In a conversation I had with a retail building supply dealer, he told me about a large order he had asked several suppliers to quote. After all the quotes were received, one of the vendors called to offer better terms. The retailer told him, “I appreciate the offer but I promised the order to another company; your first price should have been your best price.” By refusing to reopen negotiations, the retailer demonstrated real integrity.
My father believed and taught me, that circumstances never justify a sacrifice of one’s integrity. He illustrated this belief with the story of a man offering a beautiful woman a million dollars to spend the night with him. When the woman answered for a million dollars she would, he offered her ten dollars. Indignantly, she responded, “Sir, what do you think I am?” He responded, “Madam, we’ve already established that, we are just haggling over price.”
In 2005, after a handshake sealed the acceptance of an offer for our home, I received a higher offer. To avoid the temptation to say yes, without a word, I turned my back and walked out of the room.
With an offer for our asking price, it was easy to walk away. I don’t know what I would have done if accepting the higher offer had meant being able to keep my business open; make a car payment or not laying off an employee. I do know that it would have been a tough decision: the kind that people face every day.
Resisting greed in a booming economy is easier than when struggling to stay afloat during tough economic times. So, does the struggle to survive justify a lowering of standards? No. Those who believe the end justify the means turn a blind eye to the harm takes place along the way: to their reputations and the people they do business with.
The epitome of character is defined as what you do when no one is looking; the epitome of integrity can be defined as what you do when times are really tough. Actions taken during difficult times, build reputations—good and bad—that last long into the future.