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Integrity is the Best Policy

A key component of integrity is having the courage of your convictions; doing what you believe is right and not fearing to speak out

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In the operating room of a great hospital a young nurse had her first day of full responsibility. “You’ve removed eleven sponges, Doctor,” she said to the surgeon. “We used twelve.”

“I’ve removed them all,” the doctor declared. “We’ll close the incision now.”

“No,” the nurse objected. “We used twelve.”

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“I’ll take the responsibility,” the surgeon said grimly. “Suture!”

“You can’t do that!” blazed the nurse. “Think of the patient!”

The doctor smiled, lifted his foot, and showed the nurse the twelfth sponge. “You’ll do,” he said. He had been testing her for integrity — and she had it.

A Key Component

This story, related more than 60 years ago by noted editor and author Arthur Gordon, illustrates a key component of integrity: having the courage of your convictions — sticking to your guns, doing what you believe is right, and not fearing to speak out. Such actions are needed today where looking good, showing up well, and garnering favorable press predominate. At the root of our existence is the need for the re-emergence of integrity in the collective character of humankind.

No one lives a life of absolute integrity. Rather, it is an ideal for which to strive. Even those who consistently display integrity can be overwhelmed by what is left over — what wasn’t acted upon and what wasn’t met with integrity.

Integrity is difficult to define. Eleven dictionaries carry eleven different definitions. We know integrity when we see it, but we have trouble explaining it. There is an illusive nature to integrity. It cannot be self-proclaimed, only observed in others. Yet most acts of integrity are performed in private and not subject to public review.

Those who have integrity in large measure have discovered something that the rest of the world must know — that integrity, which many look upon as being comprised of sacrifice, struggle and non-advantageous decision making, actually makes life easier, joyful and powerful.

A Commitment is a Commitment

After the fall youth soccer season, the head coach of the second grade team resigned. To ensure continuity, the assistant coach was asked to take over as head coach for the spring season. He accepted the position.

A month before the season started, the new coach changed jobs. His new job was a high-pressure executive position requiring longer hours and more travel. There would be conflicts between the demands of the new job and the needs of the soccer team. But the new coach stuck to his commitment to the players and their parents.

He was rewarded for toughing it out. The soccer team, playing in a more difficult division, had a good season. But the best part of the story is what happened on the job: he earned a bonus for outstanding performance!

The Truth Prevails

Historian Arnold Toynbee observes that of 21 notable civilizations, 19 perished “not from external conquest but from the evaporation of belief within.” In his address many years ago to the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, Charles H. Brower remarked that “today our country still has a choice. I believe it has always begun to make that choice. I believe it is going back to its old beliefs — such things as ideas, pride, patriotism, loyalty, devotion and even hard work.” Though those words were spoken decades ago, their ring of truth is now being heard.

Curiously, we discount acts of integrity practiced by others, not believing that they can have done what they’ve done simply because they thought it to be right. Paradoxically, we’re quick to condemn others who vividly display a lack of integrity, all the while overlooking or forgetting our own lapses.

Emily Carruthers was a teacher in an elementary school in Spokane. A dispute between the school administration and the teacher’s union surfaced. At a union meeting the teachers discussed striking. After the vote to strike, Carruthers got up and voiced her opinion. She knew her opinion would be unpopular and she knew that she would alienate people because of it. Nevertheless she told the teachers that she would cross the picket line as she deplores strikes.

A Pivotal Concept

Integrity might be the pivotal concept of what it means to be human. It certainly involves fully accepting one’s humanity. Integrity has many synonyms however no single synonym is sufficient; trustworthiness, loyalty, virtue, sincerity, candor, uprightness, honesty. Integrity is also the avoidance of deception and the avoidance of expediency. It is being complete and undivided.

During a bitter cold snap, quick action by concerned neighbors stopped flooding from a burst pipe in an unoccupied house. Early one morning, water was spotted gushing from under the back door of the house. Two neighbors, who had no key, got inside by dismantling a window frame.

They found the entire lower level of the house flooded with two feet of frigid water. The two men ignored the icy geyser spraying from the ruptured pipe and shut off the water line. Using push brooms, they swept the water out the back door. They moved furnishings upstairs to dry out. Then they reassembled the window frame.

Another challenge was notifying the homeowners of the situation. Neighbors knew only that they were visiting relatives in the Miami area. Long distance directory assistance provided a list of a half dozen people with the same Iranian surname. On the second call, the residents were located. Because of the early notification, they were able to expedite the insurance claim. Neighborly resourcefulness and persistence had averted a major household disaster.

A Summation of Decisions

Integrity is an achievement, not a gift. It is not the characteristic that determines decisions. It is the summation of the decisions we’ve made. Integrity communicates to others immediately. It is being the same person to everyone. It’s not noble; it’s not altruistic; it is a practical vehicle for living effectively, for having life work. It is maintaining values steadfastly and focusing on what you believe is right.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Education

Academic Underachievement As a Permanent Condition

Academic achievement occurs through individual effort: One boy and one girl after another rising above

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On the state and local level, as decisions are made about how and in what form we will educate the nation’s children, an age-old issue remains. The underlying causes of income inequality and civil unrest likely has less to do with media-inflamed coverage and more to do with a lingering issue that few people want to earnestly discuss: educational disparity.

In virtually every U.S. school system, the disparity year after year, decade after decade, and even longer, in mathematics competency, reading proficiency, test scores, honor roll status, and graduation rates, between African American students and other students is disturbing.

