Two Stories about Integrity
The Trick: Over coffee with a colleague he told me that his student evaluations last term were the best they have been in twenty years. He had a theory as to why this was the case. It seems he has a very strict policy about late assignments. One student emailed him with a story about her personal problems that prevented her from handing in several assignments on time. She begged for an exception to the policy. My colleague explained that this would be unfair to the other students but he would ask them about it. The class is on-line so he posted the student’s email for the class to read and asked them if he should give the student an exception. Apparently the students enjoyed debating this so much that it resulted in the highest level of student satisfaction with the course he ever saw. This led him to the idea of repeating this event every semester. If no student actually asked for an exemption he would simply make one up. No difficult matter for an experienced teacher. He asked me what I thought. I told him that I would not do this. Although one might consider this a “white lie” that didn’t harm anyone I still considered it a violation of trust. Students should be able to believe what their professors say. Our integrity should be absolute. Since he is an atheist I could not make an argument in spiritual terms, but I did say that while the possibility of being found out might be small it was still possible. And that the harm done to the student’s sense of trust might be great if the deception were discovered.
Most Americans who live and work in business or the professions are inundated by language that is full of exaggeration, half-truth, pomposity, empty jargon and down-right lies. Most people understand that this is the way the world works. And they are OK with it most of the time. They consider it naïve to think that the adult world could function if people just told the truth. Quakers are peculiar people. We never get used to the disrespect the world shows for the truth. We protest and drag our feet over the most trivial and normal of lies.
Though the world thinks us painfully naïve what power we have comes first and foremost from individual members of the Society of Friends maintaining the highest personal moral standards. As we refuse to make war we must also refuse to compromise with the truth. Early Friends were a force to be reckoned with, despite their paltry numbers, because when they spoke truth to power they spoke with an integrity that was far beyond the ordinary. If we modern Friends are to recover the life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars we will need to go deeper and be more deeply transformed. We cannot hope to change the world by clever strategies. We can only hope to change the world by being different from the world.