Saturday, February 06, 2010

Integrity - Does It Matter Without God?

I recently read an interesting interview with Michael Jensen, a Harvard Business School professor who has written on the topic of integrity. In the interview, I liked how Jensen defined integrity, not simply as a set of values but as wholeness.

"An individual is whole and complete, when their word is whole and complete, and their word is whole and complete when they honor their word."

Jensen also speaks highly of the importance of integrity, especially for optimal performance or effective "workability". In other words, without integrity, nothing works.

"Integrity is important to individual, groups, organizations and society because it creates 'workability'. Without integrity, the workability of any... person, group or organization declines; and as workability declines, the opportunity for performance declines. Therefore, integrity is a necessary condition for maximum performance"

All good stuff - if there's anything I applaud, it's promoting the high value of integrity in the workplace. Every great organization is built on integrity and Michael Jensen is right - integrity is essential for optimal performance. That's because integrity fosters trust.... and trust is the basis for great collaboration, creativity and teamwork.

However, I think Jensen whiffs on a critical point when he sharply delineates between integrity, morality and ethics.

"Integrity is a purely positive proposition. It has nothing to do with good vs bad. Morality and ethics, on the other hand... deal with matters of good or bad, right vs wrong."

In the interview, he draws comparisons between the law of gravity and the "law" of integrity, insisting that it is devoid of moral component. The problem with Jensen's view is that it simply isn't true - you cannot separate integrity from its moral component and when you do, you're left with a hollow shell. It's the kind of "integrity" that's shaped by pragmatism but devoid of value. It's ultimately weightless and insignificant. If the primary reason for integrity is simply because "it works", we miss the very point of integrity altogether.

There are two primary reasons why I think Jensen has it wrong -

1. First and foremost, the Bible in fact, draws a clear, straight line from God to the very notion of integrity. God is described as a God of integrity. Integrity makes sense for men and women because it radiates from our Creator, who is Himself full of integrity. Integrity is an essential component of who God is. The fact that God keeps promises and deals justly with His Creation are all evidences of His integrity.

God also demands integrity from us. God is deeply interested in just, honest business dealings - "a false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight". He is in fact so committed to integrity that He blesses those who walk in integrity - "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them." (Proverbs 11:1, 11:3)

2. If integrity is truly about wholeness of the individual, as Jensen says, then wholeness has to involve more than just keeping your word in one particular area of your life. What would Jensen say about a business man who keeps a high standard of integrity in his business dealings but unfaithful as a husband? True integrity is more than just a collection of actions/decisions, it's about the whole person in all of life.

Can integrity be separated from morality, ethics or accountability to God? What do you think? What does living a life of integrity mean to you?


Red Letter Believers said...

I see integrity as a integral part of good business. And business -- whether Christians are part of leadership or not -- value integrity.

It's a godly principle that works and has practical, real-life application


Halfmom said...

I just reposted your post on my blog - I hope you don't mind.

As to "does it matter without God?" - without God, I'm not sure that anything really matters, regardless of what people seem to think - vanity, vanity says the preacher...

Every Square Inch said...

David - yes, all businesses benefit from integrity...though not all value it...but they should. That was Jensen's point but I think he values the gift of integrity without seeing the Giver. But that's still better than not valuing integrity.

Susan - I don't mind you re-posting this at all. I'm honored that you thought it worthwhile to draw attention to.

Maalie said...

I thought this was quite interesting until you brought god and the bible into it, which are utterly irrelevant in today's world.

Halfmom said...

Not a big surprise that we are on opposite ends of this discussion, Maalie. Seriously though, without an absolute, where do you get the parameters for integrity? As you, yourself, have said many times, what is considered appropriate in one culture may not be so in another. And yet, I would wager to say that you and I would see rather eye to eye on what integrity is in science as well as in moral issues.

Maalie said...

What might be considered "integrity" (or moral, good, righteous etc.) may differ between cultures, or within cultures at diferent times. There is no "absolute" reference point - it changes. Christians may consider the bible as a reference point but Western cultures don't now stone women, and are happy to mix the fibres in their shirt, and condone gay marriages. The bible is simply a book written with the best knowledge and understanding available at the time. The world has moved on.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Nothing ultimately matters if God is not in the picture as Qoheleth points out in Ecclesiastes. Though within that he projected relative good as in making the most of a bad situation. Though actually Qoheleth himself is concerned with finding what we would call "the good life", and not so much what is right and wrong, though he does delve with that in concluding that from what he sees, "All is meaningless."

