While there are a lot of ways to pursue a goal, if you think about it, it really boils down to just two ways. We can accomplish our goal with integrity or by cheating. From a purely “goal accomplishment perspective” it does not matter which way we chose as long as our goal is accomplished. However if you choose to cheat — that one act, no matter how small, can derail you from further goals more than you know.
We all are familiar with examples of cheating such as the Enron scandal, Bernie Madoff, Lance Armstrong, etc. And we all wonder, what made these people cheat? O’Connor in the Intelligence Analysis and Profiling of White Collar Crime discusses the common neutralizations – read excuses – used by the cheaters. They are denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of the condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties. In O’Connor’s view the 4 most likely reasons why they are doing are:
(1) They think they can get away with it,
(2) Pure greed, delusions of grandeur, or megalomania,
(3) Psychopathic tendencies, and
(4) Creative opportunities and corruption.
The truth is we all have the ability to deny, abdicate responsibility, or blame others for our actions. We all believe, on some level, that we can get away with things. We all have greed, and we all want significance. So the only question is: why do some people stay “clean” while others don’t?
Surprisingly, the answer is pretty simple. It is a learned behavior. No one just wakes up one day and starts cheating. It starts slowly. We learn that we can get away with things, and as we do, we get greedy, we justify our actions. It’s ok just this one time. Yet the more we do, the more we become accustomed to our dishonesty. After a while, we create opportunities to cheat every time we pursue any goal.Cheating simply becomes the norm.
Sooner or later the balance and ability to control greed is lost, perspective is lost, massive risks are taken, and you get caught. And that is when everything collapses.
For any system to survive and grow it has to be built on a strong foundation, a balanced foundation. Our ability to grow is directly dependent on the knowledge that our accomplishments were ours – the result of our own work, and our own ability to keep commitments. In a word, integrity.
Because a goal without integrity ceases to have meaning. It simply doesn’t matter what you want to accomplish, if you cheat to get it, you have taught yourself that cheating is ok. But even more importantly, you have sent a message to everyone around you – because cheating and integrity are learned behaviors – that cheating is an acceptable way to get what you want.
This is why people who are part of communities where cheating is more prevalent, have a more positive outlook on cheating than people who live in communities with more integrity. The saying “a man is known by the company he keeps” is indicative of results from such behavior. By associating yourself with people who lack integrity, you are teaching yourself to lower your standards. You are teaching yourself that it’s ok to take the easy way out, avoid responsibility, justify bad behavior, and yes, to cheat.
So where do you begin?
Take a look around you. Ask yourself, do your friends have integrity? Do people you work with cheat? Do you allow yourself to hang out with people without integrity? Then clean your social circles. Refuse to accept people who don’t have integrity around you. Refuse to lower your standards. And stay true to your goals — with integrity. Reaching you goals depends on it.
When I look around my world – the world of ultrarunning — the connection between commitment and integrity cannot be more evident. This is a world where success is really, really hard, and also very coveted – much like Olympic medals. The truth is few will succeed. So naturally, we all ask, what separates the ones who succeed year after year from the ones who can’t seem to cross that finish line? It’s integrity and it’s everything they do. Not surprisingly, integrity cannot be compartmentalized. As it turns out people who don’t keep their word – honor their commitments in life – also don’t honor their commitments to themselves. Yet the ones who do succeed honor all their commitments, to themselves and to everyone, and everything else and that becomes who they are – people of integrity.
Ask yourself what you can accomplish if you were to commit to maintain a high level of integrity. If you refuse to accept anything less than honesty in everything you do. If you were to live a life of integrity.