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It’s difficult to imagine that anyone gets through life without occasionally having their integrity tested. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/integrity/) There are rare situations where showing integrity might bring appalling consequences – even death – and in such a situation fear unto dishonesty is understandable and forgivable. In most other situations the risk is small. Indeed the most common motivation for failing to act or speak with integrity is an ambition for career advancement. Now, let’s be quite clear here. If someone feels compelled to dishonesty for fear of being sacked, then that may be forgivable if the matter is relatively minor. However, a person who abandons their integrity for the hope of career advancement reveals a paradox: They progress by being precisely the kind of person who is unsuited to a position of trust or of any importance.

It is true too that in our times a calculating, professional, strategic way of thinking tends to be lauded and this provides a ready cover for acting without reference to good or bad.

Today there are calls for the resignation of Cardinal Seán Brady who acted in a professional manner rather than doing what was right. (http://www.herald.ie/news/i-didnt-realise-impact-of-child-abuse-brady-3097772.html http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01h7m8r) As a mature man of 35 years, well into his career, his integrity was tested. He failed the test and is proven to be “the wrong stuff”, i.e. a person lacking in integrity and unsuited to a position of responsibility. The consequences of his failure were dire for a number of abused children. The risk to him of acting with integrity was slight. His life, his family, his livelihood were not on the line. All that was at risk for doing the right thing was a petty hope of promotion.

There are ordinary people who pass such tests. They are rarely dealing with matters so serious. They do however speak up and/or act according to what is right – either morally or for the good of the organisation that employs them. In the short term they accept that they will anger the boss and their career will stall. In the long-term they may never recover that impetus for promotion or they may come to be seen as having integrity, precisely what is required in a more senior position.

Integrity is at the core of another, older post on this blog. (https://colummccaffery.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/time-for-a-clear-out-who-misled-and-who-remained-silent-as-a-completely-irish-made-fiasco-developed/ ) As the Irish property bubble/scam was developed with deliberation, there were those in banking, management generally, media, politics, the professions, education, public service, consultancies etc. who knew that it could end only in tears. Few of them passed the test: They lacked the integrity to speak up time and again. They preferred to take their chances by pretending that they believed in nonsense.

It is true that chancers lacking in integrity often make career progress. However, when they are found out, it is right that they be identified as “the wrong stuff” and asked to go.

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Breda O’Brien in The Irish Times of Saturday, February 20, seeks to minimize the blame which should attach to those who did not rise to protect children. She reckons that they are being too strenuously tested, that few of us would pass what she calls the “challenge-the-culture test”. How depressing! She is very wrong to set such low standards.

 Excusing inaction on – or even participation in – wrongdoing on the basis of a dishonest understanding of “culture” has become a familiar evasion in Ireland and one that seeks to give a lick of dignity to a life or a career that is in truth unworthy of a citizen – or indeed unworthy of any kind of right thinking person. It is shameful and slavish to claim that as long as misconduct is so common as to attract the term “culture”, one can avoid blame for letting it happen. It is alarming that so many people seem to think that the holder of a post is not required to take some sort of stand against wrongdoing or stupidity.

 
It is certain that many of our scandals rest on past acceptance of this contemptible nonsense. Now it needs to be up-rooted to ensure the appointment of people of better character.

Very few of us will get through life without being asked at times to make some kind of stand and it could be argued that such tests are necessary to a full life. In extreme cases the risks will be too great. Standing up might result in death, imprisonment, exile or loss of a job. Faced with such risks, no one could be blamed for keeping quiet and surviving. However, when the risks are merely to one’s popularity, one’s quiet life or one’s chances of promotion, failure to take a stand should be condemned.

It is certain that in the case of extensive child abuse removing the “culture” fig leaf should cause many to fall from respectability. The excuse is, however, more widely used. For example, employment in the banking industry during the damaging years asked questions about courage and integrity. Now only those who spoke out should remain in anything but junior positions.

In short, whining about “the culture of the time” or “the culture of the industry” etc. is not an excuse for complicity.