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16th August 2023

The Virtue of Integrity - Principal's Message, Principal's Newsletter August 2023

Central to the mission of Townsville Grammar School is the provision of an environment where our students are nurtured and challenged to strive for their personal best in all of their endeavours. Each day, I see this occurring – staff both nurturing and challenging, and students consistently seeking to do their very best in all that they do. We seek to underpin this environment through the development of a school culture where mutual respect is evident in all of our relationships with a commitment to ensuring that each and every individual is valued. In such a culture, personal values of honesty, tolerance, kindness and integrity are integral to our interactions.  

Of all these personal characteristics, integrity is perhaps the most difficult to clearly define. I recently asked a number of students to describe what integrity means to them. Whilst they did not give me one definitive answer, the majority of them talked about honesty and truthfulness. Integrity is, in fact, a little more than being honest and respecting the truth. Margaret Thorsborne in her book, The Seven Heavenly Virtues of Leadership, used the following phrases from interviews with a wide range of business people to describe integrity:  

  • strength of character
  • steadfast, resolute, having fibre
  • walking the talk, doing what was promised
  • authentic, straightforward, what's on the inside is displayed on the outside
  • open, honest and direct in their dealings with others
  • clear and uncompromised values, and clarity about what's right and wrong
  • committed, with the courage of their convictions
  • self-aware and self-reflective

The importance of integrity is possibly more obvious when it is lacking or not clearly evident. The media spend a great deal of time reporting on people who demonstrate little or no integrity in their relationships and the subsequent impact they have on lives. Politics is another area where some participants’ integrity can be questioned – the quest for power can be too much for some. Where there is a lack of integrity a climate of mistrust, suspicion and paranoia can grow whether it be in individuals, institutions or even whole industries – take the stereotyping of the used car industry as an example.  

Integrity in action can be demonstrated in different ways. The story of Simon Illingworth is a good example. Mr Illingworth was a Victorian policeman who encountered corruption in the force very early in his career. Rather than turn a blind eye to what was clearly wrong, Simon Illingworth showed exceptional strength of character by not compromising his own values and standing up to the injustices he had witnessed. This was done under extreme duress and at considerable risk to his own wellbeing. 

Another example is from Ms Thorsborne’s book where she reflected on a speech made by one of her father-in-law’s peers at his funeral. Her reflection was as follows: 

“Bill's passing and funeral did not make the papers. He was not a public figure - he was what is known as a quiet achiever. But the story told that morning about his vision for his work, his values, intelligence, commitment, grace, humour, compassion, humility, the way he lead, his influence in his field and the legacy it left, was testament to the worthiness of his life. His children were right to be so proud. He was, indeed, a man of integrity.” 

Integrity, like the shaping of all personal qualities and characteristics, takes time to develop with life’s experiences – it is a journey rather than a destination. We are not necessarily born with a full complement of personal values, but rather we are a work in progress. The development of integrity is influenced by our upbringing and education where our ethics, morals and values can be moulded as well as our beliefs tested. Integrity as a value can also be influenced by the fear of consequences or of disappointing others as well as it generally being easier to do the right thing rather than the wrong. 

Again making reference to Ms Thorsborne’s work, our boys and girls can seek to foster the development of their character by paying heed to the following advice:  

  • Understand that integrity in dealings with others is an essential component of the glue in relationships. It delivers respect, loyalty, commitment and trust. It's a virtue worthy of interest.
  • Find role models who are known for their integrity and watch their values playing out. Watch their behaviour. Learn from their example how they 'do' honesty and openness, how they walk their talk.
  • Watch someone who is a spectacular failure at integrity and don't follow in his or her footsteps.
  • Find someone known for his or her integrity to coach and mentor you. Listen to their views and values. Ask them about what integrity means to them. Learn from them how to do it. Find out how they go about deciding what to say and do when the pressure is on. How do they wrestle with their sense of right and wrong?
  • Seriously examine these questions. What do you believe in? What are your values about right and wrong? How did you learn them? What has influenced how you deal with people?
  • Have courage. Integrity is hard work. Be prepared to be disadvantaged sometimes when you make a stand over an issue, or to be inconvenienced when you made a promise.
  • Be prepared to take the risk of changing the way you deal with others, and yourself.
  • Do what you say you will do. Don't let people down.
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