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November 28, 2007

We need to be a people of integrity

Guest post continued by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

How counter this description of integrity is to both ancient and modern ‘common wisdom’. Yes, there are some famous lines from world literature that one should always be true to oneself. Remember the famous quote from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cans’t not then be false to any man.” Ironically, the character mouthing those words was a crafty soul who bent the truth to suit his selfish purposes. Today, we hear that we have to be Number One; that we have to watch out for ourselves, and forget others.

So if we are to be individuals or communities of faith, we must recognize that we are swimming against the current of rationalization. We are to have integrity, we will act upon what we believe is right and wrong. Just like the whistle blowers, who may get into trouble, to what extent are we willing to get involved?

Having integrity also means, you recall, speaking out, explaining why we believe some things are right. Carter ends his book with a section on evil. He says that there is nothing else to call it. There is evil in the world – such as the evil of genocide. He also talks about the evil that comes when minds are closed.

A more recent book I would recommend is Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness (2004). The subtitle speaks of living an undivided life. Isn’t that what integrity is? So many of us live a life of stereotypes – putting on the faces that others expect of us, but deep inside, we have conflicts. I can’t pretend to know the significant ethical decisions you must face each day at work and at home. I don’t know you well enough, individually, to know what inner strengths you have. Church folk like to speak of such virtues as faith, hope, love, trust and generosity. But we don’t often use the word integrity. I believe we need to emphasize it more.

We should live our lives so that they make a difference
The key is that, from the perspective of integrity, we have to ask how concerned we are for each other and our neighbors. Let our self-interest give way to interest in others.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker graduated from Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis and was ordained in 1962. Following ministry in several churches and completion of his doctorate, he taught at Iowa State University for 24 years. He served as president of Eden Seminary from 1993-1995. In 2002 Charles retired from his position as Associate Director of Academic Affairs for the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

I am honored to count Charles as a friend. When he heard I wrote about civility, he offered sermons he had delivered on integrity and civility. This integrity post is excerpted from a sermon he delivered in fall 1996 at Faith United Church of Christ in Bryan, Texas, with some revisions he made for this guest post. His thoughts on civility will run the week of Dec. 9.

November 27, 2007

Integrity is more than honesty

Guest post by the Rev. Dr. Charles Kniker

Businesses and governments like to claim they have it. Politicians often say their opponents don’t have it. Individuals, for the most part, aspire to it. Integrity.

Many voices today passionately decry the lack of integrity in all arenas of life. Religious fundamentalists and terrorists are certain their opponents have abandoned integrity and are engaged in corrupt practices. We need to be concerned about that deficiency in our families, our churches, our schools, our nation. Just as our bodies need water, so our souls need integrity. As a society, we are in a desert of deceit, and we need the oasis of honesty and courageous action.

We can easily list specific examples of the lack of integrity. Reports of politicians and their aides making shady deals and being unfaithful to their spouses are rampant. Persons hired to care for our children, at home or at day care centers abuse the little ones. Wall Street fund managers manipulate the investments of their clients. Commercials and telemarketers tempt us with products and prizes they can’t deliver. Athletes take performance enhancing drugs. College students (at least 70 percent) admit they cheat on exams. May I add the 'reality' television shows which applaud devious behavior?

We crave integrity, which also means integration, wholeness
We must love each other, trust each other and have a generosity of spirit. All these qualities come together if we are persons of integrity.

What is integrity? One of the leading voices calling for integrity is a Yale law professor, Stephen L. Carter, African-American and an active Episcopalian. His first best-seller was The Culture of Disbelief. He has written another book (integrity) [1996] which I highly recommend. For him, integrity is more than honesty, which many of us equate with integrity.

Integrity has three components
First, Carter says we must have the ability to discern what is right and wrong. Doesn’t everyone know right from wrong? Don’t assume that today. Gangs and television, rather than parents and schools, are the primary value trainers, some argue. One might add that many children of the world, in nations having extreme hunger or genocide, are so busy just surviving that discerning right and wrong in what we consider traditional circumstances isn’t possible. Granted, that could be debated by some who do research of the brain who argue humans are ‘hard wired’ for good. For now, let’s just assume most of us have learned right and wrong.

Then, for Carter, once you can discern right from wrong, you will act upon it, even when it may have a high cost personally. We should be able to understand that, from stories we read and see on ‘whistleblowers’ in the federal government and business. Despite legislation designed to protect such individuals, what I read suggests whistleblowers still pay a heavy personal and professional price.

Carter says that the third mark of integrity is that one acts openly and is willing to explain to others why he/she acted the way he or she did. A person of integrity will have no embarrassment or shame about what has been done. It is better to act rightly, than just having the right rhetoric and not act. We must move past theory into practice. The faith perspective on integrity is that we will act not in our own self-interest, but in the interest of what is best for others. A secular version of this is the Rotary 'four way test'.

Watch for the conclusion, We need to be a people of integrity, tomorrow.

November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving cards

A Thanksgiving card arrived last week from a vendor of specialty items. It’s sitting on my desk.

At home, a Thanksgiving card came from my insurance agent. The back of the card says ‘Hallmark Business Expressions, Created especially for State Farm’ and has the State Farm logo. The message inside the card thanks me for my business with State Farm.

