Creating circles of integrity
“Doing what is right when no one is looking” is how noted psychologist Dr. Ma. Lourdes “Honey” Arellano Carandang defines integrity.
Marking her birthday as well as the fifth anniversary of MLAC Institute for Psychosocial Services Inc., Carandang decided to go beyond the usual celebration. Instead, she incorporated a discussion on “Creating Circles of Integrity to Fight Corruption” followed by an open forum; a book launch of “Pockets of Wisdom,” consisting of excerpts from the proceedings of her latest “Parenting Academy” activity, the proceeds of which would go to continuing the MLAC programs with poor families and communities; and then dinner with more schmoozing among the guests.
What are circles of integrity? They are “sanctuaries,” said Carandang, places and groups of people among whom an individual can foster and maintain positive values. “Honesty is not sufficient,” she added. Integrity relies on the harmony between one’s inner and outer self, being “who she is wherever she is,” and committing to be a “truth teller” whatever the circumstance.
A “circle of integrity,” according to the psychologist, begins first with oneself, but the “wholeness” of a person needs to be nurtured and strengthened within the safe confines of family, what she calls “the most powerful social institution.”
Integrity is particularly relevant in these times in the Philippines’ history, with voters preparing to troop to the polling booths and currently in the process of selecting their future political leaders. Their judgment of the worth of the men and women asking for their votes is based on little more than news of the candidates’ activities, rhetoric and motherhood statements, political ads, gossip, and shallow public perception. Are these enough to make for worthy and careful choices?
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The answer, sadly, is certainly not.
A more discerning electorate, it seems, can only evolve through the proper appreciation of what true integrity is, what it consists of, and how it is effectively expressed, felt, applied and measured.
Carandang offers the example of the late Jesse Robredo, who in his time in the spotlight as mayor of Naga and then as interior secretary, sought to reconcile his concept and practice of public service with his own personal beliefs and behavior.
In 2012, said Carandang, Unesco convened a panel of experts to examine the “culture of impunity” in the country and come up with a “prescription” for putting an end to the sense of entitlement of the elite and the powers-that-be, and the unscrupulous ways they adapt to take advantage of their power and wealth, ways which end up being imitated by their so-called social inferiors.
Among the prescriptions was for parents to adopt an attitude “of respect, of listening [to] and validating” the views and personal preferences of their children. Parents, she added, must “build authenticity in a child,” rearing a child to “trust in oneself” and one’s feelings.
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For instance, said Carandang, many parents “don’t allow their children to be sad,” downplaying the natural feelings of children when things don’t turn out right or at least not according to their preference.
In this way, she said, parents end up denying a child’s valid feelings, refusing to address problems or answer questions and doubts, planting the idea that sadness is “bad,” or needs to be denied or misdirected.
Another way of creating integrity in oneself, she added, is to ask oneself: “What are my core values? What did I learn from my family?”
Also useful, Carandang said, is for one to “find a mentor,” to seek “a leader with integrity” who will be a model for honesty and uprightness or, failing that, to find “a group of people with the same core values” with whom a person could relate and learn from, encouraging each other to stay on the right path amid numerous distractions and detours, and “make heroes of ourselves.”
Corruption, added the doctor, “corrodes the soul,” which is why it is necessary for every individual to embark on “moral reflection,” the better to conduct periodic reviews of the consistency between one’s internal values and external behavior.
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A voice from “real life” was raised during the open forum, from a retired general who worked in the logistics section of the army and learned through experience that “it is hard to practice honesty in the bureaucracy.”
Leaders of institutions, he said, “assign people who will make money for them” in their respective posts. And if one resists orders, or orders couched as requests, “it will be difficult to be promoted, you will be relieved of your post.”
But this is why, Carandang said, we need to build “circles of integrity” in which the “honest few” can find strength and solidarity with like-minded friends and colleagues who can put up a solid front in the face of blandishments and outright pressure.
My own take on this is that we need to gradually build and interconnect our own little circles—starting from the self to the family, the neighborhood, the community, and then on to the rest of society—to shore up the roots of integrity, support those who are struggling with temptation and pressure to allow them to find a way out, and expose and punish those who break the moral code and profit from it.
Are we willing to take on the risk and call out the corrupt? One way of doing so is to choose wisely and carefully among the men and women seeking our votes, and thus send the signal that corruption should not and will not be rewarded.
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