Integrity in the Gap

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Walking along our small town's main street recently, I noticed a construction company's sign on a renovation work-in-progress. The name of the company, which dominated the sign in bold black letters, left no doubt as to its corporate self-image: INTEGRITY.

Well, perhaps. A few judicious telephone calls to some of the company's previous clients might indeed confirm the reality of the logo's implicit claim. But there's all too much evidence that the seductive urge to leapfrog over the reality and lay claim to the reputation pervades the worlds of business and industry. David Batstone, in his book Saving the Corporate Soul, cites a 2002 Watson Wyatt survey of nearly thirteen thousand American workers in all major industries and points out that "only 63 per cent of those surveyed can say their companies conduct business with integrity."

These reflections brought to mind—with a certain embarrassment—a long-ago event in my own youthful employment history. Working in a cobbled-together array of part-time jobs and a full-time graduate program, I had written what I considered some pretty snappy copy for a series of magazine ads extolling the various virtues of a small Christian college where I was also teaching a course in Mass Media of Communications. The headline on one of these ads proclaimed "If you like sports, you'll love Wellington" and went on to make certain claims about the college's athletic program. (The name is fictional.)

Fast forward to one morning several weeks later. As my Mass Media class of a dozen is gathering, one of the students—in a college-level version of show and tell—strides in brandishing a copy of a magazine. I see immediately that it's the issue containing the sports ad. "Look at this!" he says, opening to a page and reading my copy like a pompous orator: "If you like sports, you'll love Wellington." Then he laughs and with affectionate derision goes on to give his revised version: "If you like sports, you'll leave Wellington!"

Since he has no idea I've had anything to do with the ad, I could let well enough alone and go on with what I had planned to do in class. But however embarrassing, the learning possibilities were too great to ignore—for students and teacher. After letting his discovery sink in and evoke a few responses, I confessed to my involvement in the ad's creation, and we had one of our better classes. After holding my feet to the fire, the students agreed that the college had been taking serious steps to strengthen its athletic program, and that therefore I hadn't actually lied. I was glad to be off the hot seat.

But fifty years later, as I walk down our main street, it's not the students' charitable interpretation that lingers in my mind. It's that gap between the reality on the ground and the cavalier claim I was making in the publicity. For someone who took seriously the biblical counsel to "let your 'Yes' be yes and your 'No' be no" (James 5:12)—as I surely did—that's where integrity should have taken over.

I know that now. I suspect that I knew it then too. And that's what's really embarrassing.