INTEGRITY: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
RESPECT: Due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others and wishes of others; politeness, courtesy, civility, deference.
Two words once held in high esteem, difficult to earn and hold but always obtainable, and until not long ago always desirable to be sincerely stated on a character reference for any male or female capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong.
Two words now on the verge of extinction from the English language because they are no longer sought as qualities to be desired in character; qualities that should be taught every day of childhood until children become teenagers and teenagers become adults. Hopefully by then to believe the greatest accolades ever to be won in our short span on earth remain – respect and integrity.
Their decline and near demise in value has not been sudden. But it has been steady and at faster pace since two cataclysmic world wars shook our faith in so many things. Many small gestures appreciated as courteous good manners in 1939 had disappeared by 1945. Small things, seemingly inconsequential, but each one weakening the mortar of respect and integrity that holds together a caring neigbourhood, city, province or nation.
Small things. When I was 15 it was customary for children to doff their school caps and male adults their hats as all pedestrians bowed heads as a funeral cortege rolled by. It was only a thirty second pause. Other traffic – and it’s true there wasn’t a great deal in 1939 – slowed down or stopped to give the cortege the right of way. It was just a gesture of respect from sidewalk strangers to a grieving family. Back on the street where the hearse had begun its somber journey neighbours pulled down blinds or closed curtains until its passing. Just a mark of respect
When I was 20 that brief outreach of affection had been long abandoned. Too many dead, too many funeral processions, too many listed dead from faraway places. No time for courtesies to strangers we never really knew.
Small things. By the time I was an adult it was no longer automatically fashionable to open a door for a woman or offer her a seat on crowded bus or tram. What had been deemed a gesture of respect since Walter Raleigh threw down his cloak to keep his Queen’s feet dry is now declared condescending by many women and downright insulting to many. Demeaning they said.
Each small step away from the old standards of courtesy and respect in dress and demeanor made it easier to forget the other desirable and once essential quality of integrity – especially among our political and business leaders. The procession of trials for unethical behaviour seems endless these days with media salivating over every “scandal” large or small – but only rarely, if ever, shyly mentioning its own failure to meet standards that were once the norm.
A few weeks ago Elections BC published the official list of major donors to political parties prior to the 2013 general election. One of the donors was F. David Radler, named a couple of years ago as acting publisher of the Times-Colonist. He is listed as donating $50,000 as the principal officer of Canadian Classified Network and $21,500 in his own name F. David Radler to the BC Liberal Party.
Now let it be stated quite clearly there is nothing wrong with Mr. Radler donating whatever he wants to donate to any political party of his choice. And let it also be said he is not alone as a newspaper owner, publisher – acting or permanent – contributing to the war chest of a political party. But I’m just left wondering why the Times-Colonist didn’t publish a small story on the event – or even devote a two page feature with the names of every major donor? A little shy, maybe? Not wanting to reveal to other advertisers what they might consider a generous bonus to a major client? Or not wanting to explain how the boss can kick in $71,500 to a rich political party’s treasury while keeping Times-Colonist newsroom costs to a tight-fisted minimum?
Or how about a well written ethical defence of how newspaper publishers can financially support a government in power while their publications remain unbiased? I’m sure a case for such involvement can made in a world where we all now seem to accept belief that “the end justifies the means”.
But I’ll still hang onto the memory of the days when respect and integrity were journalistic orders of the day. The days when an old city editor charged with impaired driving gruffly ordered.“Run it front page – and spell my name right.”
Respect. Integrity. Not easy, but honorable.