integrity: the 99 or the 1?


I am fortunate enough to be part of TED (who I respect). And I have been involved in several discussion threads which are going to inspire some posts.

Lately I have been participating in a maddening discussion thread on “Do you think living by values and having integrity is a thing of the past?”

It’s mostly maddening because we sound old. Heck. The question sounds old.

I know every generation as they get older always thinks it was better “before.”

Another maddening part is what I call <as a generalization> the “1 perspective”.

In that the actions of 1% create a perception that they are bigger than they are <note: 1% is a generalization, possibly hyperbole, and absolutely not research-driven>.

By the way …  I do not believe values/integrity are a thing of the past. I also do not believe that there is a massive downward spiraling of values/integrity taking place. I also do not believe it is the end of the world as we know it <from a values & integrity standpoint … or any standpoint I may add>.

Anyway. All that said.

I am fairly sure I didn’t make many friends in this thread when I suggested integrity is about accountability and not words (or philosophical thoughts). I said something along these lines.

Ok. The original question specifically asks “are values & integrity of the past.” And this conversation is weaving its way through economics (capitalism/materialism destroys morals/values). Religion (a religious laissez faire attitude undermines traditional values). Generational (kids today are all about “me”). Anthropological (some Rappaille reptilian brain driving actions). A beautiful “ignorance is the enemy” thought (higher knowledge & understanding will develop integrity). Even some ‘crisis’ type thoughts (we have never been through anything like this before).

Here are just some random thoughts given all I have read.

All older people believe younger generations don’t have the same values they have (had). Every generation feels that way. They are correct. Integrity is integrity but each generation will implement it in a different voice.

But that’s not really the point.

Here is what I know (in my heart of hearts).

I could put 12 15 year olds from 15 different countries on a panel and show them a 5 minute video on a variety of corruption, inhumane actions, killing or some relatively despicable bullying-like activity from around the world and I will guarantee you that all will know what is wrong. And while they may not know the right words they will say it is some form of value lacking activity or lack of integrity. In other words they certainly know what “right” behavior is.  Inevitably they will ask of us, our generation, “don’t you recognize it is wrong?”

And then … “You do?”  Well. “Then why don’t you do something about it?”

Now. Make that panel 22 year olds and it will go exactly the same way with one additional question to our generation … “if you aren’t going to do anything about it get the hell out of the way so we can do something about it.”

Every ‘old’ generation thinks about what is lost.

Every new generation aims toward what is to be gained.

That is the beauty of generations.  Maddening at times but beautiful.


The only thing that has changed over time is transparency. Because of the internet we don’t have more social revolutions or social anything … we just have more transparency. No more or no less values or integrity.

But. The transparency dials up accountability and responsibility.

Because now that 1% (or so), who don’t exhibit the behavior or ‘integrity of actions’ that attitudinally we know is wrong, not only can’t get away with it but their transgressions get communicated over that megaphone called the internet, therefore, those responsible for stopping it are held more accountable than ever.

That means we are responsible for the actions of our peers. And our actions reflect upon what future generation’s think (maybe not what they actually do).

Think about that.


Isn’t it possible that our generation’s integrity will be judged by how we respond and lead toward ‘what is right’?”

Maybe before we wonder about whether it is something of the past (which I think we all know isn’t really true) we should be accountable for our present. And who is going to lead (because while it is absolutely about the individuals even ‘individuals’ need leaders)?



I now have a small group of passionately pro bruce TED fans.

And a bunch of grumpy old folk  who are anti-bruce.

And a bunch of really philosophical mumbo jumbo I had to delete because it made my head hurt.

The funny thing? (or sad I guess). I am an old folk.  Ok. Before someone jumps on that … let me say I am “of an older generation.” And I cannot believe I am in such a small minority.


I do feel a growing sense of responsibility toward the actions of my peers in my generation.

<hence the reason I write ad nausea about it>


One comment said ignorance is the enemy. Of course there are multiple levels to that comment. But most importantly to this topic we can’t use ignorance as an excuse anymore.

We see lack of integrity more than ever before – not because there is necessarily more of it just that what there is cannot be hidden as well as it may have been in the past.

We will be judged by what we do, or don’t do, with this transparency.

And we are accountable not only for our generation but also the message, and example, we set for future generations.

But here is the good news.

Young people know what is right. And if we do nothing they will just shove our butts out of the way and deal with it themselves.

I continue to believe we don’t have diminished values or integrity overall. Although I tend to believe some generations have a skewed perspective, or tainted perspectives, yet our youth is still good to go if we adults give them some direction.

