Menanteau Serfontein – 28 January 2022
Please note that before this Essay is read, you should ideally first read the previous Essay (Part 1) entitled “Things That Strengthen and Weaken Our Integrity – Small Choices Matter” – Part 1
In this Essay (Part 2), we will explore one of the most salient factors that increases our ability to rationalize a dishonest act, and how we can combat this force in order to maintain our integrity.
The Psychological Distance Between the Deed and the Consequence
A key factor that significantly influences our ability to rationalize a dishonest act is the psychological distance between the act and its consequences. The more steps removed we are from how an immoral decision affects others and from having to think about the reality of what we’re doing, the easier it is to make the choice without feeling bad about it.
Research conducted by Israeli-American professor of psychology and behavioural economics and author, Dan Ariely found that many people wouldn’t think twice about taking a ream of paper from work, but wouldn’t dream of grabbing $3.50 from the office’s petty cash box, even though the value of the cash is roughly the same as the value of the paper.
How to Counteract the Psychological Distance and Strengthen Your Integrity
The greater the psychological distance between our dishonest actions and their consequences, the easier those actions become to rationalize as morally and ethically acceptable. And the more our ability to rationalize increases, the more our fudge factor margin widens. Thus, in order to strengthen and preserve our integrity, it’s important to remove the steps – if only in our minds – between our actions and the reality of what we’re doing and how it affects others.
Cultivating this awareness really comes down to cognitively stripping away the layers between something and its value or effect on other people, for example, if you’re about to take some printer ink from work, imagine yourself instead taking $30 from your boss’s desk drawer. If you can’t see yourself pilfering the cash, realize that swiping the ink is really no different.
The essence of integrity is that an action is wrong regardless of its magnitude – stealing ten dollars from a rich man isn’t more okay than stealing ten dollars from a poor man. It doesn’t matter that the former wouldn’t “feel” it like the latter. Stealing is stealing.
We should always remember that we’re all experts in creating rationalizations for dishonest behaviour when that behaviour serves our own interests. And the greater the distance there is between an immoral act and its consequences, the easier it becomes to generate these rationalizations.
Thus, living with integrity requires frank and sincere self-examination and self-awareness.
- What are your true motivations and intentions?
- What are the consequences of your actions and whom will they affect?
- Strengthening your mental game and building this kind of awareness isn’t easy. It involves tuning into that nagging voice in your mind, conscience and spirit that says, “Hold on a minute, this isn’t quite right”.
Winning the mental battle is the first step in being a person with impeccable integrity.
Note: A large amount of the content of this essay has been derived from an article by Brett & Kate McKay • August 7, 2013 • Last updated: September 25, 2021 “What Strengthens and Weakens Our Integrity – Part II: Closing the Gap Between Our Actions and Their Consequences” https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/behavior/what-strengthens-and-weakens-our-integrity-part-ii-closing-the-gap-between-our-actions-and-their-consquences/
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