“With integrity, you have nothing to fear, since you have nothing to hide. With integrity, you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.” – Zig Ziglar
When faced with deciding on how to act, sometimes the toughest part is figuring out how to do the right thing. Of course, how you view the right thing, what you think of as the right thing, makes all the difference. And this is often not clear. You may experience conflicting emotions, feel ambivalent about potential choices, or strongly for or against certain action — whether you are convinced that it either is or isn’t the right thing to do. How, then, can you make an informed choice and be confident that you’ll do the right thing?
Start with integrity.
Merriam-Webster defines integrity as, “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” The word refers to moral or ethical strength and the quality of being honest. When you start with integrity, you are being true to your core values, not straying to conform with popular opinion. Acting in integrity is not always easy, for there are shortcuts that will speed the process that may sabotage the outcome, even as they provide a quicker path to the result. Without integrity, you may feel remorseful and guilty at an unfair or unfavorable result, while you have no cause for such negative thoughts when you act in accordance with your beliefs. Ask yourself first what you know in your heart feels right. Your mind may rush in with excuses or propose different courses of action, but your integrity will never fail you.
What about when the right thing isn’t so obvious, or when it’s decidedly against prevailing opinion? If you must act in opposition to what others think or do, will you be considered a disruptor, an outsider, someone to keep at a distance, decry, criticize? Temporarily experiencing discomfort when you do the right thing is likely something you can weather without too much difficulty. The key is to be comfortable with your choice. Again, when you start with integrity and follow through with action that reflects your integrity, you’re reinforcing your commitment to truth, justice and honor.
Be considerate how your actions will affect others.
Recognize that people may not agree with your action, even if they approve of the intent of your decision. Think through the possible ramifications of your action and how they will affect others, as well as how your actions may make them feel. This does not mean you compromise your desire to do what is right, although it may allow you to incorporate softening effects into your action.
For example, if a co-worker consistently shows up to the job with alcohol on his or her breath, or exhibits other signs of drug or alcohol addiction, you may not want to notify human resources, but it is the right thing to do. Your colleague needs professional help, and this may be the necessary wake-up call so that he or she can get the detox and psychotherapy it will take to get clean and sober. If it’s a family member you believe is in distress from substance abuse, poly-drug use, and/or mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions and could benefit from counseling and treatment of some kind, figuring out a compassionate way to approach him/her and the specific language to use may somewhat ease the shock of your words. Note that those suffering from drug and/or alcohol abuse are often expert in denial. Also, you cannot force anyone to get treatment, no matter how desperately it is needed. You can only be there with your support and love and encourage your loved one to seek help. Know that family support is crucial in an recovery from substance use and mental health disorders.
Stop worrying what others think.
Suppose you know that what you’re about to do will aggravate, infuriate, confuse or surprise others. Despite being the right thing to do, you fear the retaliation and disapproval that will follow. There’s no point to stewing over what others think. They’re going to vent their emotions, let you know their opinion, maybe even steer clear of you for a while. Stop worrying what they think. What’s more important is to be at peace with your actions.
What about loved ones and family members who take offense or retaliate with rejection, harsh words or withdrawing of affection over your actions they deem harmful to them in some way? The sting may be onerous, yet if you truly believe you’ve done the right thing, you must be able to live with your decision. The offended loved one or family member may come around, even thank you later, although it is also true they may hold resentment for your do-good actions.
There is also a bright side of doing the right thing, however, taking action that others don’t expect, and that is the opportunity for them to see you in a different light, to rethink their perception of you. When you do the right thing, you’re also giving yourself a boost in self-esteem. Knowing what’s right and doing it are the hallmarks of personal integrity.
Doing the right thing can be contagious.
Standing up for what’s right can inspire others to take similar action, to step out of their comfort zone and act in accordance with core beliefs and values. While you may initially feel alone in choosing the course of action you firmly believe is the right thing to do, your example may encourage others to follow your lead. First one, then another, then a few more may do the right thing. Your action can precipitate contagious behavior. Yet, even if it doesn’t, you are content with your decision, knowing that you acted with integrity and followed through to do the right thing. You can lead by example, even if others decide not to emulate your behavior.