Integrity is often thought of as an innate characteristic, featured in sayings like “He has a strong moral compass” or “It just didn’t feel like the right thing to do.” Yet, this sense of honor must come from somewhere, and in many cases, it is parents or guardians that instill children with a sense of moral duty. This sentiment might be derived from a rich cultural heritage, handed down through generations, or fabricated from a guardian’s personal experiences. Regardless of origin, this first definition of honor can have an immeasurable impact on a child’s beliefs and actions.
As these children become young adults, many question and analyze their place in the world and their system of values. The idea of integrity certainly raises many questions: Is there one universal standard? What is my personal standard? How do I interact with people who have different definitions of honor? Teenagers may begin to ponder these ideas in high school, but in college, they are thrust into the spotlight. Suddenly, students are surrounded with more diversity of opinions and backgrounds than ever and are certain to encounter people who view honor in different ways. Three main outcomes may occur: students’ familial, “innate” ideas of integrity may be reinforced, students’ “innate” ideas of integrity may be refined, or students’ “innate” ideas of integrity may be replaced.
Yet while each individual struggles internally to define honor and set moral standards, a greater question looms: does the overarching Duke community ascribe to a single definition of honor, and if so, what is it? Certainly, Duke students are held to the Community Standard, a document that provides a framework for integrity but leaves room for some personal interpretation. Beyond the community standard, though, is there a certain culture or community of honor that students, faculty, and staff have an obligation to promote? Or, is honor an internal, deeply personal and private choice? Regardless of the answer to these questions, engaging in meaningful conversations about ethics and integrity can help define personal and community ideals.
So, I leave the reader with a challenge. Investigate the sense of integrity that your family or early life experiences instilled you with, and compare it to the definition of honor to which you currently ascribe. Then, look beyond yourself and into the Duke community, and compare your personal values to those of the university at large. Finally, ask someone else to share their answers to these questions. It is surprising how much you can learn about a peer or professor simply from asking them about how their definition of honor has changed with time, as moral character is tied to every aspect of life, from family to friendships, from work to play, and from the individual to the community.