Integrity as a way of life

[ Uttiya Bhattacharyya ]
The English word ‘integrity’ is derived from the Latin word ‘integritas’ and generally denotes anything that is still as it should be in undiminished or in unimpaired condition. In other words, anything that is in any way worse than it is supposed to be or has become weaker than its original power is considered to have lost its integrity. However, this is purely a descriptive meaning of the word.
The word ‘integrity’ has a strong normative content of ‘what we should do’ or ‘what we must do’, the rules that we are supposed to follow in the society. Adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character, and honesty are some of the practices that are associated with the term ‘integrity’.
Mahatma Gandhi explained losing parts of its original powers, and divergence to a situation that is weaker or in any way worse than it is supposed to be, thus: “There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principles; science without humanity; and business without ethics.”
Integrity, whether it is personal, moral, cultural, religious, national, scientific or commercial, contains the value of fairness based on belief (B) and obligation (O). Whatever may be the form of integrity, the core proposition and control is with the self. Actions by individuals participating in team work in organizations should be analyzed in terms of a process. In an organization, we are entrusted with some responsibility, and we are supposed to perform as per the laid down policies with fairness. It is often felt that the ones who are active and eagerly taking actions are under scrutiny and the ones passing the buck are rewarded. To dispel such misconception, it is pertinent to discuss the subject of integrity as a way of life, in the light of ancient wisdom and the learning from world leaders.
It is mentioned that action is better than inaction. No accomplishment is possible in a state of inertia. We have to perform our duty at all times. There are activities in life that none can completely forsake and live; even the idle man has to maintain his body. Work is essential for survival, and that is seen in nature also. Our body is constantly working to stay alive and fit. A body not properly worked upon or taken care of through both physical and mental action turns into a burden after a period. A weak and diseased body due to inaction becomes not only a burden to the self but also to the family that sustains the relationship. When idleness hypnotizes the ego into inactivity, it may bring no apparent trouble, whereas evil actions may swiftly result in dire miseries.
Similarly, in an organization, action by the employees is essential for a healthy work environment, sustainability and growth. Inaction by any employee not only acts against the growth of the organization but also of the self. The habitually idle man and the unscrupulous businessman, however, have one obstacle in common – both find it very difficult to change their respective habits, and so remain enslaved.
Just as wrong business exploitation is a social crime, idleness is a spiritual crime that debases the human being. The nature of right action is performing all works as an obligation. So, first action in the right perspective is essential to improvise core values like making integrity a way of life. To make anything a way of life, to begin with, life has to be alive and kicking. Oprah Winfrey once said, “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
The next question that arises is: what should be the way to work and how are actions needed to be performed? The answer to this lies in the concept of selfless work. We have to detach our ‘self’ from the work. The work has to be carried out on its merit, and we need not get involved through attachment or desire. The objective or target would be met only when we work without any personal attachment. Action without attachment is the way to work. So, action is better than inaction, and action has to be carried out without any attachment. It is only then that the objective of the organization would be met.
Therefore, we have to conscientiously perform good material actions and spiritual actions without attachment. By doing all actions without attachment, one obtains the highest, while material actions performed with desire leads us away from the target. But is this the only way to achieve the objective? Will it happen automatically to all the employees? Is there any role of leadership here?
The pertinent question is, does leadership play any role in meeting the moksha, or the objective.
Examples speak louder than words. It is said that what the leaders do, the followers emulate. By his/her mere presence, one who has reformed himself/herself is able to reform thousands. Whatever the leaders consider an authentic and important duty, the follower also would tend to consider it the same way.
The reference to leaders and followers is relative. A follower in an organization, or in any department, may be a great leader at home or in the society, beyond the organization. In fact, all of us are leaders at some point of our actions. And as leaders, all should remember the fundamentals that what the leaders do, the others observe and follow. Like a rose, he/she diffuses his/her fragrance among all. The importance shown to a subject or activity by a leader is also taken in the same spirit by the followers. If the mind indulges in moods or anger, the senses will exhibit gloom or wrath; if the mind is blissful, the senses, too, will register bliss. Whatever the mind sees and stresses on will be blindly followed by inclination, moods, desires, and habits. If integrity has to be made a way of life, the leaders in us have to make it a way of life, so that others can observe and follow.
