When starting the World Futures Institute, I created a list of 18 areas that need to be addressed for the future of earth and humanity. If you examine the list it is clear that every area is undergoing change and evolution. Item 16 on the list is “in transformation, how do we maintain integrity?” But it, integrity, will be evolving as well as systems, policies, and how we get along both individually and collectively. So what is integrity?
The word “integrity” is related to the word “integer” meaning whole. We are familiar with the numbers 1, 2 and so on. These are whole units, treated as such and simple to use and understand. The number 10 is comprised of 10 whole units or ones. But the number 10 is a whole integer itself. Likewise the dollar, a whole unit, is comprised of 100 cents or pennies, also whole units. As human beings, we are whole units that collectively become a society, also a whole unit, both whole and complete at an instant in time. Integrity describes the wholeness of these entities. With regard to humans, “wholeness” derives from qualities such as honesty and character. In contrast, for non-living things integrity refers to the attribute of functioning or designed and built to achieve a purpose; it can be relied upon.
Today, in my opinion, there are three areas of integrity that overlap and are intermeshed. With respect to people and their organizations and quoting from Wikipedia, “Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.”
Switching to things, does your automobile have integrity? Will the parts function together properly to propel you down the freeway? And today, does your car not emit CO2? Or is that a debate of the fundamental principles of automobile integrity?
Today we also need to add information integrity. The rapid growth of the internet and the accelerating growth of “knowledge” have created a new challenge in determining what is right and wrong, what is truthful and what is not, and what fact is and what fiction is. But let us start with people.
As people enter a society, they receive training or education that is the foundation of their moral and ethical principles. This relates to another item in the list of 18: what and how do we teach people? A long time ago I was required to take a college course on the five major religions of the world. The textbook included Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. While growing up, I also was introduced to moral and ethical principles that were drilled into me by my parents, religious training, and, to a lesser extent, the public school system. A set of beliefs were instilled in me. It was quite simple, did not deal with math and language, but became broader in scope as my math and language skills grew. One of these principles was the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
Each of the five religions cites above includes this “commandment” in its doctrine and I suspect most of the lesser religions do also, In my high school English class we were required to explore what the world would be like if murder were legalized. Quickly we came to a unanimous agreement that legalizing murders was a very bad idea. Was our conclusion influenced by logic or by the beliefs we had be taught? Of course, in the “commandment” the word used is “kill.” In our understanding, in self-defense killing is OK, if necessary. And societies believe warfare and killing is OK if needed to preserve the society. This is fairly straightforward in concept, but difficult in reality.
The word kill, as being used here, means ending a life and the “commandment” cited is clearly referring to human life. As we explore moral values and consider changing them, the definitions, perceptions, and personal perspectives become extremely important. For example, when does life start, at conception or birth?
Using the Center of Disease Control data from 2015, lf life begins at conception, the death rate while in the womb is 15.8 percent. If life is defined to begin at birth, the death rate of 0.58 percent during the first year of life. And the highest death rate for people that have been “born” is 14.54 percent for those 85 and older. Expanding on your perspective, is the most dangerous place for a human being in the womb or somewhere else if you are 85 or older? Defining the beginning of life is a moral debate that defines part of the basis of integrity. Where do you stand?