Integrity, first or second?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jason L. Knight
  • 92nd Mission Support Squadron commander
Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do. I know what you're thinking: "Oh, great....another boring article on our core values." Maybe. But, from what I've seen, those values aren't quite as core as they should be. Yes, I'm talking about YOU. Those should be your core values, and they should guide your every action, both on duty and off. The question you should be asking yourself on a regular basis is, "Do they?" I realize that almost all of us instinctively reply, "Of course." But, do they, really? To objectively answer that question, let's examine the one core value that I think is most commonly taken for granted.

Integrity is commonly associated with honesty. Most people, especially those in the service, consider themselves honest people. I mean, you don't lie, cheat, or steal, right? So, it can be very easy to internalize "Integrity First" as the core value you've already mastered. It's almost as if you're saying, "No problem. I've got that one down. What's next?" Well, maybe you do, and maybe you don't.

Integrity is formally defined as a firm adherence to a code or standard of values. More simply put, it's doing the right thing, even if no one is watching. I know that phrase is cliché and over-used. But there's a reason for that: It's true.

So, do you? In all circumstances? When you're doing laundry in the dorms and your dryer sheet falls on the ground, do you pick it up and throw it away? When you're eight steps from the door and the National Anthem begins to play, do you quicken your pace to get inside? When you forget to do your laundry, do you go ahead and wear the wrong color socks with your uniform because 'no one will notice?' When a person in a position of authority enters the room, do you stand up? Yes, I'm talking about YOU.

Integrity isn't judged on a sliding scale. You either have it, or you don't, and despite what you may think, integrity isn't more important in the significant moments than in the insignificant ones I described above. Every moment counts.

I think Ronald Reagan said it best: "The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the 'little' choices of years past - by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation....whispering the lie that 'it really doesn't matter.' It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away - the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit developed habits of discipline or of laziness; habits of self-sacrifice or self-indulgence; habits of duty and honor and integrity - or dishonor and shame."

Integrity is doing the right thing at all times. Stop rationalizing and making excuses. You know what the right thing is. Do it. Otherwise, you're only putting Integrity Second.