I just think the only thing that will crack this barrier is the gospel, and grace through faith. Nothing else. We are blinded so that we can't see a reason to commit ourselves to something beyond what is seen in this life.

Maalie said...

But Ted, there isn't anything beyond this life! That superstition has been created by every human culture since Homo sapiens evolved from Homo ergaster in Africa some three million years ago!

Every Square Inch said...

Maalie - I understand your position but God is certainly relevant in the world since he created the world and everything in it. But since the topic of this post was on integrity, let's stick to the topic.

Integrity and ethics, if subjective and not absolute, will be driven by pragmatism - "why not bend business ethics, if in doing so we return shareholder value?" to "why not exaggerate facts in advertising to promote increased sales of our products" to "why not compromise materials on a building project if you won't get found out?"

The basis of the ethics in Western world were in fact based on a residual awareness of absolute truth.

Maalie said...

But what some assert to be absolute truth turns out to be garbage. Adam and Eve are mythology. Noah's Flood is mythology. Jonah's big fish is mythology. The world being only 7000 years old is mythology (that doesn't even get us back to the stone age!!!).

I cannot see that any of the various gods that various cultures believe in have had any influence on modern European law. Or integrity. The Gods cast their various favours equally arbitrarily between those of different faiths, and those of no faith.

Every Square Inch said...

Maalie - it's disappointing that you've chosen to express your intolerance but I accept that it's your current position.

You're more than welcome here but let's be constructive and stick to the topic.


Maalie said...

I only picked up on your very own point about absolute truth. That seemed fair comment.

However I understand absolutely why you find it inconvenient to address these issues.

Every Square Inch said...

Fair enough, Maalie but I think you've misjudged me - I do not find it inconvenient to engage your statements. It's just that the statements seem unusually narrow minded and intolerant of my views.

I'm happy to take the conversation any direction you want but let's do it 1-1 over email. everysqinch at aoldotcom.

Maalie said...

Narrow minded? Come off it, what could be more narrow minded than slavish adherance to the dogma enthrined in a 2000 year old book! Things have moved on, you know! Science is the very epitome of open mindedness!

Halfmom said...

"Science is the very epitome of open mindedness!"

Yes, you're right. It is. We always consider all possibilities until we can design an experiment to prove a hypothesis in multiple different laboratories. Until we do, we leave the conclusions open...

Every Square Inch said...

Maalie - it seems that you have immediately dismissed my beliefs and position - I'd say that would be considered narrow minded by most.

But this post is not about your deficiencies nor mine (of which there are many). It's about the need for integrity to be rooted in absolute Truth, without which it will devolve into pragmatism - which makes any course of action justifiable as long as it benefits you.

If values are subjective and ultimately mutable, anything can be justified - shoddy workmanship, malpractice, Enron... even Auchswitz

Maalie said...

To take up your point about integrity and absolute truth, it is NOT absolutely true that the world is less than 10,000 years old, or that humanity started off with Mr Adam and Miss Eve in a garden with an apple tree and a talking snake. To believe such, just because one is told to, is the ultimate in narrow mindedness. To ignore the contary evidence is worse than narrow-minded, it is wilfull denial and that renders any opinion worthless, I'm afraid.

Maalie said...

Halfmom, there is no peer-reviewed evidence that contradicts the hypothsis that the world is some billions of years old or that mankind evolved from hominid precurors in Africa some 3 million years ago.

It can be denied until kingom come but it won't go away.

Maalie said...

So sorry, I meant to add:

> we can design an experiment to prove a hypothesis in multiple different laboratories.

I am afraid you are wrong. We design experiments to furnish evidence to reject a hypothesis, or to support it for the time being (until such time as condradictory evidence may be forthcoming). In the case of the age of the earth or the origin of mankind there is no peer-reviewed contradictory evidence that I am aware of. But I am open-minded and search eagerly in the peer-reviewed scientific literature for developments on the matter.

I think I am boring you so I will leave it there. I am going to look at some skulls in a national Natural History Museum tomorrow.