Posted by: Martin Fox | October 27, 2011

Integrity – keeping it, losing it, and how to get it back

In my work coaching young people around the world, integrity is a common theme. Fact… Integrity is the #1 most important characteristic for high performance leaders. As I remind young people, integrity is one of those few things in life that can’t be taken from you – you can only give it away.

A frequent question is “can you get your integrity back after losing it?” The quick answer is yes, but with a lot of hard work, seeking forgiveness from those you wronged, working to correct the wrong, slowly rebuilding trust, and perhaps the hardest part, truly forgiving yourself for crossing the fine line of integrity. There is a lot of gray in the world across countries, cultures, races, religions, etc., but things are black and white on the integrity front.

The following story is from my friend Lori’s blog. A story of integrity, loss of integrity, and the long road to recovering integrity. For those of you who don’t know Lori, her blog posts are brilliant.

Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership – accelerating the global ripple.

Doing Wrong

I had to take an online training this week for my securities licensing on ethics.

Oddly, the topic has been on mind quite a bit this week.

You see, the priest that married us, recently confessed to stealing $650,000 from my former parish.

I really liked him.

I still do.

I sorta kinda left the church awhile back. It’s not a long story. There was no one thing. I decided that I had become a cafeteria plan Catholic. I don’t think you should dial in religion. Either be in or be out. I opted out. It really came down to a great homily that Fr. Kevin gave.

It was during the Bill Clinton “What is the Definition of Is?” debate.

Fr. Kevin stated simply that there is a right and there is a wrong. There are no grey areas with regard to morality.

Ah, but I can already hear you arguing that certain things are debatable. I would have agreed with you until that sermon.

Fr. Kevin went on to elaborate that everyone has a line that they draw. Once you cross your own moral line, you start to justify and rationalize your actions. You never have to justify or rationalize doing the right thing to yourself. Those little voices that you hear in your head telling you to go ahead, no one will know– that means you’ve crossed your line. Rationalization is for attorneys. No one can tell you where to draw the line.

You’re nasty to your kids- the voice says “Well, you were tired. It’s okay.” It’s not. Apologize to them.

You tell your boss you’re sick and what you really want is a day off– “Everyone does it.” They don’t. Ask for the day off. Don’t lie. It IS a lie.

You start to gossip about someone that you work with- “Well, everyone KNOWS he drinks…”- they don’t. Stop. Leave the conversation.

Someone walks into your house and threatens your family, has a gun. You shoot them. No need to justify.

See how it works?

There have been a few times since I heard that sermon that the little voices start rationalizing in my head and I immediately stop. I am trying to justify crossing the line. It was actually life changing for me. I always joke that I’m not a practicing Catholic because I got it right and don’t need to practice any more.

Doing the right thing has never caused me pain or grief. I may have had to explain my reasons to someone else, but I’ve never had to justify my actions to myself.

It’s quite a lovely moral code to live by, I believe. I do good things because I think it’s right, not because I’m being told to do them. Or the fear of eternal damnation.

There is a right and there is a wrong.

Enough said.

I can only imagine the personal agony he must have been experiencing. Those voices must have been screaming in his head.

He is a good man. He had a flaw.

And before you think “Wow, that’s a lot of money, how did no one notice?” They did. That’s how he got caught. It also was over more than 10 years and the parish has thrived under him. New school, even. It’s a very large parish with 10,000 families- it nearly doubled under Fr. Kevin. My uncle, a deacon, saw the bulletin (I brought him an article they had in it). One week of the collections was more than his parish took in in a year.

I’m sure he used the fact that so much was being accomplished to justify that he wasn’t hurting anyone. It would be easy to rationalize. He probably brought in much more money than he ever took. Can you hear the voices justifying what happened? And yet it still is wrong. Very wrong.

Fr. Kevin confessed to the authorities. From what I’ve heard, he’s cooperated fully and intends to somehow repay the money.

It wasn’t a Catholic thing. It wasn’t a priest thing. It was a human thing.

And from one human to another, I hope he finds compassion in his own soul.


  1. I keep losing my integrity and losing friends. And I fear that I am a poor daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother because I live without integrity. Instead I live to be pleasing. I would rather have others think I am agreeable than make waves. So, I have come to this point where I have left jobs, and hurt some pretty incredible friends because I have no integrity. I came here because I searched “how to get integrity back”. But I’m not sure after reading this article whether I’ve ever had it. And I don’t know how to proceed with my life, I feel so low. It’s no wonder I’ve never felt respected in my life, I probably wasn’t. So, how does one start all over in building their moral self? How do you apologize for how you’ve lived your entire life?

    • Hi Nikki,

      Something tells me you are a pretty incredible individual. In fact, I get a feeling that you are powerful above measure.

      The fact you are struggling with these issues shows beyond doubt that you are a person who cares deeply. The fact that you “feel so low” tells me you are living out of alignment with your core purpose and your destiny. Self reflective people, like yourself, sense these things. You are not alone, there are many around the world feeling the same thing you are feeling, they just bury it deeply inside themselves, living in silent despair.

      When you live in your “ego identity” (how you judge yourself and others and concern with how others judge you), it is easy to get lost trying to live something and be something that you not. Living that lie leads to dread, isolation, despair, depression, and feelings of nothingness. Not exactly things we want in our lives. I have been there myself and went through a time when I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for what I thought I had become – or not become. There is a path forward.

      Transformation starts when you move from “ego identity” to “essence identity” (who you are at your very core and your life purpose/destiny). When you get clear and act in alignment with your passions, dreams, gifts, purpose, and destiny, the inner voices and voices of skeptics and naysayers slowly fade into the distance. You begin to lead the life you were meant to lead, doing the things that are in alignment with your core self – call it living your destiny and your life purpose.

      It takes time, but it is a powerful, wild, and fun adventure. Your zest for living returns and you can’t wait to begin each and every day. You make a circle of collaborate and co-creative friends. You join a cool tribe of people living their purpose and their destiny. You change the way the world works. It isn’t somber martyrdom, it is a ridiculous amount of fun (and we like fun).

      If you need help and support on your journey, we are here for you.

      Peace – Martin

  2. Hi,

    I have been to low and now I am seeing that the way back truly requires repentance…a turning away from what is wrong. My journey back from low now requires me to say I am sorry and also to forgive myself and also a few people along the way. Truly I am sorry for my pass, a good man gone bad is hard to look at indeed, but by Gods grace I can make it.

    My story is not unique grew up from humble beginnings started to earn a few bucks and in a quest to satisfy self I lost focus of that humble beginnings. The next thing I know I am lying and cheating…little by little I started killing and drowning out that voice of integrity…for what a moment of pleasure…O Lord forgiveness comes from you. Thank you for your forgiveness.

    I am truly sorry for my pass!

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