related concepts.

Values are the things that are GOOD to HAVE. They are the essence of what we stand for, and should underpin our behaviours, decisions and actions.

Principles flow from values; these are the RIGHT things to DO. They direct people in how to make the values a part of everyday being.

You see, principles are how your values are translated into your actions; it is where your ‘ethical’ rubber hits the road.

Culture Matters

Yes, most people around the world will say they value honesty and integrity but how do they live their values of honesty and integrity? How do they express these values in their decisions and actions?
That’s where cultural awareness becomes absolutely crucial. This is not political correctness. I’m an immigrant to New Zealand from Israel and after many years of working with people from very different cultures, I have come to realise how important these differences can be, especially in the context of discussions about values.

In Israel, when you think that an idea someone proposes is stupid, your guiding principle of how to be ‘honest’ will lead you to say what you think. Basically, you tell them:

 I think your idea is stupid!

My Israeli friends tell me that such exchanges are not uncommon.

In New Zealand, on the other hand, when someone offers an unlikely idea, the reaction is more likely to be something like: ’that’s different’. These words are usually code for: I think your idea is stupid! but they avoid confrontation which is a strong cultural preference in New Zealand.

From an Israeli perspective, the polite Kiwi approach is seen as being ‘not honest’ (of course I am generalising here). If you think something is stupid, say it’s stupid. Same value, different principles.

Remember Stakeholders

And this is where the third ingredient of living by your values comes into play, and in my eyes it is the most important one. It is this: think about the impact of your words and actions on the people with whom you interact and who might be affected – your stakeholders.

You might recognise this situation. Your colleague, boss, partner, friend or family member climbs on their high horse and says, “I know you value honesty and I am an honest person, so let me tell you that I really think…” This is often followed by an insult cloaked as ‘honesty’.

To me, this is not acting with honesty and integrity. It’s the integrity bit that’s missing. I believe that living my life with integrity is about thinking through the consequences of my actions on the people around me before I express my opinion.

It’s not about always getting it right, or never offending anyone, and it’s certainly not about being righteous. So, if someone really annoys me – should I ALWAYS tell them? No matter what? Many years ago that might have been my approach, but it certainly is not now. These days, I’ll think things through by asking myself questions such as: did they mean to upset me? What else is going on in their lives? What will telling them this truth achieve? Does it actually matter? What will happen if I simply ‘suck it up’?

Living your values doesn’t mean being whiter than white, or claiming the moral high ground. Instead, it means being aware, being present and being mindful.

Socrates said it thousands of years ago:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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