Integrity means shit, long live Integrity

Integrity is a word and a theme that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately.

It would seem like a lot of people claim to have it and very few people actually practice it.

So what is integrity?

Do you have integrity if you yourself do the right thing in your role for a company that you know is corrupt, hurting people or has severe malpractice?

Would you give up that job on principle? What if ‘they were trying to do the right thing’? Would you make a stand knowing that it might come at a cost to you and your family? Would you ‘do what is commercial’ and settle?

I would say most people would ‘see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil’ in those situations. Most people would rationalise their involvement and position in that company after weighing up the costs of sticking to their principles and convince themselves that it’s better to stay quiet.

And here lies the rub.

Integrity comes at a unbearably high cost for most people. In fact it requires a lot of the things that only 2% of people are willing to do below:

Integrity costs you money, it causes you pain, it costs you time and it costs you relationships. Integrity leaves you vulnerable and there are no social or systemic rewards for having it other than that it helps you to (morally) sleep at night. But only if you can afford or bear the financial and social stress.

Unfortunately the conversations I’ve been having lately reinforce a system which doesn’t value integrity.

The system I’m seeing more and more is about profiting from corruption, it’s about absconding from responsibility, it’s about smiling for the cameras whilst ‘churning and burning’ people on the way through. Whether it’s financial fraud, abuse in religious institutions, government corruption, it’s a recurring theme that keeps coming up with increasing regularity.

Here are just a few examples:

A tax investigator investigating alleged tax avoidance for years without claim by an entrepreneur bringing assets from overseas to Australia, whilst in the background suppressing details of a $165M tax scandal which his family is personally involved in from a tender that clearly wasn’t awarded on merit. He’s claiming he wasn’t involved and it would seem that the criminal charges and penalty will be minor.

A startup going through a government funded accelerator program which advertised upfront equity free funding with no payback, value added services provided by program partners and follow on fund for investment, only to get in and be told that:

  • they would have to unconditionally give up 6.5% for some undetermined amount of funding
  • funding that was not provided or controlled by them and had to be spent only on approved service providers
  • funding would require pay back 5x what was lent within 2 years
  • services provided by partners required more equity, required additional spending before they could be claimed and technically made the startups insolvent from day one through a balance sheet obligation
  • there was no follow on fund

When that startup complained sighting gross incompetence, misleading and deceptive conduct and an inherent conflict of interest in the leadership, they were accused of being misleading in their application and offered a negligible settlement to have a gag order. After rejecting that offer and leaving the program at significant cost the startup they reported their treatment with irrefutable evidence showing systemic malpractice to the government body that funded this organisation and have effectively been ignored ever since seemingly content that tax payer money is used to fund fraud.

All these things have the same thing in common:

  • The offending party is rewarded or given the benefit of the doubt despite evidence of continued malpractice and abuse of power and the incidence discarded or buried
  • A victim is abused, discredited, guilted and/or intimidated into submission then discarded
  • A system is created and remains intact to continue the abuse and new efforts are promoted to protect those within it
  • Those who know about this and see it happen choose to look away or claim injustice, then isolate and protect themselves if any support is requested

I don’t believe that most people and systems have integrity.

2% can handle that pain.

Can you?

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