As both a resident of central Ohio for most of my younger life and a graduate of The Ohio State University, I consider myself as big a Buckeye fan as any. That’s why, like most members of “Buckeye Nation,” I was profoundly disappointed by the recently reported NCAA violations involving both some of the football players and recently ousted head coach, Jim Tressel.
While there are still many unknowns to this story (including who else in the administration may have known about “Tattoo-gate”), what has clearly become apparent is that Coach Tressel was guilty of a serious breach of integrity. But it’s important to recognize that integrity is not the same thing as morals or ethics. In fact, there are many who could convincingly argue that what Coach Tressel did in trying to protect his players was a morally admirable act, especially since it put his own career in jeopardy.
The truth is that it’s much easier to be a person of high morals and ethics than it is to be a person of integrity. The reason for this is that morals and ethics are subjective and beholden to only one person’s scrutiny – our own. In practice, most of our morals tend to be situationally flexible. We hold ourselves accountable for certain behaviors with some people, in some situations, some of the time… and then rationalize why different standards are okay at others.
Integrity is much more powerful than either morals or ethics because it requires transparency and consistency. To be a person of integrity is to behave in a manner that matches what we publicly tell others and to do so with all people in all situations – even when it’s inconvenient or comes at a cost. And that is why it is such a valued quality. Integrity provides predictability and structural stability to our entire society, one organization and community at a time. When even a single person in a position of authority behaves in a manner that is unpredictable or for reasons that are suspect, the entire structure becomes compromised. The damage can take years to fix and sometimes, you just have to tear it down and start over again.