88 - Honesty, integrity, morals, etc

At the last few job interviews, one of the questions asked has been whether, when necessary, one will fight for the right thing to happen. Unequivocally, I have said yes, but recent experience calls that answer—the rightness of that answer—into question.

The fundamental problem here is what it is that might be ‘right’. Is my ‘right’ the same as yours? When do those ideals differ? One set of answers depends upon where you stand, meaning which of your many selves is being represented; as oneself, as an employee in general, as a company representative, as a national representative, and so on.

I find that, most of the time, there is significant overlap between those many selves and for me that represents one of the meanings of integrity¹—being oneself; one self, indeed.  I find that what is right for me is the same as what is right for myself as an employee and by extension my fellow employees; I find that, whatever the stance is, it is also right for the company or school or employer. Usually I have no conflicts at all. Lucky me.

However—obviously ‘however’ or there would be little point in attempting to write this—just because I see things with overlapping perspectives does not mean that others do. Especially in a foreign culture.

I am not criticising, I am observing; I am not complaining, I am trying to understand: in so exploring I hope to help others see some of the problem—and maybe to help me to a better understanding.

Take the stereotypical ‘company’ culture as depicted on television. The company’s perceived needs (for story purposes) are sometimes shown as power, greed or profit. Then it is quite easy to conjure up a scenario where ‘right’ for employee is not the same at all as ‘right’ for the company. Where does that put the executive who is attempting to do ‘right’? Is this a moral² dilemma? Which ‘right’ supersedes?

Easy example: employment contract. It is in the stereotypical company interests to have a contract that keeps the employee at a disadvantage, so that company position is strong and the employee position is weak. People who argue differently are expressing a cultural bias. Many readers will say that contract should be fair and equitable. One asks: why? Well, probably because we have discovered in the west that a ‘fair’ contract makes employees work constructively to further the company interests; that presupposes a number of other societal attributes, not least including the idea of mobility of labour. But, in an environment where the contract is biased towards the company, power rests with company representatives and so contract holders are likely to see themselves as employees and not as representatives. Ergo, they tend to do what they are told; they will tend to follow and not initiate; they will even tend to suppress information that would be useful higher up because the culture will generate a situation where the messenger is the problem. I see this as bad for the company, but I have come to understand that others disagree and disagree strongly. Reasons for disagreeing include ideas to do with power and control, being free of responsibility and making it easy to replace staff. That is all true in an environment where labour is in surplus and specialism is unwanted – or, to put that another way, where skills are equal or assumed to be so.

Those people who think I have picked a poor example are fixed in their own countries’ thinking (honest, you are). Western countries have law that demands employment be ‘fair’ and their law explains what ‘fair’ means in that country. In a different nation there are different rules and perceptions of fairness and even different assumptions of whether fairness is relevant.

Incidentally, in whatever position I find myself in. I shall argue for the equitable version. Having explored both sides of this inequality, the cost of equality (equitability? equity?) is low and the return upon the perception of equity is high - so in my view this is a no-brainer, the equitable version gives a win for both sides.

Similarly, if ever again (and whenever I was) in a position to employ people, I want to employ those who stand up for what they think is right or proper or ideas like that. I would far rather have someone question a policy than follow blindly, silently, passively. However, once the arguments have been presented and a decision is made, I want those who argued differently to help make the decision a success. I have seen this, done this and found it a comfortable state. I see, though, that for some people this willing compliance is a step too far.


What is school for? Is it for education? What is that? One of the greater criticisms I heard in Britain was that we were running a results factory. Lost, then, was the ideal of learning to learn, of developing an interest in the world, of expanding understanding. Instead we have (when listening to a depressive monologue moan so typical among teachers feeling over-worked) ‘teaching to the test’. One sees some results of that system in China: here, the system is monolithic and enormous. A state education produces people who know exactly the same things (and don’t know exactly the same things). If the course (system, curriculum) doesn’t tell you about the breakup of the Balkans, then you have never heard of Croatia and (as I noticed last night) European soccer becomes very confusing. If everyone ‘knows’ that London is the only city of comparable size with any city in China, then an assumption that everywhere else in Britain is irrelevant becomes more understandable. Hence the question, “Is England inside London?”.

He’s off topic again, you think, but I’m still on about integrity and honesty, honest: read on:

An issue raised with me recently in the office included a sentence I quote here: “Say one thing, think another and actually do a third”. Where this pertains, actions speak very much louder than words. The whole situation smacks of Brave New World. I have recently accused several local friends of exactly this, thinking I was originating the expression⁴. Where there is reaction worth sharing I conclude that some of the problem is ideographic and some is to do with personal honesty—being honest³ with yourself.

