Integrity vs. Popularity

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At some point in your life or career, you will face a decision. It will be a choice between doing what you believe is right, and doing what will make you popular.

On paper, most people say they would choose integrity. The difference between a theoretical thought exercise and real life are the consequences. Theoretical consequences don’t hurt nearly as badly as real life ones do.

I remember my earliest memory of choosing popularity over integrity. I was 9 years old. On my way home from school, I noticed a classmate, Kimberly, getting picked on. Some boys were teasing her and threw small rocks at her head.

I knew that was wrong.

I did nothing. I looked the other way. I didn’t want to rock the boat, cause a scene, or get involved. In short, I didn’t want to lose what little popularity I already had.

I’ve regretted that incident my entire life.

I’ve had dozens (if not hundreds) of similar decisions over my life. Of course, people want to do what’s right. But the part that makes it hard is that doing what’s right sometimes comes at a cost.

I was on the Harvard Business School campus a few years ago hearing Clay Christensen speak. He said Harvard was going through an initiative to address two issues it was concerned about, in regards to their alumni.

The first issue was the high divorce rate amongst alumni. The second issue was the imprisonment rate.

Two high profile examples of the latter:

  • Jeffrey Skilling, former President of Enron — Accounting Scandal
  • Rajat Gupta, former head of McKinsey — Insider Trading

I wish I had some brilliant insight on this issue. "Have integrity" seems like too simple a message to pass along.

Although I've thought about this issue for many years, I don’t have a nice tidy answer or message on it for you. But I think it is possible to prompt you to come up with answers for yourself. So I offer you two questions to think about:

At what price are you willing to compromise on your integrity?

Why?

Give it some thought, because sooner or later you will face that exact decision.

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