No one, accounting professionals included, lives a life of absolute integrity. Rather, it is an ideal for which to strive, including those who consistently display integrity can be overwhelmed by what is left over — what wasn't acted upon and what wasn't met with integrity.
Case in point: In the operating room of a great hospital a young nurse had her first day of confronting responsibility at work.
"You've removed eleven sponges, doctor," she said to the surgeon. "We used twelve."
"I've removed them all," the doctor declared. "We'll close the incision now."
"No," the nurse objected. "We used twelve."
"I'll take the responsibility," the surgeon said grimly. "Suture!"
"You can't do that!" blazed the nurse. "Think of the patient!"
The doctor smiled, lifted his foot, and showed the nurse the twelfth sponge.
"You'll do," he said.
The doctor had been testing her for integrity — and she had it.
This story, related more than 60 years ago by noted editor and author Arthur Gordon, illustrates a key component of integrity: having the courage of your convictions — sticking to your guns, doing what you believe is right, and not fearing to speak out.
Such actions are needed in the world today, at a time when looking good, showing up well, and garnering favorable press predominate. At the root of our existence is the need for the re-emergence of integrity as a common element in the collective character of humankind.
An Ideal to Strive For
Integrity is difficult to define. Eleven dictionaries carry eleven different definitions. We know integrity when we see it, but we have trouble explaining it.
There is an illusive nature to integrity. It cannot be self-proclaimed, only observed in others. Yet most acts of integrity are performed in private and not subject to public review.
Those who have integrity in large measure have discovered something that the rest of the world must know — that integrity, which many look upon as being comprised of sacrifice, struggle and non-advantageous decision making, actually makes life easier, joyful and powerful.
The Truth Prevails
British historian Arnold Toynbee observed that of 21 notable civilizations, 19 perished "not from external conquest but from the evaporation of belief within."
In his address years ago to the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, Charles H. Brower remarked that "today our country still has a choice. I believe it has always begun to make that choice. I believe it is going back to its old beliefs — such things as ideas, pride, patriotism, loyalty, devotion and even hard work."
Although those words were spoken decades ago, their ring of truth is now being heard.
Curiously, we discount acts of integrity practiced by others, not believing that they can have done what they've done simply because they thought it to be right.
Paradoxically, we're quick to condemn others who vividly display a lack of integrity, all the while overlooking or forgetting our own lapses.
A Pivotal Concept
Integrity might be the pivotal concept of what it means to be human. It certainly involves fully accepting one's humanity.
Integrity has many synonyms. However, no single synonym is sufficient: trustworthiness, loyalty, virtue, sincerity, candor, uprightness, honesty.
Integrity is also the avoidance of deception and the avoidance of expediency. It is being complete and undivided.
Integrity is an achievement, not a gift. It is not the characteristic that determines decisions. It is the summation of the decisions we've made.
In accounting, numerous opportunities to stray loom every day — whether it be to shift a single number or to create a fancy footnote.
Integrity communicates to others immediately. It is being the same person to everyone.
It's not noble. It's not altruistic. It is a practical vehicle for living effectively, for having life work.
It is maintaining values steadfastly and focusing on what you believe is right.
All of us should be so fortunate.