Take 5: 18th May 2015 by Ms Dolley Tan Geok Hua
Today’s Take 5 story is about integrity, as seen from the eyes of Dr Dennis, an author who studied at West Point. West Point is a famous military academy in the United States, which admits not just Americans but also foreign cadets. Several officers from the Singapore Armed Forces have also studied at West Point. The story is as follows.
When I was a West Point cadet, integrity was embodied in the Cadet Honor Code, which stated, “A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.” Honor violations were reported by fellow cadets and thoroughly investigated. Cadets found guilty were dismissed immediately. I had a classmate who broke the rules by getting married while he was a cadet, a fact which he kept secret. The problem was, he signed a statement every time he returned from leave declaring that he wasn’t married. Eventually, this lie bothered him so much that he turned himself in the day before graduation. It was an honourable thing to do, but he wasn’t allowed to graduate.
But that didn’t stop him from serving. He joined the Army and earned a commission through Officer Candidate School (OCS). He became a helicopter pilot, but he was killed soon in Vietnam during the Vietnam War when his aircraft was shot down. I grieved his death.
“Honour” and “integrity” are common terms, but I’ve found that most people have a vague understanding of them. For example, I hear the terms honesty and integrity being used interchangeably. Sure, they’re closely related, but to me they’re two different things. Honesty has to do with communicating the truth — what you say. Integrity has to do with living the truth — what you do.
Integrity is doing what you’ve led others to believe that you’ll do.
People of integrity can be counted on to stand up for what is right, even if it is unpopular, and to behave with honour even when there is no one around to see. Integrity allows other people to trust us because they know that we value our commitments and seek to live by them.
I think of integrity as a personal strength because doing the right thing often means doing the hard thing. It may be inconvenient or difficult to keep your promise. You may be tempted to do something else.
When I was checking History CA1 marks with Sec 1E, one girl alerted me that she should have got a lower mark. Clearly, she did the honourable thing to point out my error and get the correct mark. But some students would rationalize that no one is harmed by the error and that it’s a bit of luck to get the higher mark. Would you have alerted the teacher if you were in her shoes?
Reflection questions for you:
1. Today marks the checking of your exam scripts. Would you alert your teacher that you should have got the lower mark even if you knew for sure that no one would ever know the difference?
2. How can we avoid losing our integrity?
© Adapted from an account by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D