Is our I.Q. an Endangered Species?


Not Intelligence Quotient but its cousin, Integrity Quotient. I’ve been thinking a lot about integrity lately, for obvious reasons.

And I’m beginning to believe that our collective IQ is on the back nine of one of the Donald’s perfectly green, environment sapping golf courses, heading back to the clubhouse after one too many mulligans and maybe a few too many gimmes. We’ve penciled in a score that claims we’re winners when in fact way too many of us are fundamentally losers. And we’re losers because we are opting to bend the rules, to ignore our values, to live our lives like only our lives matter. Our country’s IQ may, in fact, be endangered. 

But wait, what the hell is integrity anyway, and who cares???

First, unlike its siblings ethics and morality, it’s a noun that can’t be turned into an adjective, which in a way underscores just how hard it is to have it. As to what it means, I’m not going to quote Merriam-Webster here. I am going to make up my own definition, which arguably suggests I lack integrity, which I can’t really argue with. But here goes:

To have integrity is to always be honest, to always do right by others, to say we’re sorry when we make a mistake, to always obey our laws and to always act in alignment with our values as a species, a nation, a community, and a family. To have integrity is always to do and say what is right as defined by what is best for the most people.

But wait. There’s a view that the definition of integrity varies by country or community; that the rules of what is right are determined by a nation’s specific code of law and its cultural and maybe religious norms. That what integrity means actually depends!  So integrity in the United States is extracted out of the Constitution and maybe Christianity? And in Japan, integrity is possibly derived from some mash-up of the Samurai’s Bushido and Shintoism? But what if we took this all up a level and just applied the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Does anyone want to be lied to? Seems like it could apply universally, no? 

Regardless of the definition, I think the real key is the idea of always. For I am not sure you can have integrity intermittently. If I tell the truth today, but bend it tomorrow, do I have integrity?  If I text while I am driving do I have integrity? If I intentionally omit something to a loved one, do I have integrity? My sense is no, I don’t. And that it’s all a slippery slope, not dissimilar from falling to addiction. First you have one, maybe on a weekend. It feels good. Then you have another. And another. And all of a sudden you’re doing it every day, it becomes “just what you do.” Not having integrity is now your way of life. 

Hold on a second. That’s a smidge melodramatic don’t you think? And why does any of that matter, anyway? What’s a little white lie or mini-omission here or there? We’re not really hurting anybody. That may seem true in the moment, although the fact that automobile fatalities have increased 10% in the last year alone due to people using mobile apps behind the wheel suggests that loss of integrity can result in very real loss. (I fact checked this.)

And that loss is most profound as associated with the leadership of America right now. Each and every day our President and his posse both in and outside the government present a shining example of what it means to not have integrity. They are committing ideological crimes and misdemeanors of breaking rules, trashing our values, ignoring our principles, twisting truths and walking away from even the tiniest amount of culpability and contrition. They are being perfect role models for our children in terms of how not to be human, how not to be leaders, how not to be good and kind, how not to have integrity. Their actions, their lack of integrity, will have very real and dire consequences for millions of Americans tomorrow and decades from now. Ugh. 

I keep trying to find a word that captures the exact opposite of having integrity (without checking the Thesaurus.) And the only one I can come up with is selfish.  And I’m thinking maybe that is at the root of all this. The people who text behind the wheel value their need to do that more than they value the safety of the people in the cars around them. The inability of our two political parties to work together reveals that one or both sides value their party and its biases more than they value the task of solving our nation’s problems, together. Our unwillingness to pick up trash off the street, to help a homeless person, to step in when somebody is doing wrong to someone else is all about being selfish. Consciously or not, we are choosing us over them or it. 

In some cases the selfish are pathological. They are born to lie, to spin and tell the tales they want to tell, because it feeds their narcissism and their need for some sort of twisted superiority. In other cases, in fact, many cases, selfishness and the loss of integrity are a function of the fear cord being pulled. What appears to be a lack of integrity is really just a manifestation of fear. We don’t tell our loved one the truth, we don’t stop to help the person whose car is broken down on the side of the road, we don’t call our congressman’s office because we are afraid. We are afraid of being hurt, of being embarrassed, of being exposed in some way. Well, that makes me think we need to go back to my definition of integrity and add in the word courage. What about something like this:

To have integrity is to have the courage to always be honest, to always do right by others, to say we’re sorry when we make a mistake, to always obey our laws and to always act in alignment with our values as a species, a nation, a community, and a family. To have integrity is to be brave, to always to do and say what is right as defined by what is best for the most people.

So now the question becomes how courageous can we all be? Maybe the IQ thing should be replaced with the CQ, the Courage Quotient? Maybe all of this is less about integrity and more about the courage to do the right thing consistently. The courage to stand by our principles, to risk the loss of our power, the loss of our jobs, the loss of our ability to satisfy our ego and all its incessant needs for validation and me-ness. Yikes. If courage is the requisite enabler of Integrity, where in god’s name do we find that? 

Perhaps we find courage in the calculus of outcome versus effort. We find the courage to do the right thing when we accept that the outcome of the right thing is more important than what we get personally. We pick courage over fear not because we are fundamentally braver than other people but because we choose courage over fear as the right thing to do, in order to do the right thing. It’s our choice and the choice of our leaders to pick courage, and to step forward each and every day, to never waiver in our responsibility to live by the rules, values and principles that define what has always made America great. It’s our choice to save our IQ by increasing our CQ, by replacing the selfish with the selfless in order to help all those in need, to help our country heal. Courage is our choice. And it may be the only choice that really matters.  

chris colbert