Integrity Comes at a Price

My friend and lawyer, Alison, has the unenviable task of talking me down when I get screwed over by a client or business partner. My strategy is to whine piteously “but it’s not fair!” and then she explains how to use each incident as a learning experience so I can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. She also explains that sometimes people are selfish jerks and life is not fair, but she does it in a way that gives me hope for a better future.

I recently walked away from participating in something I loved to do, under circumstances I found both galling and unkind. I went to Alison with my familiar refrain, “but it’s not fair!” Why should I be the one to step aside? Why am I the one taking a professional backstep? Why do I watch from the sidelines, while the wicked and untrustworthy prosper? Alison just looked at me, shrugged and said:

Integrity comes at a price.

Integrity doesn’t come from the easy stuff. It’s effortless for me to think of myself as a person of integrity, simply by not doing things I don’t really want to do.

That job torturing puppies sure would make a lot of money! But I won’t take it, because I have integrity.

I could so easily push this old woman down and steal her purse. I won’t. You know why? Integrity.

Child labor laws are for suckers. Surely any competent ten-year-old could do this content audit, and I could pay her in candy! Alas, I can’t do that, because of my integrity.

Integrity comes in the hard choices, from saying no to things you wish you could say yes to. It’s refusing to take a project you might enjoy and that would pay well, because you don’t respect the values of the organization. It’s walking away from a business partnership that offers you significant benefits in terms of exposure and collaboration, because you learn your business partner is not a man of integrity. It’s ending a friendship with a person you genuinely like, because you realize she doesn’t truly have your back.

Integrity means living with the right choice when every fiber of your being is shrieking but it’s not fair.

Integrity comes at a price. And it’s worth it.

Business relationships come to an end. There’s always another project, another client, another conference. Friendships come and go.

Your relationship with yourself is forever. There is power in knowing what you will say no to. The world may never be fair to you, but you can be fair to yourself.

Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will. Integrity is not a search for the rewards of integrity. Maybe all you ever get for it is the largest kick in the ass the world can provide. It is not supposed to be a productive asset.

—John D. MacDonald