Integrity and Analogies That Don’t Hold Water

Ken AshfordSex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

From The Corner, K-Lo quotes Bill Bennett who quotes Chuck Colson (Watergate conspirator who became born again in prison)

Integrity is wholeness. Think about the Navy.  You know what happens when a Naval ship takes off? Someone goes up to the captain on the bridge — the captain on the bridge says check for watertight integrity. And someone goes down through the ship and they check every single door to see that every door, every waterproof door, is sealed.  

And they go back up and they say, "The ship has integrity." Integrity means every part of your body. It does not mean every part of your life. It means every single part of your existence. All those water tight doors are shut tight. And then there is integrity. You cannot say that someone can do something on the private side of their lives without it having public consequences, because you’ve opened one of those watertight doors and that ship will eventually sink. A cheat in private is going to be a cheat in public. Someone who lies in private is going to lie in public, and you can’t trust someone who does that.

If someone ever decides to give out Bad Analogy Awards, this is my nominee.

First of all, I cop to being ignorant about naval matters, but even *I* know that ships can stay float even if one, two or more watertight door fails.  What Bennett/Colson is saying sounds good, but it simply is — well — a lie.  And a moment's reflection (or the most rudimentary Google search) will expose this lie.

In fact, to the extent that ship integrity has any bearing on moral integrity, the opposite conclusion can be reached: One can lie from time to time in some areas of their life (particularly private matters), and still tell the truth publicly.  If I'm sitting with the guys in the bar and telling tall tales (or outright lies) of sexual conquests, that does not mean I lie about everything.  Even if I were to cheat on my wife, that does not mean I am cheating on my country by selling state secrets to terrorists.

I'm not defending Sanford (which is what Bennett was discussing in advocating that he "had to go"),  Nor am I defending the act of lying — either lying in one's personal (e.g., having an affair) or lying in the public realm.  But I am saying that there are degrees of lying and surrounding circumstances, and you simply cannot say that a person who lies in a particular situation will lie in ALL situations.  That's absurdly moronic.

UPDATE:  K-Lo is getting pushback from her brethren at The Corner:

Yes, integrity is wholeness, but here we're talking about the wholeness of human beings who, unlike vessels, are flawed by nature. It also seems absurd to me to suggest that affairs of the heart are not in any sense different from — or to be judged differently than — even a private person's professional obligations, let alone an elected or appointed official's public duties…..

It's certainly possible that someone who acts immorally in his personal life will be so pervasively immoral that it spills over into all facets of his life.  But it's not my experience — and I've crossed paths with a lot of people who've done a lot of very bad things — that making a bad judgment, or even several, necessarily means the person is bad across the board. It is sometimes true, but it is not the rule. 

Most of us (I would say all of us, but I'm not that presumptuous) have made some blunderous mistakes in our lives. I know I have. The hope is that if we are decent people, if we have integrity, it is in part because we have taken these errors to heart and become better because of them.