We have an integrity deficit, sacrificing way more integrity than we have accumulated over the past four decades. Place the blame wherever you'd like-it does not replenish this soulful resource. That is the job of public education.
Studying ethics and integrity does three things: It allows students to examine both ethical and unethical decisions and acts throughout history and business, to analyze how those decisions could have been made differently and the possible results from those decisions, and to apply those principles of ethical decision making to their everyday lives.
If indeed these are the "future leaders" of the country, as politicians are constantly bantering for their own political purposes, then is there a better time to reach them with the message of integrity than before they venture out to careers of their own?
Imagine a high school class examining the downfall of the Enron corporation. Clips of "Fun With Dick and Jane" could be added for entertainment value of course, but teens have an incredible sense of what is fair and just, and they are eager to debate and problem-solve situations that don't "seem fair" to them. Educators would be wise to capitalize on such interest. Once the greed, selfishness and illegalities of the situation are discussed, the scope could be broadened to include the impact on innocent American investors-many of whom lost their retirement monies as a result of unethical decisions.
Arming kids with an understanding of integrity would make them more sensitive to working environments as they go into the real world, helping to hold people accountable. Can you think of anything more guilt-ridden than an observation by a 19-year-old about doing what is right? Men and women of integrity and ethical behavior are worth multiple times whatever they are being paid. If Enron had it to do over again, do you think they would trade some of the hotshot, trendy folks they hired for some people who had a set of lungs that were willing to blow the ethical whistle now and then? Even from just a financial point of view, it may have saved them billions.
People of integrity make decisions simple. Do not confuse simple with easy. All people have difficult circumstances and stressful situations. But people who operate from a position of integrity never have to stress over how far to step over the line because their decisions are always based on the same set of values where those circumstances don't matter. For example, taking money that isn't yours applies the same from a quarter on the street to a million-dollar stock swindle. The ethics behind the two don't matter.
Arming kids with this type of knowledge is sorely lacking, and it could account for all the college cheating, business fraud and government doublespeak. Let's teach some integrity and ethics to our youth, and perhaps we'll be pleased with the results for everyone.