Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.
I know I just wrote that in a post two days ago, but it’s been gnawing at me ever since. The article attached to that post on the 11th referred to, among other things, a man dealing with guilt about interrogation techniques he used to get information from people detained in Abu Ghraib around 2004. A boy is captured with car batteries saying the batteries are for fishing, but it turns out the boy’s father was making bombs with them. These interrogation techniques, designed to humiliate, worked the first time on that boy, and his father’s car bomb factory was discovered. The interrogator at Abu Ghraib keeps using the same techniques, knowing it’s wrong, but he doesn’t discover any more bomb factories; use of these questionable techniques doesn’t save any more lives. It turns out car batteries are used for fishing, after all.
In 2003, some Iraqi soldiers had been surrendering which prevented killing, but that stopped when the moral reputation of the United States came into question (probably in small part because of the car battery confusion). There is much more to the article, and it’s absolutely worth a read especially to understand where we are as a country now.
As Americans, we have at least a passing understanding of the rules put forth by the Geneva Convention. We studied wars in history classes including the Civil War and the World Wars. From our television and movies we have a pretty clear understanding of right and wrong in war. We have at least some understanding of the magnitude of the atrocities, the genocide, committed by the Nazis. And we understand how bigotry plays in to people’s choices and judgement. Our soldiers and leaders do the right thing even when nobody is watching most of the time. We treat wounded people whether they are our own or the “enemy.” We don’t torture people. We don’t mistreat prisoners. Yes, there are exceptions, but they’re people who know better and are doing wrong. They know they’re doing wrong. Whether someone sees them do it or not, it’s wrong. When we find out what they’ve done we recognize that it’s wrong, and we denounce their actions.
I haven’t served in the military even though we’ve been in a war or armed conflict somewhere in the world for most of my life. Still, I want to believe that I’d do the right thing. As a human being I catch myself feeling selfish sometimes, or greedy, but I recognize that it’s wrong, and I remind myself of a “correct” reaction. I actively try to change the way I think so that I’ll skip the unhealthy reaction or emotion right away when a similar situation arises. Ideally, my first reaction to a situation will always be to make a good choice. I don’t just want to take the right action, to do the right thing; I want my first impulse to be to do the right thing. I want integrity to be natural. I expect I’m not the only person who feels this way. We all know a good person, the person we wish we were – that person who is naturally positive and supportive and just, well, good. They make integrity seem natural as if they never have an unhealthy reaction or impulse. I want to be like that.
In the last year or so, though, some have forgotten what is right even when they’re alone and have a moment to think through their choices. Not only are there people around us who do wrong or intend to do wrong, they advertise it. They’re proud of their improbity. The president, who has never been unclear about his corruption, his lack of morals, brags about offering bribes to public officials to get what he wants, assaulting women, not paying his taxes or his bills. 45 says he believes in torture and will pillage (steal their oil) when he gets us into war again. People in this country cheer as he brags, as he says aloud, things he shouldn’t even think, things we shouldn’t even think. Where is the shame?