Those words have become somewhat devalued in recent months, haven’t they? Tiger Woods used to be the epitome of all that is good and desirable – talented, rich, successful, happily married, with a clean-cut image to match his clean-cut good looks.
Then almost overnight it all came crumbling about his ears.
At an event I attended in Parliament the other week Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association asserted that church schools and other religious organisations should not be allowed a loophole in the equalities legislation enabling them to discriminate on the grounds of faith when hiring staff:
“If your female youth worker does an excellent job in her working hours, what does it matter if she goes home and sleeps with her lesbian partner in her spare time?”
In some ways, we might think it doesn’t matter – would this hypothetical youth worker’s private life affect her ability to teach a prescribed curriculum? Did Tiger’s private life affect his ability to play golf?
In the latter case, the sponsors certainly thought so. They dropped him like a hot potato. The ‘brand’ they had been selling was not ‘the world’s best golfer’ but the whole package. What he did behind closed doors was part of who he was.
Both cases speak of integrity. Our culture thinks it doesn’t care what you do in private, but it only doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t know. As soon as your inner life is revealed to be at odds with your words and public deeds, people start to wonder whether or not you can really be trusted.
Character, someone once said, is who you are when no-one’s looking. This means it will also be who you are when your guard is down, when you’re tired or stressed or under extreme pressure. That’s when those around you will discover whether you’re a diamond or an oil slick.
When you’re pushed, are you revealed to be steady as a rock, clear, transparent and shining, or are you slippery, slimy and a bit smelly?
If it’s the latter, it may not appear to hamper you at all. Oil – the literal stuff – sells for big money. If you look at the people this world considers successful, you’ll find an awful lot of oil-slicks right at the top, and often they go on being rich and powerful even when their true character is known.
But we can’t pretend it doesn’t matter.