A meditation on the concept of integrity in its application to award ceremonies.

Source: engr.usask.ca

Sometime in April 2010, Edmund was awarded the Young Professional Integrity Award at an event jointly organised by The Malaysian Professional Centre or Balai Ikhtisas Malaysia (BIM), Rotary International District 3300 and Integrity International Malaysia (IIM). He was kind enough to invite a starving struggling lawyer like me to feast for free at his table so I went.

At the beginning of his acceptance speech, everybody must have been taken aback because he did not spent 2 1/2 minutes addressing all the VIPs in the room but dove straight into the issues he wanted to talk about, i.e. the worrying trend of giving awards at the expense of greater, more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

The visible discomfort in the hall started when Edmund launched into how there were many human beings who still slept on streets, went without food and had no access to health and educational facilities in our country. How others were victims of corruption, abuse of power, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment.

The hushed whispers started when he called on BIM to do something meaningful like “build a school for refugees, or develop a hospital for a marginalised community, or construct a bridge for an Orang Asli settlement” instead of using that money to host dinners to give awards out. Some uncomfortable and confused faces and body gestures in the crowd were evident when he said those things.

After the speech, some remarked that it was improper it was for Edmund to say such things and to criticise the body Edmund Bon with his awardthat was giving him the award for not doing enough. I was puzzled by this. Wasn’t the award about integrity?

The attitude implicit in the remark is that if you are awarded with something and accept it, you cannot criticise the award giver? But what if the award giver had serious failings that needed to be pointed out – is it integrity to shut up about it simply because they gave you an award?

Obviously not. Integrity demands that you act in accordance with your own principles and stand by them. Integrity demands that you speak your mind honestly about the issues that confront you. And integrity is a demand, not an option. There is no such thing as choosing to act with integrity in one moment and then not doing so in the next.

But clearly, we had a different notion than the organisers and some of those that attended that night. To some of them it was plainly obvious that integrity was just a word like any other. It served merely as occasion to wear nice clothes, sit in a nice room with dinner, indulge in polite meaningless conversation and restrained claps. Integrity is like a the Royal Doulton cutlery that you bring out once a year to show off and then keep in the cupboard until the next grand occasion. And to some, integrity means you do not criticise those who have given you the award.

Penguin Dictionary defines one facet of “integrity” as an “uncompromising adherence to a code of moral values.”

The key word is “uncompromising.”

That was the problem with some of those that felt uncomfortable, took umbrage and quietly complained about Edmund’s speech – their definition of integrity lacked that key word, which is often substituted with “an appearance of.”

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it...

6 replies on “A Question of Integrity”

  1. LN,

    i second you on that. the term "more aware" is appropriate to explain our current surroundings. yet, there is another group in society that is "aware" but prefer to ignore. don't you think that ppl during said dinner already realized that issue way too long? since the money at stake, do you innocently believe that will budged to do something? my chips on the table saying plain nope.


    sadly, Edmund's wisdom fell on deaf ears. there are more worrying issues that should be attend to yet these award giving ceremonies are consuming the budget allocation. few months back, few SBP schools received incetive of 1 mil for being high achiever in terms of academic results. Still, those schools already being supported by the govt, higher budget allocation than normal schools and strong financial backing by the alumnis. yet, another 1 mil? it should be given to low achiever as booster to improve their facilities and study materials. this cause the margin between students of rural n urban areas. if only they know what they are doing, i hope.. *sigh

  2. Fahri,

    I note your article with interest. I'm not trying to agree with the host and its brigade of attendees. But in trying to be objective, I can't help but say that most people do not look at things the way you guys do. By saying this, I know I'm suggesting that some people are smarter than the rest. But what I really mean to say is that some people are "more aware" than the rest. What Edmund did indicates a higher level of sophistication in the understanding of principles and their practice. Nothing elitist about this, it's just how exposed we are to good values and how we've been brought up. Most human beings stop processing after the principles bit, and the practice is cast to the corner where cobwebs grow. Anyhow, I hope many more people will appreciate what Edmund really tried to achieve with his speech and with your article, maybe they will. However, it would be a shame if the audience at the awards dinner walked away with only material for gossip and nothing gets done about the plight of the people Edmund was trying to instigate them to help.

  3. Edmund, you deserve this award and more. We need more people like you who speak their mind. My Utmost respect to you.

  4. yeah way to go Edmund. Take the award and still defend your convictions! The award is truly deserved.

  5. bravo!

    let's disband with the 'norms' of superficial social niceties that pretend all is well.

  6. I wish this key value is thought in school. We are very famous with all these key terms and slogans but not many who understand it by definition whats more to apply it.

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