A Disturbing Reality

Here in the third decade of the third millennium, with a male African American high school dropout rate at 40% across the U.S., can anyone view the situation optimistically? Any responsible American would understandably be concerned.

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As Eric Hanushek, who is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, as well as a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, exclaimed “It’s remarkable.” Following his extensive analysis of the situation, he remarked, “I knew that the gap hadn’t been closing too much, but when I actually looked at the data I was myself surprised.”

In one community after another, and one school system after another, when strenuous efforts to bridge the gap do not bear fruit, invariably someone yells “foul,” as if some grand conspiracy is occurring and a magic wand, yet to be waved, could suddenly redress all. And, as if hard-working, dedicated teachers are not attempting their utmost for each of their students.

An Undesired Path

Consider the school system in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina. This locale, deemed, “The southern part of heaven,” by a variety of writers, is among the most progressive in the United States. The teachers and educators here have a vested interest in demonstrating that their school system, beyond all others, can succeed in the vital area of closing achievement gaps between whites and minorities.

Nevertheless, year in and year out the gap remains. So, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education becomes primed to try anything! Another in an endless line of supposed “fixes” was to eliminate the advanced math classes in the middle schools and to lump all non-pre-algebra students together, with similar plans to eliminate other advanced classes such as in language arts.

Just as you cannot easily erect a sound building on quicksand, and you cannot expect to solve a decades-old problem by starting with a shaky foundation. Taking a lowest common denominator approach to developing school curriculum has never consistently worked, anywhere. It frustrates the students and dramatically increases a teacher’s burden – all such students must then be taught at individual learning speeds. Do you know any superhuman teachers? If so, could you afford them?

Face the Real Issues

Permanently closing the academic gap between underachieving students and the rest of the student population requires addressing reality – airing the truth about the disparity – not resorting to politically “correct” psychobabble and curricula finagling for another ten years, and then another ten, and then another.

This disparity encompasses such issues as the number of hours the television is on in given households, family or parental encouragement for completing homework assignments, a regular workspace, and established hours for studying in a quiet environment, among other factors.

Until solid analysis, exploration, and programs that address these issues are undertaken, no amount of wrangling with classes will prove to be the “winning formula.” And, school boards will have no chance of effectively addressing the continuing problem of poor academic performance among student groups.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Sign of Four, detective Sherlock Holmes says, “…When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The schools in U.S. communities routinely exhaust talented teachers with a task that cannot be solved by them, nor is it theirs to solve.

Students Eager to Learn

However improbable to those who wish to pretend otherwise, academic achievement occurs through individual effort: One boy and one girl after another rising above and cracking the books, then coming to class as serious students, eager to learn, and primed to excel. Such achievement is not likely to occur any other way.

Otherwise, expect that income inequality and civil unrest will continue for decades into the 21st century.

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Business

Common ‘Wisdom’ that Just Ain’t So

Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not accurate, at all…

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Much of what we read, think, and repeat is not exactly so. For example have you encountered the phrase, “Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither”? Often incorrectly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the phrase is nonsensical. With no national security, soon enough you’ll have no liberty.

With complete security, you’ll have no liberty as well. A trade-off is always needed. For the record, Benjamin Franklin actually said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to pursue a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That makes more sense.

‘A penny saved is a penny earned’? Once again, Ben Franklin is in the mix. A penny saved is not a penny earned. A penny earned is a penny earned and even then it might not be a full penny depending on taxes, inflation, and other hidden costs and expenses. If you save your money in a long-term CD, you can’t have access to it months. If funds are tied up when you need them that is not a pretty penny.

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Not Actually

Consider the phrase, “Experience is the best teacher.” Perhaps, this is so, but not as a given. Generally, an excellent teacher is the best teacher. Experience might teach us the wrong lessons or send us down another blind alley. If we don’t fully comprehend the meaning of our experiences,we’re as likely to make bad decisions in the future and have unfortunate experiences as a result.

Closely related is, ‘practice makes perfect.’ Practice does not make perfect. If your practices are off the mark, then you will continue to be imperfect and you might be reinforcing a bad habit. As they say in Tae Kwon Do, “Practice makes permanent.”

On my daughter’s softball team, a young girl named Whitney was regarded as the star pitcher. Yet during the pregame warm-ups, time after time, she could barely throw a strike. With luck, she averaged 20% strikes out of all her pitches thrown. Sure enough, when the game started, she was no better. Why would anybody expect the outcome to be different?

The best chance for you to excel is to have perfect practices. An array of imperfect practices leads failure.

Lemons and Life

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ This sounds like good advice, but to actually make and sell lemonade, you’d also need to have clean water, a good lemon press, some type of sweetener, a paring knife, a pitcher, an implement for stirring, and cups. Such bromides leave out 90% of what else you’d need.

Periodically, I encounter authors and speakers who write or say ‘to live life more fully’ by pretending that “you have six months to live.” If you had six months to live you’d engage in behaviors different than now.

You might sell your house. You might go on world travel, or at least travel more than you’ve been doing. You might dissipate your assets. You might spend your money down to nothing, or give it all away. Then, when you undoubtedly live beyond six months, you’re likely to be penniless!

Thank You For Sharing (!)

‘Think outside the box.’ What does the “box” even mean? The phrase has been so overused that it is now rendered meaningless. Would it be better simply to say “expand your thinking,” or “brainstorm,” or “reach beyond the norm”?

‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’ Michael Jordan once remarked that while there is no “I” in team, there certainly is a “me.” Acronyms and creative word use might have their place in a corporate pep rally, otherwise let them be.

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