Opinion and Special feature
Integrity. I have never used this word so often until I started my relationship with Africa. Sadly, not because I have met much of it, but rather for the obvious rarity of it, both in Africa and in the African community in the UK. Ironically, this problem, let us call it what it is, is readily recognised and admitted by Africans themselves. They rant and rave when they fall prey to it themselves, then go on to do exactly the same thing to someone else!
I hasten to add that I am not with this observation, branding all Africans as lacking integrity. I have indeed met many Africans with upstanding integrity and a reputation to speak the truth and also demand it of others. These men have more enemies than most because the truth is often perceived as a threat and is not always welcome when exposed.
Integrity cannot be bought; it must be learnt by teachings and examples early in life, and become an integral part of one’s moral fabric which will then dictate one’s behaviour and choices in virtually all areas in later life.
Let us start to look at integrity on a personal and interpersonal level. Integrity at this stage means to be aware of the basic moral rules and values of life and let one’s own life be built on this foundation. These rules could be anything from not lying, cheating, stealing to not slandering, betraying and even killing. You can add of course numerous words to the list. We frown at the mention of these ugly, lowly words, but have we not all been guilty of putting some of them into practice at one time or another? Especially when one’s grounding is still not firmly established like in our youth and early adult life.
If high morals prevail in your consciousness, you will experience an uncomfortable feeling when behaving without or with less integrity, and know that you have somehow betrayed who you are at the core of your being. This is a good signal to heed the message and become determined to redress the balance by avoiding such poor choices in the future. This awareness enables people to evolve in life, conscious of the importance to respect one’s values and truths and endeavour not to betray them. When we come across such people, we feel at ease in their presence, comfortable in the knowledge that we can trust them on a personal, business, religious and even political level. These people who have integrated integrity into their moral fabric have become dependable, responsible, predictable, trustworthy and standing firm in the face of temptation and adversity. They have become indispensable to the family unit, to society and even to nations. They are the ones who are remembered for changing the course of history, for building up nations, for respecting human lives and demanding truth, justice and fairness.
On the other hand, people who choose to ignore the small warning tugs at their consciousness slowly allow their integrity to crumble away. Moreover, lack of continuous repair and consolidation opens the door for the lowest traits to become one’s ‘normal’ behaviour. This can have disastrous consequences in every area of life. It would be merely sad and pitiful if such behaviour would only affect the perpetrator. But it never does so. Lack of integrity inevitably blights, stunts and even destroys other people’s businesses, religious freedom, political status and even lives. It also prevents people from developing a team spirit, when shared ideas and energy would generate more productive business. Instead, everyone is fighting their own little corner, not realising that they are cutting their own noses to spite their faces. Hijacking of ideas, back-biting, jealousy, envy, betrayals appear to be the norm, even on a one to one basis. People who were believed to be friends one day change camp the next and drop you without warning or valid reason. No lasting business or partnership can be built on such shaky foundations. I will make allowances when one’s action is dictated by the need to feed ten hungry children at home, in a small African village, with no hope for a better or easier future. In the West, an empty belly is not what dictates one’s actions. Yet, many successful Africans still behave as if they have to play dirty in order to merely survive. Some members of the elite in Africa, eating to satiation every day and not having to worry about the next day’s meal, still appear to be ruled by their stomach. Their ensuing behaviour is even less excusable and feeds umpteen stories of corruption, missing funds and Swiss bank accounts.
Economic growth, on a small or large scale, is impaired and dwarfed when the ebb and flow of demand and supply is not respected. It has immediate and detrimental effects on small businesses who rely for a greater part on the unwritten agreement that supply and payments will be met on time. On a global scale, lives are condemned to utter poverty and subsequently lost without second thoughts when food, shelter, medicine and protection are withheld or diverted for religious, economical or political reasons and gains. At that level, integrity of the decision makers would make such a difference but it is rarely freely demonstrated.
Now we enter politics, an ugly word at times, tainted with the worst cases of lack of integrity. Political status, power and financial gains are the real challengers of integrity. Some of us win the matches with flying colours; some of us fail miserably on all fronts. And a few, the nibblers, indulge in small scale dishonesty and betrayals, inflicting crippling damage and misery in the long run, all the while hoping to get away with it.
In politics, anything less than total adherence to one’s moral values and truths always has negative consequences, sometimes of gigantic proportions. At the summit of the political mountain, when one’s integrity crumbles, the ensuing avalanches take the shape of misappropriated and misused funds, ill-judged allegiances, civil wars, betrayals of family members, friends, colleagues and even one’s own country and of course loss of life.
Put so bluntly, human nature appears very unattractive, even despicable. Fortunately, there are always two sides to one coin. And I’d rather contemplate the side of integrity; the side that every human being should aspire to. The side that makes one feel so strong and solid inside, that nothing will rock or chip that foundation built on the best human traits and qualities.
At the core of this rock should be found a profound respect for human life. It then becomes very easy to gauge if our actions will benefit or harm our fellow human beings, our nation and the world at large. Based on this very simple and deepest truth, integrity is a human quality attainable by anyone. The question one should ask is “ Is expressing love and respect for my brothers and sisters my highest priority, thereby enabling integrity to guide my every action?”
If you cannot answer this crucial question with a resounding ‘yes’, it is time for you to have an honest look at your foundations. You may have allowed them to crumble but it is never too late to do some repairs.
Today is the perfect day to reintegrate integrity into your life. A healthier, fairer and more prosperous world depends on it.