Sunday Lifestyle

The importance of integrity

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano - The Philippine Star

I’m a Muslim and we believe that God sent his message to mankind through Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Obviously, the choice of a messenger, the person who would bring God’s word not only to a community or even a nation but to all of mankind would be absolutely crucial. So when God looked around the entire planet to choose his messenger he had a choice of getting someone rich and powerful, like a king or emperor, or someone scholarly, like a man of the law or a great scientist, or even someone that could inspire and lead legions of men, like a general or military commander. But instead of choosing a king or a scholar or a commander, God chose our prophet — an orphan, a simple trader of goods, hardly rich or definitely not politically powerful; in fact, he chose someone who couldn’t even read or write. In time, the prophet would become a great leader, commander and teacher and the faith he preached would spread from the deserts of Arabia to the four corners of the globe and become one of the great monotheistic faiths. Our prophet was chosen, not on the basis of the worldly critieria, not on the usual basis of what would make a good choice for a job such as education, power or connections, but rather on the most important criterion for choosing anyone who is assigned any task: integrity.

This week I met a new team of people that I will work with. And as their team leader I felt that it was crucial for them to know what I was looking for in a team member. I said that my formulation for the qualities of any member of my team was simple: they only had to possess two qualities — excellence and integrity. And, for me, by far, integrity was the most crucial virtue that I was looking for. As I explained to my team, by experience and work, I am a mentor and a life coach. I’ve been connected in various ways to the academe, from being a simple instructor, to a professor, to the dean of a law school, and president of a university, so teaching the skills necessary to achieve excellence was, modesty aside, not difficult. In fact, often our employees fail not because they aren’t good or don’t have a desire to excel but rather because as leaders we haven’t taken time to teach them. So the point is that abilities can be trained and knowledge can be passed on to those who work with us. However, integrity is far more problematic. As I told my team, I cannot pass down integrity. I cannot — or it would be very difficult given limited time — to teach integrity as a mere part of a skill set. In fact, I don’t even believe that would be possible. Integrity is an inherent part (or non-part for those without it) of a person’s character. And while, as a team leader, you must demonstrate integrity to your team every day, it isn’t something that they can just learn if it is in conflict with their true character.

What is integrity? From the word itself, it connotes a wholeness and a solidity of character. In the simplest of definitions, integrity is about walking your talk — not having a disconnect between your actions and your words. In the workplace, it can be as basic as when you tell your employees that they should be punctual and be at work at 9, then you should be punctual as well and be there by 9 or even before that. Or when you tell your staff that you shouldn’t give bribes to government officials so that your papers get processed more quickly and then you pay a “fixer” to fix your driver’s license — this is an example of the disconnect between your words and actions, meaning that you’ve demonstrated your lack of integrity. As the characters in the popular Game of Thrones books (which I must admit that I am addicted to, having read all the books) say often, “Words are wind.” Actions are the true demonstrators of integrity.

But integrity is a difficult value to possess. It will make you struggle with yourself. The world will go out of its way to test your integrity. For those with a religious bent, they will say that the Devil will find all kinds of ways to test your integrity. Isn’t it strange that exactly when you’ve told your family that your going to watch your diet that someone will come home with a delicious and fattening cake? Or when you’ve decided that you’re going to start saving money that a big clothes sale is announced at your favorite mall? In fact, in Islam, we talk about the small jihad versus the big jihad. The small jihad is the physical fighting in self-defense of Islam, as what the early Islamic communities did against their enemies, while the big jihad refers to the great struggle within one’s self and against your own wrongful desires. And it is precisely because integrity is so difficult and precious that it should be the most highly valued trait that we use to evaluate ourselves and other people, even when we choose the people that we will work with. 

Finally, an American preacher said, very eloquently to my mind, that we should always preach God’s words and do so with words only if necessary. To me, this means that our actions, far more than anything that we could ever say, are the great revealer of who we are and what we are made of. And just as God chose the prophet because of his integrity, we too must always be mindful that it is the congruence of our words and actions that will ultimately determine our worth as human being, both in divine eyes and human ones.











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