The Rock Ethics Institute

Home > Everyday Ethics > Dean Brady on Honor, Integrity, and Pride

Everyday Ethics

Dean Brady on Honor, Integrity, and Pride

The following text was published on the Schreyer Honors College blog by Dean Christian Brady, Dean Brady has agreed to have us cross-post it here due to its relevance to the topics we are discussing on the Speak Up blog in our Being Penn State series. We provide it as an invitation for you to share your thoughts concerning what Penn Staters can and should be proud to be.
The following text was published on the Schreyer Honors College blog by Dean Christian BradyDean Brady has agreed to have us cross-post it here due to its relevance to the topics we are discussing on the Speak Up blog in our Being Penn State seriesWe provide it as an invitation for you to share your thoughts concerning what Penn Staters can and should be proud to be
 
 
Honor, Integrity, and Pride

By Dean Christian Brady
 
These terms have been bandied about with regards to Penn State a lot in the last few months. Penn Staters have always been proud of their school and the bedrock of honor and integrity upon which we often talk about it being founded. Recent events have, of course, caused such claims to be viewed as hollow at best and simply untrue at worst. 
 
These three words and the concepts they represent are curious because they can mean so many different things to different people. When I first began working in honors education almost a decade ago I remember realizing how many and varied meanings the word "honor" has. To some, "honor" was a term of the medieval culture where one would go off to war to defend your king's honor or duel to the death to protect the honor of one's name. As such, it was an antiquated term that many argued was no longer relevant in today's society. To others "honor," and particularly the plural "honors," is the accolades and awards that one earns for academic and athletic excellence. Finally, there is the concept of "honor" that describes how one behaves. Even in this final definition there is plenty of room for divergence. To "act with honor" can mean everything from helping an elderly person across the street to murdering a daughter who refuses to obey her parents. 
 
 
In education there is a tremendous stress upon the second concept of "honor." Honor societies, programs, and colleges are generally based around an assessment of a student's accomplishments and achievements. In many cases one's admission into such communities is based solely upon these factors. While it is true that in order to be admitted to the SHC one has to be extremely successful academically, we look for men and women who are not just smart, but also passionate about using their intelligence to improve the lives of others and the world we live in. In other words, it is not just about receiving honors it is about being a person of honor. And I define that as doing what is right, not just for you, but for others. 
 
"Integrity" would seem to be a much more straight-forward concept, right? What it should (and does) mean is having strong moral principles and being honest. But when the events of the past came to light in November I heard some gleefully say, "what about your integrity now, eh?" as if being a community or people of integrity meant that all of us were always perfect. That, of course, is nonsense. That we are a community that aspires to and upholds integrity as a bedrock principle doesn't mean we are without flaws, but it does mean that when we realize we have erred or have led others into harm or error that we will make every effort to correct the situation, bring healing, and ensure that it does not happen again.  
 
We all know that "pride goes before a fall," so how could that be a positive value? The source is found in the Bible: Proverbs 16:18. I point that out not only to demonstrate to my parents that my education as a scholar of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature has had some value, but because the context is instructive. 
 
18 Pride goes before destruction, 
and a haughty spirit before a fall. 
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the
poor 
than to divide the spoil with the proud. 
 

It is not "pride" in and of itself that is the problem, rather it is of what we are proud that can lead us into trouble. There is little doubt that the author of Proverbs (ostensibly a father offering wisdom to his son) would be very proud if his child were to follow his advice and be humble, helping the poor and caring for the helpless. The danger of pride is in being confident in one's own abilities and achievements rather than lifting up others and helping those less fortunate. We should not be proud of being wealthy, but we can take pride in being able to use what wealth we have to help others. 

 
Over the past month there have been signs cropping up all over the region saying "Proud to Support Penn State Football." I have even posted a sign that says, "Proud to Support Penn State Academics." This is not a protest on my part against football since I am proud of our football players and coaches. I know that the players and coaches work very hard to win in an honest manner and with integrity, that is something of which we should be proud and encourage. What I would like to see is a whole series of such signs: 
 
  • Proud to Support Penn State Jewish Studies
  • Proud to Support Penn State Soccer
  • Proud to Support Penn State Libraries
  • Proud to Support Penn State Alumni
  • Proud to Support Penn State Engineering 
  • Proud to Support Penn State Agriculture 

You get the idea. Of course some have the mistaken impression that all we are proud of is football, so some corrective is not inappropriate. And that is the point of this piece. People can have all sorts of different impressions of what honor, integrity and pride mean to them and what they think it means to us. We need to be sensitive to that as well as take stock of our own positions. Just what is it we are proud of as Penn Staters? 

 
I am proud that we are and remain a community of honor and integrity.