Where has Society Gone Wrong? Insights from the Integrity Lapse Forum

By Sandra Beswick

I recently attended the “Integrity Lapse” event hosted by Dr Charissa Bloomberg of Hidden Dimensions, and Patron, Professor Thuli Madonsela, Chair. Social Justice Law Faculty, Stellenbosch University. In her opening address Dr Bloomberg urged us to make integrity “sexy” again.

It is an indictment of our society and culture that we are have a need for an “Integrity Lapse” forum. Where has society gone wrong?

What integrity means to me

The synonyms in the thesaurus for integrity include honesty, truth, truthfulness, honour, reliability, veracity and uprightness. Being authentic and sincere reflects honesty.

We tend to admire and revere external beauty, wealth and superficial facades, as if these are a measure of success. We should instead admire an integrous ethical person who acts with kindness and compassion to others and the animal world.

Greed drives unethical behaviour. Pravin Gordhan once asked “how many noughts are enough?” Our need to belong means that even wrongdoers can garner loyalty from those around them. However, this loyalty can be under threat if the tables turn against the wrongdoers.  

I taught my children that telling the truth was easier; we cannot always remember our lies because they are fictional. I also taught them to keep their word; if they made arrangements with friends they needed to honour those arrangements, even if something better came up. My motto is treat everyone the way you expect to be treated.

Leap of faith

I took a decision to opt out of the banking industry in 2008. My wellbeing and value system was compromised by unacceptable stress levels as a result of internal politics not entirely of my own making. During one of the highly subjective performance reviews with my manager, I realised a fair rating was unlikely. Changes in the strategy of the business unit I was heading meant I was, in essence, tasked with making orange juice from lemons. An unachievable result.

One of my colleagues said the economic environment outside of the banking environment was cold. I decided I would rather work in a cold environment than a toxic one. I was determined to remain true to my ideals and values.

The leap of faith I took was scary. Not earning an income ignited my insecurities and fears. My confidence took a huge beating, my identity was stripped bare. But, since making that leap, I have learnt a lot about myself. I had to dig deep into my coping mechanisms, and I discovered I had an inner strength I could draw on, that I am resilient. I prayed a lot, finding an inner peace because my integrity was intact and I was true to my value system. It made me a healthy and happier person and I am very grateful for my health and wellbeing.

I have reinvented myself. I created my own destiny, emerging from the cocoon of ‘corporate employee’ to the freedom of being a business owner. Where once I worked for a corporate, I am now a senior business rescue practitioner providing assistance for ailing companies through turn-around management interventions and strategies. ‘Integrity’ and ‘a business rescue practitioner’ could be construed as a misnomer. In some instances, business rescue practitioners have not behaved ethically and are perceived as being “dodgy” by the affected parties. My company logo encompasses a code of integrity, transparency, compliance with legal codes and requirements, trust and respect.

Since 2014, I consulted as an external expert on an investment panel for a state owned enterprise and am now consulting as a non-executive director. 

Circle of Integrity

We need to bring integrity and ethical behaviour back into our society. At the Integrity Forum, a ‘Circle of Integrity’ was discussed as a potential model for teaching and creating awareness of about doing the right thing as a matter of course.

A suggested composition of The Circle of Integrity.

Integrity coaching should form an essential part of the school syllabus, university programmes and workplace. Honesty must become a way of life. We need to be more considerate and kind to our fellow beings, inculcating appreciation of our differences. Accepting people for who they are and not what they have.

Making the Circle of Integrity an integral part of our own personal characteristics will lead to a happy and fulfilling life. Teaching our children the value of integrity and modeling it for them will encourage them to grow into adults of integrity. And as integral ethical and moral behaviour equates to an alignment with happiness,  happy children will become happy adults.

Leadership behaviour

Good corporate governance, with moral and ethical leadership is imperative if we want to create credible integrity-based companies. Companies with a culture of honesty and truthfulness, eventually resulting in a South Africa devoid of corruption.

Most companies have mission and vision statements which tend to say the right things. However in reality, neither the mission nor the vision are practiced. Both are often disconnected with the culture or collective behaviour of the organisation, and the employees.  

Building integrity in an organisation

Various speakers at the forum described how Integrity Based Organisations can be achieved through the implementation of the following practises:

  • Integrity Role Ambassadors
  • Integrity Awareness Training
  • Integrity Agenda
  • Incentivize integrity
  • Reinforce a code of ethics
  • Creation of an accountability culture

Professor Madonsela shared her insights on how ethical leadership and integrity define her perspective and how the fundamentals of ’EPIC’ are the bedrock of integrity.

E = Ethical

P = Purpose Driven

I = Impact consciousness

C = Committed to Serve

Healing our social environment

The need to create a moral and ethical culture in our personal lives, commerce and political leadership has never been more imperative than now. We can all contribute in a meaningful way to the healing of our country.

Unethical behaviour and interference can fragment the soul and culture of an organisation and a country.

‘Integrity is the Hidden Dimension’,  ‘Integrity costs you nothing but when you lose it, you lose everything’ – these two quotes on the Integrity Forum  website www.integrityforum.co.za, by Professor Madonsela and Dr Bloomberg encapsulate the message behind the Integrity Forum.

I have signed the Integrity Pledge on the Integrity Forum website and I urge you to become a part of this initiative. Let us create awareness of the necessity of  integrity. There is a need for regular Integrity Forums countrywide, and for promoting integrity and the Circle of Integrity solution across all online and offline social media platforms. Let us unite in the fight against corruption and dishonesty.