Integrity Matters
November 15, 2006

Forgotten words: 'Please, 'thank you,' 'I'm sorry'

Question: (E-262)

Dear Jim:

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, disgraced by his own documented pedophile behaviors, has since blamed alcohol and even his former priest. Who still accepts responsibility for what they have done?


Fortunately, lots of people do. They are the keepers of values and the stewards of social constraints who hold up "accountability mirrors" for themselves, other individuals, families, communities and society. They are not judges of others so much as imperfect role models, still in development. They know that responsible individuals and organizations operate with integrity, a culture of constructive compliance, or risk destroying society.

They regularly use such words as "please," "thank you" and "I am sorry, I made a mistake." They follow through with friends, family members and clients using language such as, "How might we fix the problem?" and "You can be sure that neither I nor our organization will let that happen again." They know the truth of these two-letter words: "If it is to be, it is up to me." And before they rush to condemn others, they strive to transform themselves.

However, a no-fault culture breeds irresponsibility. Without accountability, why be concerned with self-regulation or integrity? How else can one account for escalating alcohol abuse, reckless driving, road rage, domestic violence, filthy language or a host of other culture-destroying activities? Marriages, parenting, jobs, careers and friendships are too frequently treated like disposable paper napkins - temporary conveniences. The expression "serial marriage" was created to describe those willing to replace serious relationships with superficial transactions, over and over.

The phrase "it is not my job" is a painful reminder of the legalistic extremes to which some members of society are willing to go to sidestep accountability when a task in front of them lies outside their specific job description. The image of the smoked-filled backroom of wheeling and dealing spawned a power-broker political mantra that lives on: "to get along, go along." That counterculture slogan of the 1960s - "turn on, tune in and drop out" - has been displaced today with "stay aloof, let it go and cop out."

Without accountability and integrity, chaos reigns and civilization deteriorates. Rudeness leads to violence, destroying community, which depends upon mutual respect and trust. A long time ago, a member of England's Parliament, William Wilberforce, spent 30 years to pass the 1807 law that ended English slave trade. His success paved the way for the abolition of slavery in the United States through the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

President Abraham Lincoln took responsibility for changing a society, for the better, and later paid for his courage, stopping an assassin's bullet. Lincoln's integrity was exhibited in his willingness to step forward and deal with both praise and blame. As an integrity-centered leader, he was accountable.

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