And I do believe globally we are going through some issues <crisis?> that makes us question overall value & integrity. Some thoughts just because I have seen what people have been discussing:

–          Web. Just my opinion. The web is simply a facilitator. The web doesn’t create anything. People create. The web simply disseminates what people say and think. I could argue that the web hasn’t facilitated any crisis but rather has grinded us down into inaction through information overload. Regardless.  That is a different discussion. Let’s just say I don’t believe the web is degrading our values or integrity.

–          We have seen all of this before. These aren’t really unprecedented times. The web is new but the world had the same values discussions in the 1920’s (and there was a world wide depression). The world had the same values discussion in 1521 with Martin Luther. And all of these same values discussions went worldwide even without the web. Strauss & Howe have argued we are a historically generation cyclical civilization … doomed to make similar mistakes as generations cycle through and experiences change which affects our ability to solve the problems.

Which leads me to …

–          Crisis and facilitating change. A lot of smart people in TED wonder if we are destined to face a crisis if we don’t do ‘something.’ Well. this is a chicken or egg discussion. As a civilization, large populations of people, do we need a crisis to create change or do we facilitate the change to resolve a crisis (which inevitably will need to be resolved).

We people are pretty consistent. It typically takes a pretty big problem <crisis> before we step up to the plate and make the big changes in behavior needed to resolve it. And there is a cycle in that also.

People see crisis looming.

People talk.

Some people do.

There is a lot of angst <and gnashing of teeth>.

A larger group steps up and takes control and solves the crisis.

In the end? The world will not cease to exist. It just may cease to exist as we know it today.

And you know what? That’s okay. The majority of people will still value human life and choice and conduct themselves with integrity. A minority will always do the opposite.

Schumpeter called all this Creative Destruction.

All I know is this. There will be a crisis. There will be a solution. And life will go on <changed or not>.


The tough majority or minority discussion where values & integrity plays a role.

–          Economic inequality. Or Capitalism (or greed).

<note: I am not going to suggest socialism or even economic equality … just fairness>

Any time historically economic equality (or maybe better said … at least a realm of believability between the haves and have nots) has gone out of whack people have:

  1. Bitched, and
  2. Did something.

There are so many types of capitalism out there but suffice it to say I think unmanaged capitalism will always lead to inequality. Those who have … want to have more. And those who don’t have … want what they don’t have. That inevitably leads to crisis when it is clearly out of whack. And, once again, history has shown this again and again … on a country by country basis as well as globally.

What is going to happen (no … I do not have a crystal ball).

–          Leadership. Ah. Crisis leads to leadership. Inevitably we need someone (or a small group of people) to guide us through the crisis. And maybe that is where his whole values & integrity discussion circles back to. Can we find leaders who are pragmatic enough … with integrity we can hold onto … to guide us through to whatever the next phase is. And that is where I get jammed up. I don’t doubt that there are leaders out there with our best interests in mind … I struggle to see how they can fight their way through the ones who use “values” to forward their own agenda.

But. I have faith … and I have hope. I have the belief that someone who is a shitload smarter than I am who has the same good intentions that I have will step up to the plate and lead.


In the end … this whole thing really is about integrity.

(defintion): Integrity is a concept of consistency (lack of contradiction) of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations and outcomes. In western ethics, integrity is regarded as the quality of having an intuitive sense of honesty and truthfulness in regard to the motivations for one’s actions. The word “integrity” stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete). In this context, integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character.

99%, by in large, do act with integrity.

That 1% just looks huge.

And, no, I do not think we’ve turned into a nation, or world, based on nothing but greed <or “what’s in it for me”>.

I do believe many of us have gone into a defensive mode … meaning “I need to protect my interests” but that is much much different than “what’s in it for me” mentality.

We may need to take a radically different approach.

But I tend to believe we just need a radically good leader.

The 99% will diminish the 1% if led correctly.

I am not absolving the 99% of doing something … for even in their own actions they can affect what will happen … and even where we end up going.
The road will be long and slow and will take the commitment of everyone not just leaders.

By the way … that last thought is a biggie.

There is a big danger in wanting too much, of asking too much, too fast. This is not in the immediate gratification category.

We often criticize our leaders for not doing enough or for not solving the problems.

We refuse to accept the complexity of the world and the somewhat limited power of leaders to have an immediate effect.

One of the biggest issues we need to face is the simplification of reality and believing that simple solutions will solve the problems.

Yes. Some things can be handled simply. But most are pretty compex issues that need to be untangled.

As one TED commenter said … “

“The reality is that this world is muddling along in the right direction. Of course if 7 billion people are willing to do the right thing it will go a lot faster.”

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Written by Bruce