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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
On integrity and honour

“There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity” – Tom Peters

Yet another line that struck me as capturing an important truth. Integrity is either something people have or they don’t have. It’s often the little things that reveal the weaknesses in ourselves and others the most. People will always try to justify their own “minor” failings and wrong doings. Everyone has a “mitigation” and an “excuse” for why what they did was not as bad as when others do the same thing.

One “mitigation “often used is scale and that’s why I like that quote. The guy who steals a pen from his work lacks integrity and is a thief. It’s a small theft, but a theft nevertheless. Tact and sensitivity are good things, but a “white lie” is still a lie. The person telling the “white lie” is till a liar. "Just a kiss" at the office party with another that your wife is never told about is still a betrayal of your word and reveals that honour and integrity are not things you posses in any meaningful way.

It’s in the “little things” that people often reveal their true nature the most. The big things will be condemned by almost all. So most people tend to avoid big lapses for fear of being caught and condemned. However that is not the same as having a “just and immoveable core” from which you and others can draw strength.

I love the Heraclitus quote “A man's character is his fate.” I think that is very true. The person we are within determines our thoughts and actions, the impact we have on others, the person we truly are and the life we lead. I also love the line from the movie Rob Roy, “Honor is the gift a man gives himself.” In fact the whole scene is great and I’ve found a link to it (copied below).

To have honour, integrity and character we need to remember there is no such thing as minor lapses in any of them. We need to strive to be the best we can be and to be congruent and true to our ideals. We are all human and we will all fail in this. But when we do fail, do we say that we have failed to maintain our integrity? Or do we convincingly justify our lack of integrity with some mental gymnastics?

In the Rob Roy clip he talks about how everyone with honour is a king ("but not all kings have honour"), about growing honour within and us, and it speaking to us, and the importance of listening to it. All the strongest men and women I know listen to that voice all the time. They do their utmost to always follow its dictates. And when they are all too human, they regain their integrity and honour by putting things right and admitting their mistakes to themselves (most importantly) and to others. There is great strength in this. The weaker individual will “mitigate” and justify the things they have done wrong. They avoid listening to the voice within until the voice no longer speaks.

The truly strong man and woman cannot help but listen to that voice within because to do otherwise would be a wholesale betrayal of their core self; for them, a fate truly worse then death. If we aspire to be such a person, then it may be a good idea to start with the small things? Just some musings that I hope are of interest.

All the best,


strawdog's picture

By chance, I read an interesting online article concerning psychopathy today...


For me, it raised the question of how do you deal with people who have no integrity to speak of (the onfield manipulations of 'professional' soccer players last weekend made me think of this too)?  Does integrity trump deviousness?  Particularly in a self-defense context.

This suspiciously articulate 'qoute' from one of the Broadmoor inmates

 “The ability to roll out a red carpet for those you cannot stand in order to fast-track them, as smoothly and efficiently as possible, in the direction you want them to go.”

neatly demonstrates the skill of an adept con artist, but isn't it also what we intend to do when we use de-escalation tactics?

Just some idle thoughts!