A continent away in Africa was born Chinua Achebe a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, often considered his best, is the most widely-read book in modern African literature. Achebe, who was a leader of his people in Nigeria, said one of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.
General Douglas Mc Arthur said that one becomes a leader by two things - the equality of one’s actions and the integrity of one’s intent. The wise King Solomon said, “The integrity of the upright guides them but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity”.
These great leaders knew that to sustain their role as leaders and to ensure good leadership was given by them and to the people they served, then integrity must be at the forefront of everything they did and said, as best as was humanly possible.
It would seem, therefore, by their example, that integrity is something we should look for and expect of those we hold in office or in leadership wherever that may be.
It could be in government, in our churches, our non-government organisations, our sports teams, or in our families. We should maybe consider integrity as a quality to look for, a quality to expect and hold in high regard among those chosen to be in leadership roles throughout our communities and our country.
It was French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville who famously said, “In democracy we get the government we deserve”.
His idea was that when the people complain about their leaders, they also need to take some responsibility for those leaders. Because it was they who elected them into office in the first place. If we look at leadership across the many spectrums of the Cook Islands, what does that leadership actually say about us as a people?
What does it say about the things we value and do not value? What does it say about the qualities we look for, the ideals we uphold and the quality of the decisions we make with regard to leaders in any part of our society?
New Zealand politics has faced an interesting week with Labour Cabinet minister Clare Curran losing her position and resigning because of a lack of integrity regarding communications. In Fiji this week, Lorna Eden, who held multiple assistant minister portfolios, including most recently for environment and housing, resigned after an investigation was launched into Mainland Resorts Ltd, which Eden co-owns with her husband.
The leaders of both of these governments took action with regard to ministers whose integrity had been brought into question.
In life, our integrity is constantly challenged. And when it is, it always gives us a choice. Integrity is always about a decision and it always causes us to sit back on our values, and principles and reflect again on what they are and how much meaning they have for us.
If I cheat to win a game, I win, but I win because I cheated. So the victory can never be celebrated as much as it could have been if I had won with integrity. If I see injustice and say nothing, though I knew the injustice needed to be called out, then my silence condemns me to again question my integrity. If I take a moral shortcut, then the only certainty is I have now taken a road that will inevitably be much longer then I expected.
Integrity is as much about what we do when we get it wrong, than when we get it right. It’s as much about how we come clean, and own what is ours, as much as the celebration of victories in our lives. I know for myself that without my spiritual life, and my ability to find confession and redemption, then the sheer weight of the stack of things I have done that lacked integrity would crush me.
Thankfully, we all have access to a God who can restore our integrity after we are left face-to-face with lives lived, decisions made and things said or done that lacked integrity. Yes, we should aspire to be better, do better, expect more of those who lead us, as well as expecting more of ourselves, but always in the shadow cast by our creator.
Leadership and integrity sit together. They are to be expected as partners. We should see them as intertwined in our lives and in the lives of those we serve and if they are not, then we have the burden and choice to bring the change so that they are.
If we do nothing, then the lack of integrity is on us and not those we put there and who might have failed. Integrity is never an unreasonable expectation, whether it applies to ourselves or those who lead us.
The question is, is it something we still expect of ourselves and of others?