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.
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.
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.