Sunday, January 31, 2010

The definition of a saint.

Today, I've struggled with getting to the desk to write. It’s a cold, gloomy day and I’d rather pull a novel down from the shelf, curl up under a blanket, and read the day away. But, I tell myself, you’ve made a commitment. You started this blog knowing that you’d need to write regularly. And so the internal discussion begins, the kind that makes you feel like there are multiple people in your head.
- You’ve made a commitment. (Connie Conscience)
- Commitment to whom? I didn’t promise anyone I’d write every Sunday. (Lazy Lucy)
- There’s an implied commitment with the people who read this. (Lawyer Lorna)
- They’ll never notice. No one reads it anyway. (Whiney Winifred)
- Not true, but even if it were, you made a commitment! (Reasonable Rhonda)
And so I sat down to write thinking about this idea of an implied commitment.

Recently, I saw part of a show on PBS of a Harvard professor lecturing to a full classroom on ethics and justice. Part of the discussion included students defending the position that a car company did not need to fix the defect in one of its models until it reached a certain threshold even though people were dying because of the defect. What is a company’s implied commitment to its consumers and when does the obligation to honor it kick in? Is it when the publicity is too bad? Or is there some ratio regarding death and profit? What about responsibility to the shareholders? Or should management respond as soon as they know of the problem?

I suspect most of us believe the latter – if you know of a problem you have a responsibility to do something. Does that responsibility change depending on whether or not there is danger to life and limb? Many of us, many of our organizations don’t do work that rises to that level, so does the answer change? If there is no danger and I feel lazy I can ignore my commitments – great, I don’t have to do my blog today!

But then I remembered a definition of integrity – doing what is right when no one is watching. Seems to me a corollary is doing what you say you will do even when no one will know the difference. It takes each one of us honoring our commitments, both explicit and implied, to make sure our organizations honor their commitments.

Author and motivational speaker Barbara Glanz says the definition of a saint is someone who always does what she says she will do. Think about that for a moment and you’ll realize what a very high standard that really is. How are you doing with your commitments?
I’m no saint. But today I have honored my commitment and here is my blog. Have a great day,



  1. I went to the movie, Edge of Darkness, today. It was a good 'popcorn' movie with Mel Gibson playing the honest cop in a dishonest world. While it won't win any Academy Awards, it did hammer home the theme of doing what's right even when everyone else is doing the opposite. In one really gripping scene, one of the main characters says that "when great evil is uncovered, sometimes one must give their life to make it right". In this case it was the secret manufacturing of nuclear weapons that would be used on innocent people, but the theme of doing what's right, no matter the personal cost, is something we can use every day. Gage, thanks for writing.

  2. I took a different path while contemplating the writings. As I've explored ethics and integrity and asked people where their own sense of doing the right thing comes from, I hear that it is built from their own life experiences. What I hear less is that there is some driving force that exists in them that compells the person to do the right thing. Like the character in John's movie, I'm reading one of Jeffery Deaver's books with the main character choosing not to cheat in school, deal drugs or have sex. She knows that these choices come with the consequences of being hated, ridiculed, and physically assaulted. She knows it means lonliness in a school full of peers. For her, the personal costs are tangible every day yet she has with her a strong driving force to persist and thrive in her environment. For those that don't have this drive or sense of ethics, how do they navigate in their personal and professional lives? What guides them? In an educational setting, how does an institution guide, communicate and cultivate ethics and integrity? How is that done while remaining inclusive? Ah...the path is never that easy.

  3. Anne and John, thank you for taking time to add a comment. Each of you added a new dimension to the post and the issues raised.

    Anne,your post in particular makes me wonder about this thing called conscience - where it comes from, why do some people seem to have more and some less (at least based upon their actions and comments). As I think about this, I rarely hear about conscience and leadership, something to thing further about.

    Again, thanks for commenting