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Honesty and integrity

Posted on: April 15, 2011

Being honest is how you behave when you with others; practising integrity is how you behave when you are alone. I can’t remember where I read that and I’m paraphrasing what I remember, but I think I’ve got the gist of it.

I had a chance to discuss the nuances of honesty and integrity with my son as we made our way to his school today.

We spotted a car that was parked illegally. The driver justified his or her actions by opening the bonnet of the car to indicate engine failure. That’s honest enough, right? No, not if that you know that there is a coffee shop nearby and the same car seems to “breakdown” at that same spot regularly.

I told my son that the driver was dishonest, but I changed my mind because it really was a matter of integrity. So I tried to explain with examples.

I reminded him how a canteen stall operator at his school was dishonest on at least one occasion by not giving my son the correct change and on another occasion overcharging him by making him pay twice for an item. That matter has been dealt with, but it was a painful lesson in life that he will remember because he was a victim of dishonesty.

On the flipside, I told him that “honesty is the best policy” was only a guideline and not a rule in life. If my wife ever asked her boys if her butt looked big, we would have to a) run away, b) change the topic, c) be diplomatic, or d) lie through our teeth. My son said that D is not an option because he thought that all of us had nice butts. Looks like he already knows how to use option C.

As for integrity, I reminded him of how he had to set a timer to regulate the amount of gaming time he enjoys. He does this without us having to remind or monitor him. He has to be honest with himself. He has to practice integrity.

After I dropped him off at school, I reflected on what I tried to teach my son. I had relied on serendipitous and contextual learning. The illegally parked car was a chance event and it served as the initial context. The meaningful contexts were my son’s own experiences.

As I head into the last week of my teaching semester, I resolve to design more serendipity (purposeful accidents) and meaningful contexts in courses to come.

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