How can a problem be ideographic? I refer yet again to the multiplicity of possible meanings of any sound here in China; where you might expect people to be very (very) careful to say exactly what they mean, what tends to happen is more nearly the reverse—we simply accept that communication is poor. As an Indian will say “This one” and leave you to guess the subject at issue, so a Chinese does the same, and adjacent ‘thisses’ will switch at whim, leaving anyone confused—and sometimes this is deliberate. So the words do not match the thinking; the thinking of the recipient of a message is flawed and the only truth lies in observing an action. But in turn that means that all motivations and interpretations of the observed action are themselves flawed. This is not healthy for society and it makes the success of China as a nation all the more remarkable.

At the same time, it leaves quite a few westerners observing that this same unhealthiness will prevent China from being the world force it might be.

Honest with yourself? This is an issue of self-deception. We all do it: for some of us that is just a reflection of self-confidence [“I’m this good”. No, you probably aren’t, but if you believe it you might strive to live up to the expectation]. For some of us, deception is a habit that is destructive, delusional and even deliberate. Self-honesty is not necessarily depressing; it can be motivating, stimulating and liberating. “I need to work at that” might turn into a motivation to do something about it, as might “I didn’t do that well”.

Concerns for distinction between right and wrong behaviour is what morals are about³. The problem is that when the idea of what is ‘right’ is under question then we can have many different moral codes.

When the Japanese took Nanjing back in 1937 there were atrocities. The Japanese code at the time declared non-Nippon to be non-human and so the slaughter of locals in Nanjing was considered equivalent to culling animals. We had similar thinking developing in Germany at the time. We decry it now, but perhaps the distance of history will allow us to understand. If ‘right’ then can be so extremely far from ‘right’ now, what smaller differences could be perpetrated and not be noticed? How do we decide what is ‘right’?

It is deciding what is right that defines our societies. We do not especially agree what ‘human rights’ are; some of the problem there is because we don’t ‘all’ agree except locally.  Air? Air, water, shelter? ? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Right to choose? These things define our societies. Note the plural; too many assume that there is only one society, one moral code, one truth.

I await comment. Probably in vain.

DJS 20120612
and, by 2018, nary a comment received.

1 integrity |inˈtegritē|    noun

    1 the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness: he is known to be a man of integrity.
    2 the state of being whole and undivided: upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

• the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction: the structural integrity of the novel.
• internal consistency or lack of corruption in electronic data: [as modifier]: integrity checking.

ORIGIN late Middle English ( sense 2): from French intégrité or Latin integritas, from integer ‘intact’ (see integer). Compare with entirety,integral, and integrate.

2 moral |ˈmôrəl, ˈmär-|  adjective

     1 concerned with the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character: the moral dimensions of medical intervention | a moral judgment.
• concerned with or derived from the code of interpersonal behaviour that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society: an individual's ambitions may get out of step with the general moral code | the moral obligation of society to do something about the inner city's problems.
• [ attrib. ] examining the nature of ethics and the foundations of good and bad character and conduct:
moral philosophers.

       2 holding or manifesting high principles for proper conduct: he prides himself on being a highly moral and ethical person.
moral |ˈmôrəl, ˈmär-|  noun
        2.1 a lesson, esp. one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience:
the moral of this story was that one must see the beauty in what one has.
2.2 (morals) a person's standards of behaviour or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do: the corruption of public morals | they believe addicts have no morals and cannot be trusted.

DERIVATIVES
morally       adverb theories that assert that all inequality is morally wrong
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin moralis, from mos, mor- ‘custom,’ (plural) mores ‘morals.’ As a noun the word was first used to translate Latin Moralia, the title of St. Gregory the Great's moral exposition of the Book of Job, and was subsequently applied to the works of various classical writers.

3 honest |ˈänist|        adjective
free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere:
I haven't been totally honest with you.
• morally correct or virtuous: I did the only right and honest thing.
• [ attrib. ] fairly earned, esp. through hard work: struggling to make an honest living.
• (of an action) blameless or well intentioned even if unsuccessful or misguided: he'd made an honest mistake.
• [ attrib. ] simple, unpretentious, and unsophisticated: good honest food with no gimmicks.
adverb [ sentence adverb ] informal
used to persuade someone of the truth of something:
you'll like it when you get there, honest.
ORIGIN Middle English (originally as ‘held in or deserving of honor’): via Old French from Latin honestus, from honos (see honor) . honesty |ˈänistē| noun.  The quality of being honest

truth |tro͞oTH|  noun ( pl. truths |tro͞oT͟Hz, tro͞oTHs| )
the quality or state of being true: he had to accept the truth of her accusation.
• (also the truth) that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality:
tell me the truth | she found out the truth about him.
• a fact or belief that is accepted as true: the emergence of scientific truths.
ORIGIN Old English trīewth, trēowth ‘faithfulness, constancy’ (see true,-th2) .

4  “Say one thing, think another and actually do a third” DJS, in the weekend before writing this, while in extended conversation with herself. Hunting for evidence, I find this site dated very much the same time as my first upload date.  “When somebody says one thing, does another, thinks something else”. Apparently this is called lacking congruency. Thanks to Natalie Lue.

© David Scoins 2017