Courting integrity for the long haul

My family is probably as dysfunctional and weird as any. Yet for all the squawking and sarcasm and occasional emotional outbursts, we still care for one another. You might even say we love each other. Certainly, there’s a sense of trust and acceptance that defies logic. I’m proud of that. I suspect most parents feel similarly when reflecting on their own family units.

Since they were very young we’ve instilled this concept into our children and into ourselves. We don’t lie. Not even a little bit. Honesty matters. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that integrity is the only thing any man or woman can actually   keep — if they choose to.

Your car will age and turn to rust. Your house may burn or crumble. That amazing new television will one day become dated and obsolete. Even your computer, that remarkable tool of technological magnificence, will one day be little more than a high-priced doorstop. But integrity is yours to keep, if you can. And there is only one way to keep it in good stead. Don’t lie.

It’s at least possible my allegiance to this belief is rooted in the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Observation is an impressive instructional tool. For those who don’t remember, Nixon was a powerful and respected man at one time. He served as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower. It was Nixon who ran for the presidency, and some would say rightly won the contest with Jack Kennedy in 1960. Eight years later he would win the electoral college and move into the White House. And it was from that lofty office that things began to unravel for old Dick Nixon.

There was a burglary. A foolish, bumbling, idiotic attempt to gain inside information into what the other side was doing that led to a handful of arrests. Those arrests led to an investigation. And if it had all ended with the president acknowledging that some members of his staff did something stupid, something he had knowledge of, and something he was tremendously embarrassed by – Dick Nixon would very probably have completed his second term.

That’s not what happened. Dick lied. He said he knew nothing about the thing he knew a lot about. His staff said they didn’t know anything either. The whole administration clammed up or lied.  That colossally bad decision led many of them to a stint in the gray bar hotel, and put Dick Nixon on a plane back to California where he lived out the rest of his days beaten, despised, and pitied.

Prevention of this sort of public humiliation is simple. Yet the solution is often ignored, even when it is  obvious. Be honest. Choose integrity over obfuscation and all will be well. But no, given the option, human nature seems to require us to tap dance around the truth.

It makes no difference when it happens, where it happens, or what the circumstances are. Anthony Weiner lied his way out of a seat in congress. Bill Clinton lied himself into impeachment. Mark Sanford lied his way out of the office of governor. And the current IRS email situation has pitted the administration against the people in a laughable storyline that is as dishonest as the day is long. Worse, the public knows the official story is full of holes. A technologically savvy populace knows that emails aren’t lost due to a crashed hard drive. They are aware of email servers where copies are kept. They know about backups and contingency plans that ensure important files aren’t lost when something as common as a hard drive failure occurs.

Now lest you jump to the conclusion that I am lambasting Republicans, or Democrats, or the current administration, or politicians as a whole, I am not. This is human nature. It’s a natural, albeit dumb, response to a stressful situation. But you can overcome it if you commit yourself to the task.

This should matter to you because in the eyes of the wider public, aviation shares much in common with politics, and aviation enthusiasts share much in common with politicians.

Both aviation and politics are seen as elitist. Participants are assumed to be wealthy and out of touch with the average man or woman on the street. Both aviators and politicians are rumored to feed at the public trough, to the detriment of legions of less well-to-do folks who believe they are paying our bills.

We would be wise to acknowledge this and adapt to this often erroneous perception of us. It is time for us to consciously commit to protecting our integrity in order to preserve the benefits we have and build on them for a brighter tomorrow.

Wild claims about pilot shortages, controller shortages, mechanic shortages, and such will harm us in the long run. Certainly there is a need for trained and qualified people in those fields, as well as others. But nobody knows the exact numbers. To suggest we do is dishonest, and as with all public forays into dishonesty this one will come back and bite us in the gluteus maximus – hard.

Getting involved in aviation as a career does not equate to winning the lottery. We would do well to stop suggesting pie in the sky salaries and benefits are the norm. It would be wise to sell aviation for what it is rather than what we wish it to look like. It’s a great career in a fascinating industry that’s ever changing. It’s challenging, exciting, thoroughly enjoyable, and unlike anything else.

That ought to be enough. There’s no need to gild the lily. In the long run, that almost never works out.

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