Do the right thing even if no one's looking

Psychologists say there are two parts to integrity: transparency and trustworthiness.

Published: 11th September 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th September 2022 05:50 PM   |  A+A-

A mural of Mahatma Gandhi at a park in East Delhi

The epitome of integrity: A mural of Mahatma Gandhi at a park in East Delhi. (File Photo | EPS)

Would you say you are a person of integrity? Yes? All right, let me ask you a few more questions.

Have you ever slipped some extra money to a parking attendant to let you put your car in a no-parking zone? Or been less than candid when giving feedback to your boss? Have you ever taken any stationery home from your office for your child, or printed out their school projects on the high-end colour printer at work? Or done a special favour for a government employee to help your company win a tender? 

Most of us believe that cheating, at any level, is wrong. But at the same time, we have the magical ability to rationalise behaviour that's not exactly kosher. Our behaviour, that is. The rules are different for other people. 

If we're caught parked in the wrong place or overheard sucking up to our bosses, we just shrug it off as 'no big deal' or justify it as something that 'everyone does' -- and continue to see ourselves as intrinsically honest.

We don’t think our behaviour compromises our integrity. We see it as being smart and practical. Isn't it our duty to help our child or our company? As for being selective about the feedback we give our bosses, isn't that just wise?

Well, none of these situations is a do-or-die one. Also, laws and work policies guard against illegal activities, but have little to say about the moral choices we make every day. That's a matter of personal judgment. 

But that's what people with integrity hone. Because whatever we may tell others, in our heart we all know what’s right and what’s not. Integrity is about matching our behaviour to that secret knowledge --even if no one is watching. 

Psychologists say there are two parts to integrity: transparency and trustworthiness. The first involves being open and honest with everyone, not playing power games or politicking. It’s not always easy, but it wins you respect. 

For instance, if there's a lot riding on a critical sales pitch, integrity means not falsely inflating the value of your product. Or not fudging your expense account even if you can get away with it. 

Being trustworthy requires you to be reliable and deliver on your commitments. A person who says he cares about his neighbours, but carries tales about them to the local RWA is not exactly trustworthy. Nor is the teacher who claims to be democratic and open to ideas, but gets angry and aggressive when students argue with her. 

Living with integrity isn't the easiest path to take. But there's an easy test for it. Investor-philanthropist Warren Buffet's advice: "If you're not sure if something is right or wrong, consider whether you'd want it reported in the morning paper."

Try it the next time you're tempted to say or do something dodgy. Maybe you'll end up giving it 
a pass. Test yourself often enough, and you’re likely to become the person who does the right thing because it’s right. Not the worst habit you could have, I’d say. 

Shampa Dhar-Kamath is  Faculty-in-Residence and Communication Coach at Harappa Education. She can be reached at

India Matters


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