We are at the height of discussions to address discrimination and promote inclusivity. This is a chance for us to be honest with ourselves as we stock take to understand where our own values and morals are aligned before we can be of help to the rest of society.
To preface this article, it is important to understand three things. Firstly, this is an introspective account of how I believe we can deal with repressive systems and circumstances, from the perspective of one individual. Secondly, every opportunity where we fail to stand up against any form of discrimination, we succumb to the systems or people who enforce it. Lastly, the goal is not to be perfect, but rather to accept our human fallibility to learn to do better.
The Role of Integrity in Society
Throughout, this article will examine integrity from both a personal and moral view. Integrity is defined as a sense of wholeness, soundness of moral principle and character. It can come from reflection or deliberate choice.
To understand the relevance of integrity in matters of discrimination we must think of its role in society. A stable society is measured by how it remains true to the principles of ethics and justice that its institutions are built on. Society’s appearance of stability today does in fact rest on the backs and shoulders of the historically marginalised. So, for as long as we fail to confront discrimination in a truthful and critical manner, integrity cannot be attained.
In this context, truthful means, we address the full reality of how discrimination erodes our society and restrains its very progress. Dan Ariely explains how a small portion of us will either always be honest or dishonest with ourselves, whilst the majority are honest provided the conditions are right.
Often, we show concern, sympathy, and judge the extent of what’s ethicality dependent based on how closely related we are to the issue, or whether there is an identifiable victim. In other cases, we choose to overlook what’s morally unjust, remain indifferent, or simply fail to act to avoid the feeling of guilt.
So, what does it take to have integrity?
Let’s look at the Integrity of empathy, ignorance and reasoning, and courage.
Our difficulty, or in some instances inability, to be compassionate may mean that although we’re familiar with grief, shame, pain, and trauma, we refuse ourselves the chance to connect with those feelings to understand others. Which explains the mixed sentiment towards understanding the voices of women through the #MeToo movement, or how as a society we had an All-Lives-Matter protest in response to the Black-Lives-Matter movement. Until we empathise with those that are routinely discriminated against and ostracised, it will be difficult to see the world through their eyes to understand how we can help them.
On Ignorance and Reasoning
We each hold partial truths. There is no one perspective that serves as a determinate set of social values. David Foster Wallace expressed how to be informed today is to “continually discover new areas of personal ignorance and delusion.” So, as we continue to have bigger conversations about discrimination, we should also welcome opportunities to learn and do better.
“We don’t see things as they are, but as we are.”
— Anaïs Nin
Integrity must not be seen as a passive quality, but rather a deliberate choice and responsibility to continually weigh moral considerations. Who we are is partly embodied by social identity and cultural influence. These influence and inform our behaviour; the norms, expectations, and rules we all play by. So, it’s easier for us to align to rigid positions of what we believe to be moral clarity. As a result, we are naturally inclined to wonder what others would expect us to do. We must challenge our way of thinking and make deliberate choices with courage if we are to genuinely understand and address discrimination.
In the end it comes down to whether we choose to act. This firstly requires courage – a state of mind that shows a will to reconcile morality with prudence for the possibility that our society becomes equitable. Secondly, it requires the resilience to remain true to our sense of justice. This is a conscious decision to face the challenges of discrimination with no fear and embrace the vulnerabilities of the consequences.
So, why do we sometimes fear being courageous about issues of discrimination? Is it a fear of realising our way of thinking may be wrong? If so, would it not be wise to be open to changing our thinking than to be unwavering in our ignorance? Or is it a fear that an equitable society is a zero-sum game? If so, this would then imply that the reason we prefer our structures remain oppressive to groups within society is a sadly self-serving nature that allows us to benefit not based on merit or competency, but rather an arbitrary factor such as skin colour, or gender – neither of which anyone has control over.
Our society appears to deal with matters of discrimination as a voluntary social contract we hope everyone consents to. If so, we are then left with the problem of trying to justify what principles to uphold. Issues of morality cannot just be moderated by enforcing people to comply because doing so reframes it from being an ethical consideration to being transactional. The principles society is bound by should engage a reasonable person’s sense of justice and integrity, not just because of the benefits from them. To promote a just society requires that we support the ‘rules of engagement’ for moral reasons. So, could it be that we need to create that moral sense of duty to reframe the decision from “Will I make a difference” to “How do I create space for others to be equally recognised as humans”?
Matters of discrimination require long discussions, research, analysis, rationalisation, reflection, and openness to counterarguments. So, making quick judgements on such complex issues will always leave us prone to misunderstanding.
The lives of those who we discriminate against in society are a frontier between what should be and reality. To converge the two is what we strive for, not from intellect alone, but compassion as well. This is one perspective on how we can take agency on the matters of discrimination against the marginalised. The question I pose to you within your sphere of influence is, what conscious role will you play to bridge the gap between where our society should be and its current state?