Integrity: The Cornerstone of Character

There is a saying that our character is forged by our integrity. Doing the right thing when no one is looking, doing the right thing when it matters most, and doing the right thing as an example for others is what defines us as human beings.

I’ll admit I’m a people watcher. Whether it’s at the mall, a restaurant, or a gas station, I’ve always been intrigued by why people do what they do. And sometimes, what they do is not always the right thing. Recently, I was getting gas at our small, local deli. You know the type: get gas, talk to the guys having coffee, grab a soda, and off to work! On this particular morning, however, I noticed someone drop a $20 bill out of their wallet. The person did not see that they’d dropped the bill and walked into the deli. Just then, a young high schooler ran over and picked up the money. What I witnessed next was the most interesting transformation of human character I’d ever seen.

The boy looked hard at the bill; I could tell he was excited about finding some cash on the ground. I could also see him struggle with the idea of finding the money – you know, the old “finders keepers” rule. But then I saw his expression change; the other side of him was screaming to return the money to its rightful owner. He turned toward the deli and so, of course, I followed him inside to see what he was going to do. I watched the boy tap the gentleman on the shoulder and return the money. The gentleman was very grateful and handed it back to him saying, “You did the right thing, so keep it as a reminder of your good deed”. The boy responded, “Thanks, but it just felt good to make someone happy and do the right thing.”

Wow.

I’m sure we’ve all had a moment in which we had to make a choice like this boy did. Sure, it could be easy to pocket that $20 bill. Or, in the professional world, take credit for a project we did not do or blame someone else for failing to follow through on a promise. Lack of integrity can shortchange us all in both our careers and everyday lives. The short-term gain from a quick feel good moment does not compare to the feeling that we get when we do what’s right. We become proud of who we are and what we stand for, and a person with character is infectious, in a good way!

Being able to look in the mirror and feel proud of who is looking back is what counts. When you can do that, you can lead a life based on integrity and people notice your character. In the workplace, a lack of character robs us all of the good things we can be as a professionals, corporations, and an industry as a whole.

As for the kid who returned the money, I patted him on his shoulder and said, “Well done.” He responded by saying “I didn’t know anyone saw me do that,” which perfectly demonstrates the point of my story. So my question to you is this – when faced with a similar situation, what will you do? If you are like my young friend, the value of your character will be worth more than the $20 bill in your pocket.

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