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Integrity versus convenience

Posted on 21 September 2020

Can you display integrity only when it suits you?

Many people believe that they practice integrity, yet also allow themselves to slip from that standard when that suits them better. Since a calm mind and a clear conscience are major buttresses against suffering workplace stress, anyone who aspires to practice Slow Leadership ought to ask themselves this fundamental question: €œDo I really behave with integrity—or do I only do so when I find it convenient?€

Peter G. Vajda, writing recently for (Integrity at work — how do you stack up?), posed the question of how far you can mix integrity with convenience. Is it acceptable to set aside the demands of ethics, honesty, and truly fair dealing when it is convenient to do so?

My own experience suggests that this is what most of us do. We believe we really are honest people—and we are, most of the time—yet we still allow ourselves the occasional (or not so occasional) lapse from strict standards of integrity when we feel that we need to do so: to meet a deadline, achieve a target, avoid getting into hot water, or butter up some superior.

Mr. Vajda€™s view of such lapses in uncompromising:

Integrity is a lot like being pregnant. Either you€™re pregnant, or you aren€™t. There€™s no middle ground. It€™s the same with integrity. Either you€™re behaving with integrity, or you€™re not.

I€™m not so sure.

Discovering your own truth

It€™s good to have high ideals, but far harder to match them every day. I agree that we would all feel calmer and less anxious if we always behaved in ways that matched our deepest values, but human beings are fallible creatures. the last thing we need to do is add to our stress by feeling guilty because, faced with an impossible deadline or a raging boss, we fudged our consciences to meet our goals.

You might want to try the quiz in Mr. Vajda€™s article to see how you match up to his lofty standards. I would use it for another purpose: to help understand what most often causes me to suffer from regrets and a bad conscience.

There€™s more to be gained, in my view, by seeking understanding of yourself and your motives than there is from erecting some golden standard of perfect behavior and battering yourself for falling short.

Slowing down offers everyone the chance to take part in a fascinating piece of detective work: to unravel reality from the mess of myths, half-truths, misperceptions, and wishful thinking that makes up our own view of our motivations in life.

Integrity has to begin with a true understanding of who you are and what matters to you most. Only then can you see to what extent to actually live these values in your life and work. And if, as is true of most of us, the answer is that sometimes you do and sometimes you don€™t, you can see what effect this has on your life.

I suspect that those who genuinely explore the effects of NOT living with integrity soon reach the conclusion that it isn€™t worth it. The benefits from short-term convenience are far out-weighed by the drawbacks of long-term regrets.

Then it becomes merely rational to stick to what your conscience dictates, not a matter of guilt or following anyone else€™s standards.


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This post was written by:

Carmine Coyote - who has written 293 posts on Slow Leadership.

Carmine Coyote is the founder and editor of Slow Leadership, with a career that stretches from early employment as an economist, through periods in government service, academia and several multinational companies, to retiring as CEO of a US consulting company and partner in a large business services firm. Carmine now lives in Arizona, but is British for all that.

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. lizthefair says:

    Very nice. I especially like the part about honoring your integrity because it’s the right thing to do for moral and practical reasons, not because you’ve been shamed into it.

    Also, I wanted to go take the quiz, but I believe your link is broken.

  2. Carmine Coyote says:

    Thanks, Lizthefair. I’m glad you liked it.

    I will check the link right away.

    Keep reading, my friend.

  3. Carmine Coyote says:

    The link is fine.

  4. MichelleKunz says:

    I find myself disagreeing with you for the first time ever, but perhaps it is simply a lack of clarity around the word “integrity.”

    I’ll be posting a response to this post on my blog if you are curious about my disagreement in more detail, but here are some of my thoughts:

    Everything we do honors some value. If integrity means adhering to high moral principles, perhaps the challenge is to first decide WHOSE principles we are honoring.

    If you mean that we ought to set our own priniciples and adhere to those, we are in agreement after all, AND we can strive to live with absolute integrity. I hope that is what you mean. For it is in trying to adhere to someone else’s principles that we usually find ourselves struggling with guilt and shame.

    When we define our own values and then commit to walking our own talk, on the days that we are less than *perfect* we can ask ourselves “What value was I honoring today?” and rather than beating ourselves up OR deciding it was okay to compromise our integrity, we can simply learn from our experience and get on with it.

    Consciously compromising our own values teaches us that there are no values after all. Everything becomes relative, and when that happens, what is truth, what is justice, what is integrity? It all becomes about what is convenient in the moment and we lose our ability to see any reason to rise above the demands of that moment, our own laziness, our fear. Relationships suffer because others do not know how reliable we are, and we ourselves cannot even answer that question.

    Michelle Kunz
    PEL Coaching

  5. Carmine Coyote says:


    I meant exactly what you said: each of us should determine his or her own values in life and then stick to them as much as possible. If the article implied that I thought we should follow someone else’s values or the mere conventions of a tired society my writing is getting worse than I thought.

    One of my greatest dislikes in this world is dogma especially the kind that gets imposed on others by the powerful for their own ends. Millions of people are persuaded into feelings of guilt because they aren’t matching up to someone else’s imposed standards. This is a total waste of time and energy.

    A saying I like goes: “Are you treating authority as truth, or making the truth your authority?”

    I try very hard to understand the truth and make that my only authority. When I do that, I find that it’s easier to live with integrity and honor the truth as I currently understand it.

    Keep reading, my friend.

  6. MichelleKunz says:

    My apologies, Carmine. I’ve reread your post, and I can see that you clarify your thoughts toward the end to reflect what you’ve stated in your reply to my comment. I think I was thrown off by the use of the word “convenient” earlier on.

    At any rate, thank you for a very thought provoking entry. I haven’t felt so fired up in a long time! Integrity is one of my defining values, and I enjoyed exploring my ideas around this topic today.

    I particularly like your quote, and I agree heartily with the sentiment. Truth is another core value we apparently share. Have a great week!


  7. Carmine Coyote says:

    Thanks, Michelle.

    I didn’t think we were in disagreement.

    Look forward to hearing from you again soon.

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