My financial planner hosted a client appreciation celebration one evening last week at a downtown restaurant. He gave each person a bag with a notebook and pens plus a thank you card.

Because I work in marketing, I try to observe how and when businesses and organizations thank their customers.

Tying customer recognition to Thanksgiving is a practice of civility
The recognition comes before the busyness of December.
Thanksgiving is a holiday all Americans observe.
It has the connection to family, whether a family who lives together or works together or a family of clients.

Years ago, people sent cards and letters freely to stay in touch. They are so rare in the mail today that it’s a pleasure to receive a card from a company or organization.

So to my family of readers, whoever you are and wherever you are, here are my Thanksgiving cards for you. Thanks for reading, thanks for comments, thanks for giving me ideas and thanks to those who don’t comment publicly but tell me something I wrote made them think. Thanks for joining me in thinking about civility at work and in all our relationships.

Happy Thanksgiving

The cards on this post are from my collection of old holiday postcards.
The top one has a 1906 postmark mailed to Miss Good in Stanleyton, Va. It’s one you see often. The artist is Ellen Clapsaddle, International Art publisher, printed in Germany.
The bottom one was sent to Mrs. Mattie J. Smith in Laurens, Iowa from her son Claude in Los Angeles in 1923. It is not a notable card but I liked the verse.

November 15, 2007

Focus on the idea, not the person who presents it

If someone whom you respect suggests an idea, it’s easy to accept the idea on first blush. It may be a good idea, but really….maybe not.

If a suggestion comes from someone you don’t like (or worse, don’t respect, don’t trust), it’s easy to quickly dismiss the idea.

Erase the face and voice of the spokesperson to think about the idea
An editorial at the close of local elections in North Carolina focuses on this idea. The writer is talking about politics, but I can construe it to think about the workplace.

‘For the Record: The lost art of civility’ from the Carrboro Citizen in Carrboro, North Carolina (very close to Chapel Hill).
Excerpts I particularly like:
“It would be a lie to say that civility is the answer to all the ills of modern politics — local, state, national and global.”

“what happens when adults go feral”

“I’ve seen good ideas delayed or shot down not on their merits but as a result of who was carrying the water. That’s the kind of attitude that exists all too often in the workplace….”


November 14, 2007

Ground rules for civil discussions

We’ll operate in an atmosphere of trust, of mutual respect to feel safe to express opinions.
1. Turn cell phones off or at maximum, to vibrate; if you must answer, do so outside this room.
2. Discuss ideas and issues, not people.
3. Disagree without being disagreeable.
4. Listen to the person speaking and focus on his or her comments.
5. Speak for yourself, not others.
6. Encourage others to contribute to the discussion.
7. Try to understand the others, as much as you hope they try to understand you.
8. Stay focused on the topic, although we’ll meander in various directions.
9. Avoid repetition.

I don’t like rules much. The first civility workshops I hosted taught me there was a need for ground rules. People were naming names. I was naïve and not assertive enough then to stop the barrage.

I reformed, searched for ground rules others used and worked to get a short list that would set a civil tone. They’ve worked well now for two workshops and a retreat. People seem very comfortable when they understand everyone is going to abide by common rules.

If you need ground rules for discussions, please feel free to use these or adapt them. At least consider the need for ground rules….even if you don’t like rules much.

November 07, 2007

Personal effectiveness requires discipline and learning

To lead yourself ... and then possibly others.

Some two thousand years ago Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher, listed the six biggest mistakes of man:
1. The delusion that personal gain is made by crushing others.
2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected.
3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
5. Neglecting the development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying.
6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

The ancient Greeks and Romans practiced what John Maxwell--American minister, leadership expert, speaker, and author (1947 - ) -- preaches today, "Those who cannot lead themselves cannot lead others."

1. Do you refuse to simply “get by”?

Leaders are not satisfied with "getting by" or "squeaking through”.

2. Do you shun perfectionism?
Great leaders don't waste their time striving for perfection. Effective leaders learn from their failures so they can do better next time.

3. Can you apply humor to your setbacks?
It's an important part of discipline ... because you will have setbacks. It's not a matter of "if" but "when”. Humor will keep your leadership discipline intact.

4. Are you humble enough to admit your need for continual learning?

Effective leaders are humble. They admit they don't know it all. And they don't pretend to know it all. As one leader said, "It's what you learn, after you think you know it all that counts." Effective leaders know it's easier to keep up than catch up. So they're in the continual learning mode. They know school is never out.

Part of self-education comes from constructive risk-taking. Effective leaders carefully consider how they would adjust ... or how they would salvage a situation ... if, in fact, they did fail.

How satisfied are you with your answers to the four questions? If you're committed to continual learning, what is your evidence? How many books do you read or listen to each month? How many seminars or lectures do you attend each year?

How does this relate to civility?
Respect for others, honesty, humility, self-discipline.

Condensed and reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman's 'Tuesday Tip.' As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Zimmerman has worked with more than a million people, helping them become more effective communicators on and off the job. To receive a FREE, subscription to his 'Tuesday Tip' articles, go to http://www.DrZimmerman.com. Or contact him at 20550 Lake Ridge Drive, Prior Lake, MN 55372.