At Work & Public Square

Are Transparency and Integrity the Same Thing?

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Apple is the latest corporate villain in the spotlight after iPhone owners discovered their older phones had slowed down after the launch of software updates starting in 2017.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reports some iPhone users are alleging Apple mischaracterized a battery problem in response to consumer complaints about slowed processing in iPhone 6’s. Further, it did not disclose that a scheduled upgrade automatically added a feature to slow the phone down. The plaintiffs in the case claim this was done to encourage consumers to purchase newer phones. The pending class-action lawsuit could cost Apple billions.

Of course, this is nothing new; there are many examples of tech companies misleading customers for their own financial gain: Snapchat told us our photos would disappear forever, Facebook told subscribers their personal information would not be used without their permission, and Equifax waited over six months to let 145 million people know that their data had been compromised.

This type of unethical behavior is rampant in other sectors of the business world as well, and also seems to be widespread in the government sector, whether it be taking gifts, using public money for personal expenditures (travel), or bending rules to get your kids into the “right” school, as recently happened in Washington, D.C. government.

The answer to all this bad behavior? According to current wisdom—transparency.

A recent article in Fast Company expounds,

Privacy is on the decline, and transparency is the new virtue du jour … Transparency is appealing in a raw, human sort of way…people trust companies who are transparent…Transparency produces trust….A culture of transparency is the way business ought to be done.

A New Twist on an Old Concept

Transparency is not a new idea. Two of the twentieth century’s most famous anti-utopians, Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984) wrote stories of societies in which the government used transparency as a means of total control. Today, we have turned that idea around and we think that armed with the “right” information, citizens can keep companies and governments accountable. British social theorist Louis Brandeis summarizes the philosophy of the transparency movement this way: “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

But will transparency really fix the problem? How can it produce trust when it is based on a foundation of distrust?… I do not believe you will do the right thing unless I am watchingAnd the real problem is that I cannot watch you 24/7.

Interestingly, this idea of transparency refutes one of our current culture’s most cherished beliefs, “deep down everyone is really good.” Instead, it confirms one of Christianity’s core tenets, that of “original sin.”

The idea of original sin speaks to a universal flaw in humanity caused by Adam’s fall from grace. It was developed from the scriptures by the early church fathers, including Irenaeus and Augustine, and later confirmed by the reformers.

For example, John Calvin, in his Institutes of Christian Religion, defined original sin as:

Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it—such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings—he accordingly calls “fruits of sin” (Gal 5:19–21), although they are also commonly called “sins” in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.

We know as Christians that God’s answer to this problem of “original sin” is only found in the saving grace of his son Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So, how do we live and work in this fallen world?

Choosing Integrity over Mere “Transparency”

Transparency is a poor substitute for God’s answer to this problem, the virtue of integrity.

In many ways, integrity is the very opposite of transparency. It can be defined as doing the right thing when no one is watching. Integrity is not only what people see; it is who you are. Integrity is a determination of the heart to do the right thing no matter what. It is not something we do; it is what we become.

Integrity is about becoming the person God has called you to be. Oswald Chambers once wrote, “It is never ‘do, do’ with the Lord, but ‘be, be,’ and he will ‘do’ through you.”

As Christians, we are called to live lives of integrity in front of God and our neighbor. As Jesus taught, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). When we do this, we have a huge influence on those around us. John Maxwell observed: “You build trust with others each time you choose integrity over image, truth over convenience, or honor over personal gain.”

And, as Christians, we have to take some of the responsibility for all the corruption in the business and government sectors. Over the last century, we have not been the examples of integrity in the workplace that we were supposed to be. We reasoned that work was secular and something that God did not care about, so we worked just like everyone else around us.

How can you and I become men and women of integrity, truly becoming salt and light in the places where we work?

We can start by heeding the Apostle James’s advice, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

Remember the Wizard of Oz who was exposed as just the “man behind the curtain”? It wasn’t transparency that changed his behavior, it was a changed heart to do the right thing.

We, too, need to go beyond “transparency,” which can be corrupted and selective, to integrity.


Photo: KaptainKobold via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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