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Volume 70, Issue 145, Thursday, June 9, 2005


A commitment to integrity needed

Marilyn Reitz-Pustejovsky
Guest columnist

Have we as a society become so averse to taking personal responsibility for our decisions and their consequences that we allow and condone the apparent lack of integrity in our public officials? 

The media is full of the alleged violations of the ethical standards of the most powerful person in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay. Personal testimonies have revealed a habit of denigrating and vicious behavior by Tom Bolton, President Bush's nomination to the United Nations Ambassador, toward subordinates. Prisoner humiliations and abuses by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison have resulted in military prosecutions. In the minds of many Americans, these examples (and others) have prompted the question: What has become of our society's integrity? 

Personal integrity is a decision one makes to act in ways that support right behavior for one's self and for others whether or not it benefits self. Like the structural integrity required in order for a building to stand, personal integrity is the foundation for all one's behavior. Both a building and a person's standards collapse under their own weight when neglected. Likewise a nation stands or falls on the integrity of its citizens.

As students, staff and faculty of UH, we are called to make ethical decisions. Students decide whether or not to cheat on an exam, individual staff members make multiple daily decisions about how they treat students and each other and the faculty is constantly faced with challenges in their interactions with students. All our personal decisions, I would argue, are made based on own level of personal integrity.

Research shows that often what we say we would do in certain situations is inconsistent with our behavior in those actual situations. This represents a dichotomy between our actions and our convictions; and we often do and say things because we are in the position that we can, not because we should.

Though DeLay may not have actually circumvented the professional ethics of a congressman, it appears that he certainly has pushed the envelope, demonstrating both a possible lack of respect for his office as well as for his constituents. And while John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.N. ambassador may not have broken the law, it appears that he has certainly used his power over others who have worked for him by trampling on their rights to be treated with respect. Finally, the scandal in the Abu Ghraib prison highlights the fact that both officers and enlisted men and women made decisions based on the fact that they were in control (and could) and not whether they should violate the humanity of the prisoners.

Judgments and decisions made on these high levels have and do spread out like the ripples in a pond created by what is thrown into it. These ripples, like our national integrity, grow proportionately and affect not only our own immediate worlds but also our nation's reputation in our interactions with the world. 

It does matter that we look to our own behavior and measure it against what we deeply know to be right behavior. We can act as role models for each other. We cannot condone our own and others' behavior by our silence. Let us commit to a level of personal integrity that positively affects all with whom we come in contact; setting standards that everyone who is associated with us, this university, and this nation can be proud.

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