Integrity and Law-Abiding Behaviour

Integrity and law-abiding behaviour are components of trustworthiness: people feel more comfortable with each other if they can trust them.

Trustworthiness has several elements:

●  It means keeping one’s promises whenever possible. The only valid reason for breaking a promise might be if the circumstances had unforeseeably changed, to the extent that it would be possible to negotiate forgiveness with those to whom the broken promise had been made.

●  It requires consistency between words and actions: avoiding double standards.

●  Adherence to the law is important, irrespective of whether one is likely to be caught.

●  It means telling the truth. Relationships become unworkable if one cannot believe what the other person is saying.  Julian Baggini’s article, The whole truth, suggested that there are circumstances where other considerations might outweigh the importance of telling the truth – but such exceptions should surely only be permitted if an impartial spectator might agree.  The default rule must be honesty.

●  Integrity and law-abiding behaviour are especially important for politicians. As described later (6.3.3), the public around the world has very little trust in politicians.  That undermines the legitimacy of political systems.

●  Sincerity is important: without it, ‘respect’ and ‘courtesy’ would be of little value. It means saying what one really believes, and not subsequently doing something different.

People must have confidence in each other’s integrity for trust to develop.  Deeper relationships then become possible.  One undermines one’s relationships with other people if one cannot be believed.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4425b.htm