Sunday, October 6, 2013

What is integrity? - the Peter O'Connor commentary

It seems that the Integrity Commission organized a competition called “Do it Right” for children. The competition is in its third year, and is being run in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. And we should all find this commendable. 

However, Integrity Commission Chairman Kenneth Gordon told us that some of the children had been found cheating in the competition to discover the “Do it Right Champions”.

Oh Horrors! How could this be? What is happening to our children? Forgive me for not freaking out at this startling revelation: Children in an Integrity Competition are cheating!

Well, let us relax. Our children are doing just fine, thanks--- following in our footsteps. They are growing up to be just like us -- every parent’s dream. 

Make no mistake here; many of those children would have been “helped” by their parents. Ask yourself this: Do you really think those children thought they were doing wrong to copy, cheat and cut and paste “their” work? 

I am confident that any psychologist who spoke with these children would conclude that they had no idea they were “cheating” or acting contrary to the “Integrity” they were being tested on.
This is how we live, folks. This is what we learn from TV, from all the imported values we embrace, what we either excuse in or teach to our children, because we have collectively dumped the values we have built upon for countless generations. 

What, if anything were these children taught about values and integrity before they entered the competition? And if they were taught, the lessons were obviously not properly communicated.

I think we all know what “integrity” should be. But most of us adapt the definitions to suit our special circumstance, and the bar keeps slipping lower, until it becomes –if you are not caught, it’s OK, it’s “integrity”! And it is in this general setting that we all try to slip past the rules, get to the front of the line, and proudly show our children how it is done.

Look at our leaders: every single Member of Parliament is thumping his or her chest, claiming integrity and abusing others for lacking it, and all the while, every damned one of them is tainted, as we know and each of them knows. 

But feigning horror at someone doing just what we do is a Trini pantomime, and we take ourselves seriously when we engage in the never ending shouting and abuse at each other. And we pretend that we wonder that our children “cheat” in competitions?

The question we should be studying is how, if at all, we can reintroduce basic ethics and morality into our lives, and especially into the lives of our children? And make no mistake about it, this is a tenet of a civilized
society: that people live by rules and customs developed over generations in order to avoid chaos. So this is not going to be any quick-fix by which we can change our standards to set examples of honesty, morality and ethical behaviour for our children. 

Several years ago I received in my mailbox a hand-delivered envelope containing a book. I cannot remember the name of the book, but it had been written by a Mr. Fortune’, and I cannot remember his first name either. 

The book’s contents were unusual, and most absorbing: It consisted of dozens, maybe up to a hundred, situations which people encounter in their family lives, at school, at work, and in life generally. Each of these described situations of disagreement, disappointment, or family or peer conflicts. None exceeded a page in length.

At the end of each piece, a series of questions was put to the reader. The questions argued for each of the protagonists in the disagreement, asking the reader if A, B, or C was entitled to what they took, or wanted, and whether X, Y or Z was right in their actions or responses. The book provided no answers, but just described the situation, and asked the questions, essentially: “What do you think?”

I lent someone the book, and thus lost it, but I often think how relevant it is as a discussion tool for schools, families and other groups. I believe that instead of us telling (preaching to) children how they must behave with each other and with adults, if we presented them with examples
of conflict and disagreement, and let them discuss the issues, they will develop a sense of right and wrong, and indeed fairness and justice, that will benefit them and us. 

Indeed, any teacher, adult or other moderator who assigned any of the discussion examples to a group of youngsters, might well discover that these children are far closer to understanding integrity than we are!

Integrity cannot be taught or imposed. It must be developed.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai