Chapter XVII Integrity: Justice In Action

Integrity in Work––'Ca' Canny.––-Some time ago the newspapers brought a serious charge against the 'British workman.' He was said to have taken 'Ca' canny' for his motto. That is to say, the man paid by the hour was pledged to do as little work as he decently could in the time. If he were a bricklayer, for example, he was limited to the laying of a certain number of bricks, perhaps half as many as might be laid in the time; and so on with other employments. This action was supposed to promote the interests of men out of work, because there would in this way be more work to go round.

Persons of understanding see that this is a fallacy. It is the man who does good and honest work, getting in as much as he can in a given time, who promotes the interests of his class; because he induces people with money to spend it in getting work well and honestly done, whether it be the building of houses or the making of shoes. The 'ca' canny' workman is a hindrance and cause of loss to his employer, puts other employers out of conceit with his trade, and gives a bad name both to his class and his country; and of all the complaints that men and nations suffer from, there is none which it takes so long to get over as that of a bad name. The man who does less work than he can, or worse work than he can, in a given time, may make fine pretences to himself about benefiting his fellows, but he will never deceive anyone.

A Standard.––You have probably noticed the standard yard measure cut in the granite at a corner of Trafalgar Square. Should there be a dispute as to the proper length of a yard, it could be finally settled by comparison with this standard measure. Now, everyone carries a similar standard measure in his own breast––a rule by which he judges of the integrity of a workman. He knows whether the work turned out by such and such a man is whole and complete, is what we call honest work. It is by this unwritten law of integrity that every true man, who is neither grasping nor lax, tries the work that is brought to him. Though his verdict may not be spoken, he classes the work either as honest or dishonest. The honest worker he considers a person of integrity, that is, a whole man.

We are all Paid Laborers.––We may not all be bricklayers or carpenters, but in some sense we are all paid laborers, and cannot escape the binding obligation of integrity.

The schoolboy, the young man at college, receives payment in two kinds––the cost of his education and the trust reposed in him by his parents and teachers. He has also another employer, who is apt to be lax while the work is being done, but visits the worker with heavy penalties in the long run. Every person owes integrity to himself as well as to others; and it is he, himself, who will suffer most in the end for every failure to produce honest work in a given time. After the period of what we call education, whether the girl employ herself at home, or girl or boy go to work to Carve Out a place in the world, there are still employers to be counted with, and wages to be accounted for, though they be the unstinted and ungrudging wages given in the freedom of home life. We cannot escape the duty of integrity, however easy things may be for us. Certain obligations are due from us in return for what we receive; due from us to our parents and family, or to our employer or chief; and still more, due to ourselves and our own future––to the character we are continually making or marring. As a matter of fact, it is easier to do the definite work of school or profession than the easily evaded, indefinite work which belongs to the home daughter.

Integrity grows.––We know that an integer is a whole number; and a man of integrity is a whole man, complete and sound. Like Rome itself, such a man is not built in a day. From his youth up he has been aware of temptations to scamp, dawdle over, postpone, get out of his work––nay, even to crib his work, that is, get it done by another hand and pass it off as his own.

He has been tempted to say to himself, 'It doesn't matter,' 'Oh, that'll do,' 'It's as good as Jones's, anyway,' 'He'll never know the difference,' 'He won't notice,' 'I don't see the good of taking so much trouble,' 'This won't count in the exam.' (and pages of thoughtful writing are left unread). These, and a hundred other temptations to dally with his work, the man of integrity has put from him. He has said to himself, 'I owe it to my parents'––or my teachers, or my employers––'to do this thing as well and as quickly as I can; what is more, I owe it to myself.' He buckles to, and is not to be decoyed by a lazy comrade or inviting hobby until the particular task is done.

Everything he has undertaken has helped to make him a whole man; every bit of work, Latin hexameters, quadratics, a set of bookshelves, everything he has attempted, has been an honest job. I do not say he has never shirked a job that came his way for the sake of an engrossing hobby, but he has never played 'ca' canny' with his work. If he have shirked now and then, he has done it completely, and has had to own up; but the things he has done have been done honestly. That is the history of the man of integrity––who was not made in a day. 'Oh, I could not grind like that, whatever l should get by it!' Now, that is a mistake. The whole worker goes at his job with a will, does it completely and with pleasure, and has more leisure for his own diversions than the poor 'ca'-canny' creature whose jobs never get done.

It is a fine thing to look back upon even a single year in which the tasks that came to hand have been done, wholly done, in which we have kept our integrity––as son, in such small matters as exactness in messages; as pupil or student, by throwing our whole mind into our work. Even games want the whole of the player, they want Integrity.

'Do ye Nexte Thynge.'––We are all convinced that Integrity is a fine thing. Our hearts rise within us at the name of this grace. We say to ourselves, 'It shall be mine. I am determined that I shall be a man of integrity.' But in the Kingdom of Mansoul, as in the bigger world, everything depends upon other things, and no one can have this fine quality without putting his mind, as well as his heart, into the effort of getting it.

Now, the eager soul who gives attention and zeal to his work often spoils its completeness by chasing after many things when he should be doing the next thing in order.

He has to write a theme, and looks up 'Plassy' in the Encyclopædia; but he finds 'Plato' on the way, and sets off on a course of investigation so interesting that time is up, and his theme unwritten, or scrambled through in a poor and meagre way. It is well to make up our mind that there is always a next thing to be done, whether in work or play; and that the next thing, be it ever so trifling, is the right thing; not so much for its own sake, perhaps, as because, each time we insist upon ourselves doing the next thing, we gain power in the management of that unruly filly, Inclination.

Do the Chief Thing.––But to find 'ye nexte thynge' is not, after all, so simple. It is often a matter of selection. There are twenty letters to write, a dozen commissions to do, a score of books you want to read, and much ordering and arranging of shelves and drawers that you would like to plunge into at once.

It has been amusingly said, "Never do to-day what you can put off till to-morrow." The dilatory, procrastinating person rejoices over a counsel he can follow! But not so fast, friend; this easy-going rule of life means "putting first things first." Now, the power of ordering, organising, one's work which this implies distinguishes between a person of intelligence and the unintelligent person who lets himself be swamped by details. The latter will grind steadily through the twenty letters, say, just as they come to hand. He has to leave his correspondence unfinished; and the three or four letters which it was necessary to answer by return are left over for another day.

The power to distinguish what must be done at once, from what may be done, comes pretty much by habit. At first it requires attention and thought. But mind and body get into the way of doing most things; and the person, whose mind has the habit of singling out the important things and doing them first, saves much annoyance to himself and others, and has gained in Integrity.

The Habit of Finishing.––What is worth beginning is worth finishing, and what is worth doing is worth doing well. Do not let yourself begin to make a dozen things, all of them tumbling about unfinished in your box. Of course there are fifty reasons for doing the new thing; but here is another case where we must curb that filly, Inclination. It is worth while to make ourselves go on with the thing we are doing until it is finished. Even so, there is the temptation to scamp in order to get at the new thing; but let us do each bit of work as perfectly as we know how, remembering that each thing we turn out is a bit of ourselves, and we must leave it whole and complete; for this is Integrity.

The idle, the careless, and the volatile may be engaging enough as companions, but they do not turn out honest work, and are not building up for themselves integrity of character. This rests upon the foundations of diligence, attention, and perseverance. In the end, integrity makes for gaiety, because the person who is honest about his work has time to play, and is not secretly vexed by the remembrance of things left undone or ill done.

Integrity in Use of Time

Drifters and Dawdlers.––It is a bad thing to think that time is our own to do what we like with. We are all employed; we all have duties, and a certain share of our time must be given to those duties. It is astonishing how much time there is in a day, and how many things we can get in if we have a mind. It is also astonishing how a day, a week, or a year may slip through our fingers, and nothing done. We say we have done no harm, that we have not meant to do wrong. We have simply let ourselves drift. Boys or girls will drift through life at school, men or women through life in the world, effecting nothing, because they have not taken hold. They fail in examinations, in their professions, in the duty of providing for a family, in the duty of serving their town or their country, not because they are without brains, nor because they are vicious, but because they do not see that to use time is a duty.

They dawdle through the working day, hoping that some one will make them do the thing they ought. Now, this is a delusion. No one can make even a little child do things. If he is obedient, it is because he makes himself obey; if he is diligent, he makes himself work, and not all the king's Horses and all the king's men can make the dawdler diligent; he himself must make himself do the thing he ought at the right time. This power of making oneself work is a fine thing. Every effort makes the next easier, and, once we mount upon that easy nag, Habit, why, it is a real satisfaction to do the day's work in the day, and be free to enjoy the day's leisure.

Cribbing Time.––Some people dearly like to be going on with a little job of their own in the time which should have a fixed employment. The girl who is sewing has a story-book at hand. The youth tries chemical experiments when he should be 'reading.' The time may be used for quite a good end, but it is 'cribbed' from the occupation to which it belongs.

We cannot, as you will see presently, afford to have cracks in our character. Integrity forbids this sort of meanness. Every piece of work has its due time. The time which is due to an occupation belongs to that, and must not be used for any other purpose. Dick Swiveller [Old Curiosity Shop, Dickens] is an amusing fellow enough as he entertains himself by poising the ruler on his chin, shooting pens at a mark, and bantering the 'Marchioness' during his office hours. But that is why Dick found himself where he was, and made such a poor thing of his life; he had not got it into his by no means stupid head that work and time have anything to do with each other.

Integrity in Material. Honesty.––"My duty towards my neighbour is––to keep my hands from picking and stealing"; so says the Church Catechism, and this is the common acceptation of the word honesty. We should, of course, all scorn to take what belongs to another person, and feel ourselves safe so far, anyway, as this charge goes.

Strange things come to light from time to time: we hear of a man, who has lived for sixty years; a respected and prosperous citizen, a gentleman, not only in position, but in the sense of being an honourable man; and when this man is sixty, he embezzles large sums of money, apparently for the first time. Now, people do not go down in this way the first time. It is the vessel with a leak that sinks; and that leak, the breach in a man's integrity, may have existed since his boyhood without sinking him until he was in the rough sea of a great temptation.

We must be careful in our money dealings, all the more, the more we are trusted. Honest persons are scrupulous about giving a right account of change, for example.

One caution we must bear in mind: we may not spend what we have not got. Our allowance may come at the end of the month, but we must wait to lay it out until it is actually in hand. Mr. Micawber was right in theory if not in practice, and who should know if not he? "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

The schoolboy who gets 'tick' or borrows from his schoolmates grows into the man who is behind-hand with his accounts, and that means, not only an injury to the persons who have supplied him with their goods, but a grave injury to himself. He becomes so harassed and worried with the pressure of debts here and debts there, that he has no room in his mind for thoughts that are worth while. His loss of integrity is a leak which sinks his whole character.

Small Debts.––In this connection we should bear in mind the duty of promptness in paying small debts. We commonly have the money for them, but do not take the trouble to pay. A tradesman, say, has sent in a bill for eighteenpence half a dozen times, he paying the postage. The debtor will not take the pains to transmit the small amount. Again, a girl will let herself be asked seven times for a sum of threepence. No person of integrity allows himself in this kind of negligence. That it is troublesome and annoying to other people is not the worst of the mischief. That beautiful whole which we call integrity is marred by sins of negligence.

Bargains.––There is another failure in integrity which people do not realise to be as debasing as debt, though probably its effects are as bad; and that is the bargain-hunting in which even right-minded persons allow themselves.

It arises from an error in thought. People set out with the idea that they must get the best that is to be had at the lowest possible price; and out of this idea arise the unseemly scramble to be seen at 'Sales'; the waste of time, temper, and health in going from shop to shop in search of the 'cheapest and best' article; the dishonest waste of the time of the assistants in all these shops––a waste for which, of course, the customers pay in the end: and to these is often added the fretful disappointment of a 'Purple jar'; a fine and showy thing is brought home which fails to bear the tests of close examination and calm judgment. The whole thing might be set right, and the ways of trade mended, by the exercise of clear judgment informed by integrity of purpose.

What we want is––not the best thing that can be had at the lowest possible price––but a thing suitable for our purpose, at a price which we can afford to pay and know to be just.

Looked at from this point of view, the whole matter is simplified; we are no longer perpetually running round, harassing ourselves and wearing out other people in the search after bargains. Every purchase becomes a simple, straightforward duty. We feel it to be a matter of integrity to deal with tradesmen of our own neighbourhood, so far as they can supply us. If they fail to do so, we are at liberty to go further afield; but in this case, we soon fix upon the distant tradesman who can supply our needs, and escape the snare of bargain-hunting.

There is a further risk in bargain-hunting of which we should be aware. Nothing is cheap that we do not want; and the temptation to buy a thing for which no need has yet arisen, because it is a bargain, leads to a waste of money wanted for other uses, and to the accumulation of meaningless objects in our rooms. It is worth while to remember that space is the most precious and also the most pleasing thing in a house or room; and that even a small room becomes spacious if it is not crowded with useless objects.

Our Neighbour's Property.––Another point of integrity is care for our neighbour's property. To love our neighbour as ourselves means that we shall be at least as careful in the use of his property as in that of our own. We all borrow books, whether from public libraries or from our friends, and it behoves us to take as much care of the books we borrow as of our own treasured possessions. We do not spot the covers by laying them in damp places, nor curl them before the fire, nor strain the binding by marking our place with some big object.

If we are walking in public gardens, we remember that it is not an easy thing to keep the grass nice in such places, and take heed not to walk on the edges. We are careful of the school property if we are at school, of the college property if at college; for these matters belong to integrity. Care in small matters makes us trustworthy in greater. When we come to be trusted with the property of others, whether in money or material, we are on our guard against wastefulness, carelessness, extravagance, because integrity requires that we should take care of and make the most of whatever property is put into our hands. We may not allow ourselves to waste even a stick of sealing-wax for amusement.

Borrowed Property.––The question of borrowing falls under the head of the care we owe to other people's property. From a black-lead pencil to an umbrella, young people borrow without stint; and there is so much community of property and good fellowship among them that the free use of each other's belongings is perhaps hardly to be objected to. One word, though, in the name of honesty! What we borrow we must return promptly, the thing being none the worse for our use of it. No degree of community of life excuses us from this duty. The friend we borrow from may take no heed of the fact that we do not return the object; but we suffer in our wholeness, our integrity, from all such lapses.

As we have seen, our work, our time, the material or property of which we have the handling, are all matters for the just and honest use of which we are accountable. We may be guilty of many lapses which no one notices, but every lapse makes an imperfection in our own character. We have less integrity after a lapse than before it; and the habit of permitting ourselves in small dishonesties, whether in the way of waste of time, slipshod work, or injured property, prepares the way for a ruinous downfall in afterlife. But we need fear no fall, for integrity is, with us, a part of 'ourselves,' and only asks of us a hearing.