Let’s play a game of word association. In this game, I will use two different periods of time for each individual:
Lance Armstrong in 2002:
Dominant, cancer survivor, winner, beating the odds, world class, etc… would be common responses. He was a cancer survivor, and transformed himself into a world class athlete. His accomplishments in the world of cycling were unprecedented. Cycling became a talked about sport, and gained in popularity in a country where it was ignored. His struggle with cancer was well documented and served an inspiration for others with similar struggles.
Lance Armstrong in 2015:
Liar, cheater, slanderer, or bully. His successes are now overshadowed by his decisions to discard fair play and win at all costs, and bullied those who tried to tell the truth of the events during his reign as Tour de France champion from 1999 – 2005. His actions were slanderous and his popularity caused these individuals to suffer public scrutiny. He was forced out of the charity he started for cancer research, and his cycling victories were vacated.
Let’s try a different one.
Richard Nixon in 1970:
Presidential, winner, determination, effort, or achievement. Nixon lost in 1960 to President Kennedy, but came back in 1968 to win the election. Many people like stories where the protagonist fails or experiences setbacks, but after grouping, they achieve success. In the midst of the Vietnam War, Nixon represented a potential change for the country in a very dark time.
Richard Nixon in 1975:
Liar, cheater, criminal, Watergate, scandal, or crook are many of the first thoughts in the time after his resignation. Wanting to win at all costs, Nixon sanctioned the actions that would eventually come to light, marking the first time a sitting president resigned from office. He was criminally liable until a pardon by then President Ford.
Ok, one final person.
Brian Williams in 2013:
Reporter, news anchor, news, or correspondent. Working through the ranks and getting experience, Brian Williams reached the peak of being a news anchor. His work at NBC saw increases in ratings and resulted in multiple Peabody, Emmy, and a Walter Cronkite Award.
Brian Williams in 2015:
Liar, dishonest, exaggeration, misleading, or no integrity. Information came to light about false statements and stories that had unreliable information while serving as an Iraq War correspondent in 2003. Boasting of his experiences in war situations caused his claims to be evaluated and debunked. For a profession that needs to be above bias or dishonesty, Williams is facing a struggle to regain respect and integrity. He has since apologized and is currently on an unpaid leave from NBC. Optimism is not a word that can be used to describe his future as a respected news reporter/anchor.
These individuals all reached the peak of their profession. They all breached the trust of the public in the process. A lifetime of work and dedication to a profession or interest can be undone with a single decision. Boasting and bragging about accomplishments is quite common, but if the subject is centered on dishonesty, character and integrity will suffer.
Nixon, Armstrong, and Williams all had to live in the public eye. Their actions are on public record and subject to more scrutiny that of non-celebrities. For the average person, honesty and integrity still matter. How many grew up with, or still knows someone who brags and boasts? Are these people trusted? What do you think of their character? I knew many such as this over the course of my life, and for the most part they were what I called BS-artists, and most were harmless. However, these people cannot be trusted. Their claims are always met with skepticism and disbelief, even if they may be true and accurate. Whenever they claim something happened, my first impression is to nod my head, but my thoughts immediately stray to suspicion or disbelief. They may be friendly and nice, but I just don’t trust them.
Just within the last couple of weeks, I have seen two instances of individuals being called into question. Robert McDonald, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was caught on camera telling a veteran that he was in the Special Forces. The lie was obvious, to which McDonald has since apologized. His credibility will now be questioned, and will make his job much more difficult due to a lack of trust. A bad decision undermines everything he spent years building. Bill O’Reilly’s claims of his reporting from active war zones are also now being scrutinized. Typical with his bombastic and bully-like personality, he has attacked people reporting the story or those asking questions, but the preliminary information is not favorable to his arguments. Maybe he will be vindicated, but this story is early at the time of this writing. However, if the story reveals he was not accurate and dishonest, his integrity will be forever questioned.
Building trust is long and takes much effort, but it’s quite easy. If someone accurately reports the story, or follows the rules to the letter, trust builds up over time. People will trust you, and you will portray an image of accuracy and honesty. A resume may not be impressive because of a lack of skills or experience, but you will accurately represent yourself and will be honest. People can and will be tempted to make claims to gain advantage, or to add skills to become more marketable. People will lie on resumes or job applications. They will lie to gain prestige and accolades. Sometimes they will win and fool others sufficiently and reap the rewards. Sometimes they will lose and lose a job, friends, or a spouse. When they lose, they will lose character, respect, and integrity. For me, my character and integrity are more valuable than any monetary or job reward.
What are the risks and rewards to being dishonest to achieve a goal? Sometimes the rewards seem high, but relying on dishonesty to create opportunities, you will be walking a fine line. Honest mistakes are a part of life and are learning opportunities. These mistakes are not a failure of character or integrity. While boasting to friends may be fun and games, the loss of respect is high. The loss of integrity and trust can be permanent. Just ask Lance Armstrong, or Brian Williams. Was being a champion or the big news anchor worth being forever linked to a lie? Ask Nixon in his post presidential life if he got weary from seeing all the jokes about Watergate. No matter what he did afterwards up until his death, nothing would undo the damage to his character and reputation.
Integrity and character will always matter.