The Nitty Gritties of Integrity
|   Aug 27, 2015
The Nitty Gritties of Integrity
AKA: Where do you draw the line between selling yourself and selling your soul?
Most of us parents want our kids to be good people. Conscientious, principled, moral and honest. As parents we also want our children to be successful. We want them to be noticed, praised and admired. 
In a competitive world, are these contradictory demands we make of them? If so, how does one find an optimum balance between the two? 
To get noticed one needs to advertise and market/sell oneself. To do this one needs to use eye catching phrases, splashy language, apparent paradoxes and/or controversial subjects. 
But is it a slippery slope from suggestive wording to downright lying? Here are some moral dilemmas I have personally faced:
As a writer, what do I really want?
1. For my writing to reach as many people as possible.
For that what do I need to do? 
One way to achieve this is to pique your curiosity: Apparent paradoxes and eye catching phrases in my title will do that. It will tempt you to read on. Then I need to keep you hooked. To live up to my title I need to harp on the paradox and use emotion and humor to draw you in. 
A good writer can arrange and word the facts to make a thrilling and/or engaging tale. But does a good writer get tempted to change the facts ever so slightly to make their story better? 
Embellishing for effect. That sounds acceptable. Even admirable. But how much can you embellish before you become deceptive?
Another way is to Appeal to emotion:This is a great way to get people hooked. Playing on peoples emotions is manipulative. But is that necessarily wrong? Not in it self. But appealing to emotion makes it hard to present balanced argument because they are incompatible approaches. Is it possible to achieve a good blend of the two?

2. Another reason some people write is to convince people to give them something.
I have been in this situation in the past. You need to write to get funding for scientific projects. The committee processing the funding has to deal with large numbers of applications from various branches of physics (Yes even physics has a few hundred branches and specializations). They are human too and influenced by eye catching wording (albeit of a specific kind) and buzz words.
Also grant applications are done before the research has really started. After all the grant is required to fund the research. So the one writing the proposal is trying to envision something that may or may not actually work out. So how honest do you want to be? How much of what you write should be what you are fairly certain of achieving and how much should be about the glamorous but not too likely possibilities?
The thing is since you are speculating it is not really dishonest or at least you can tell yourself that. After all something interesting could come of those wild ideas. You never know. It could be the seed of a path-breaking discovery. But in my experience the conscience still twinges ever so slightly.
Same holds true when you write scientific papers. Of course, the paper it self is usually honest research, but in the abstract and outlook section it is tempting to 'sell' your paper. How far fetched can you claim the impact of your paper is, before you go from harmless embellishment to science fiction?

A footnote about controversy:
Another way to go viral is to broach a controversial subject and and make strong statements that provoke lots of responses. It doesn't matter which way you go, there will always be enough people who will want to say something about it in support or opposition. While this may be a good way to spread awareness and start debates about certain issues, it usually achieves little other than making a lot of people angry for a few hours. (Some participants go completely off track and spew venom at each other.)
But that too is a start, so though this is not my personal style there may be some good in it. Since this is not an approach I use, I have little to say about it (because of ignorance not judgement). Please feel free to enlighten me about it in the comments section.
Notice I ask a lot of questions but I don't answer them. The reason is that, I can't answer them. These questions do not have objective answers. In every situation, one needs to assess various factors and make compromises, between integrity and practicality, that one is personally comfortable with, or may be, least uncomfortable with. 
But I believe these and similar questions are important to ask every time we have to do something morally questionable. Asking these questions pokes at our conscience and prevents it from withering away. It helps us remember that, even if we must compromise our integrity, we should compromise it as little as possible. These questions keep us on our toes and help us be vigilant of our character. I do not believe in moral absolutes, but that does not mean we have to be morally bankrupt either.
As parents it is even more important to be vigilant of our character. Our children, watch us and mimic us, even though we may not be aware of it. They notice a lot more than we often realize. What better way to teach them the right questions to ask, than to repeatedly ask them ourselves?
PS: Sorry if this article left you with no closure and no answers. But what better way to get thinking about things we (me included) often try to sweep under the rug. As parents it is even more important to face these questions because our kids take their character cues from us. 

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