The leader-follower relationship changes from one action to the other, but the common understanding is that, in any action, integrity is to be made a way of life by the leader for the follower to also make it a way of life. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam said, “Let me define a leader. He must have vision and passion and not be afraid of any problem. Instead, he should know how to defeat it. Most importantly, he must work with integrity.”
This is understood when we are discussing the relationship between a leader and a follower in an individual capacity. It is said that one should relinquish all activities to the core values, without egotism and expectations. In a large and diverse organization, how would the flow take place? Who would actually be the leader, so that the whole organization is following the objective? Is it only an individual or a group of individuals for all to follow, or is it something much greater that guides the organization as a whole?
Here come the core values of the organization. The core values of the organization drives the vision, and the vision fuels the business. The core values of the organization are supreme, and we are all working like followers. So, with our conscience and knowledge, all employees should surrender to the core values and work without any desire and fear.
Actions should be driven by the core values and followed like a leader by all to compete in the marketplace. Competition is to be fought as a team driven by the core values, and that would make integrity a way of life. Sincere achievers do not renounce true duties or the proper activities that are necessary to perform. They overcome egotism, which makes one responsible as the doer and as the receiver of good and bad actions.
A true performer feels that, since the organization has entrusted them with an objective, he/she alone is responsible for all their activities. They work for the target without worrying, knowing it is the core values that are working through their soul. The actions of selfish men spring from desires born of ego. A dedicated employee works neither at the dictates of egotism nor at those of selfish desires. He/she is devoid of ‘I-ness’. Since he/she is working for the organization, he/she has no individual desire, nor does he/she hope to attain any material goal.
What are the causes of hindrances on the way to make integrity a way of life in meeting the objective or moksha, and who are our enemies? Once we understand that, practicing integrity as a way of life would be natural. When greed is unmet, it transforms into anger. Hence, greed and anger out of that rage are synonymous. Material wants at times engulf us so much that our vision is blinkered and narrowed. We have to consider them our enemy. Born of the activating attribute of nature, it is desire, it is anger – the impelling forces full of unappeasable crabbing and great evil.
“Know this to be the foulest enemy here on earth. While habit is the automatic force that impels man to act even against his will, the root cause of compulsive action is the nature-instigated delusive duo of desire and its corollary of anger, or frustrated desire.” Desires are silken threads of material pleasures which the spider of habit continuously spins around the soul to form the shrouding cocoons of ignorance. Since this pair binds men and women to a world of illusions and quite destroys their ability to recollect their true omnipresent nature – satisfying, divine bliss – there can be no fouler foe than this.
Desire and anger can never be appeased by fulfillment, not even by control over all matters. Every material desire leads men and women farther away from bliss, delaying their task of finding the way back to their native state of absolute peace. The real enemy is within us, in the form of desire and anger. The inner weakness needs to be overcome to make integrity a way of life.
The process is not difficult, and has been guided very well by the wise. The Bhagavad Gita says, first we have to control our senses or the ‘indriyas’ and kill the destructive desire or ‘kama’ within. It calls for destroying the material want within by controlling our senses and becoming free from within.
Therefore, first discipline the senses, and then destroy desire, the simple annihilator of wisdom and self- realization.
Sense acts create sense habits. Sense habits create sense desires. Sense desires create sense acts. This vicious circle is to be avoided. The self-disciplined employee, who does not enslave himself/herself to the inordinate demands of, for instance, his/her gustatory servant, the appetite, finds that his/her desires for food remains normal, obedient to his/her wisdom. But if he/she indulges in a constant desire to eat, an unnatural state is created in which the evil desire is repeatedly fed by fresh acts of greedily swallowing food. Pride, power, greed, anger, possessions have to be won over by self-control to attain peace and wisdom, and in order to make integrity a way of life. Inspiration may be drawn from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who said: “No matter what is the environment around you, it is always possible to maintain brand of integrity.” (The writer is Chief General Manager, Head of Indian Oil (Marketing) in the Northeast & SLC, Assam.)