The Law of Small Things 1st Edition

Creating a Habit of Integrity in a Culture of Mistrust

Stuart H. Brody (Author)

Publication date: 01/15/2019

The Law of Small Things
We are living in a time when dishonesty and duplicity are common in our public institutions, our workplaces, and even in our personal relationships. But by recognizing and resisting the small, seemingly inconsequential ways we make moral compromises in our own lives, we can repair the tear in our social and moral fabric.

The
Law of Small Things begins with an IQ (Integrity Quotient) test designed to reveal the casual way we regard our promises and the misconceptions we have about acting truthfully. The book shows how most people believe that integrity is something we “just have” and that we just do, like a Nike commercial. It depicts these and other deceptions we deploy to appear to act with integrity without actually doing so. 

The
Law of Small Things also exposes how our culture encourages breaches of integrity through an array of “permitted promise-breaking,” a language of clichés that equates self-interest with duty, and the “illusion of inconsequence” that excuses small breaches with the breezy confidence that we can fulfill integrity when it counts.

Brody challenges the prevailing notion that integrity is a possession you hold permanently. No one “has integrity” and no one is perfect in practicing it. What we have is the opportunity to uphold promises and fulfill duties in each situation that faces us, large and small. Integrity is a practice and a habit of keeping promises, the ones we make explicitly and the ones that are implied in all our relationships.

Ultimately, developing skill in the practice of integrity leads us to knowledge of who we are--not in the way the culture defines us, but in the way we truly know ourselves to be.

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Overview

We are living in a time when dishonesty and duplicity are common in our public institutions, our workplaces, and even in our personal relationships. But by recognizing and resisting the small, seemingly inconsequential ways we make moral compromises in our own lives, we can repair the tear in our social and moral fabric.

The
Law of Small Things begins with an IQ (Integrity Quotient) test designed to reveal the casual way we regard our promises and the misconceptions we have about acting truthfully. The book shows how most people believe that integrity is something we “just have” and that we just do, like a Nike commercial. It depicts these and other deceptions we deploy to appear to act with integrity without actually doing so. 

The
Law of Small Things also exposes how our culture encourages breaches of integrity through an array of “permitted promise-breaking,” a language of clichés that equates self-interest with duty, and the “illusion of inconsequence” that excuses small breaches with the breezy confidence that we can fulfill integrity when it counts.

Brody challenges the prevailing notion that integrity is a possession you hold permanently. No one “has integrity” and no one is perfect in practicing it. What we have is the opportunity to uphold promises and fulfill duties in each situation that faces us, large and small. Integrity is a practice and a habit of keeping promises, the ones we make explicitly and the ones that are implied in all our relationships.

Ultimately, developing skill in the practice of integrity leads us to knowledge of who we are--not in the way the culture defines us, but in the way we truly know ourselves to be.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Stuart H. Brody
Stuart Brody is the founder of Integrity Intensive, a consulting firm concentrating on decision-making, leadership training, and the practice of integrity. His thirty-five-year career as a lawyer took him before the Supreme Court. He has held leadership positions in the Democratic Party, held numerous public offices, and advised presidential candidates. His speeches and workshops have brought his work to thousands of public officials across the country.

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Excerpt

The Law of Small Things

CHAPTER 1

an INCONSEQUENTIAL UNTRUTH

Images

They call it a “white lie” because we still feel pure after telling it.

For old times’ sake, you’ve been meaning to get together with Jane, a friend from your previous job, who helped you through some tough spots. But every time Jane suggests a date, you say you’re busy. You never tell her the real reason you’re always so busy. You keep it kind of quiet. You’ve been working on a book, nourishing the hope that someday you can quit your job and write full-time.

A few days ago, Jane suggested lunch at one of the old hangouts, and you finally accepted. You felt you needed to do it this time. You’re actually looking forward to it—sort of. Then, the day before your date, you get a call from a close friend who knows your passion for writing and has contacts in the publishing industry. She managed to get a meeting with a respected publisher, a lunch meeting, tomorrow!

You accept, but a sinking feeling sets in instantly. You’ve made two promises, and you can’t fulfill both. You can’t pass up this opportunity to meet an important publisher, but how are you going to tell Jane you’re canceling on her? Your mind races through the catalog of possible excuses and lands on this: “Something’s come up at work.” After all, no one argues when it comes to work. Work comes first. Everyone understands that. Of course it doesn’t feel quite right to lie, but it’s only a white lie, right?

Before you call Jane with your white lie, let’s look at the opportunity you have to drop a bad habit and create a good one: to substitute lying with truth-telling. This is a moment to reimagine integrity as a practice of keeping promises rather than avoiding embarrassment. You made a promise to Jane. She has a reasonable expectation that you will keep your promise. You now have a duty to fulfill her reasonable expectation.

Of course, there are exceptions that excuse a promise. First, emergencies can arise. Everyone understands that a car accident, a child’s sudden illness, or a crisis at work are unforeseen events that excuse the fulfillment of a promise. Even if a friend is sitting impatiently at a restaurant tapping at her smartphone, irritated or worried, she will release you from your promise after learning the facts.

Also, new circumstances may arise that require you to break a promise even when the person to whom you made it is not as understanding. For instance, you may promise a friend to take him out for a drink after he helped paint your garage, but then you learn he’s an alcoholic. You don’t want to enable conduct that could be damaging to his health, so you break that promise.

But here you are breaking a promise not because of an emergency or to avoid harm but because you got a better offer and an exciting one at that, a lot more exciting than picking over old times with a former coworker. Let’s face it: you’re throwing Jane over for a better deal, and you’re embarrassed to admit it. So, to avoid unpleasantness, you tell a white lie. “It’s just a white lie,” you tell yourself, but what you’re telling yourself is an illusion: the illusion of inconsequence.

White lying is a perfect storm of illusion. We lie to get what we want, we tell ourselves it protects the feelings of the other person, and we remain certain of the integrity of our motives. They call this kind of lie “white” because we still feel pure after telling it. This illusion manages to pass under the radar screen of self-awareness, leaving intact our self-image as persons of integrity.

But here’s the catch. In the moment you deploy the white lie, you’ve deepened the habit of deceiving others and used your moral resourcefulness to mislead them. This may strike you as a rigid and unrealistic way to deal with mundane situations, but consider what the choice really is: to treat your word as a soft expression of intention or as a sustained commitment to truthfulness.

The irony is that it would be so simple to tell the truth and ask Jane to release you from your promise. For instance:

Jane, about our date for lunch tomorrow—I realize it took a lot of time to set up, and I apologize for calling you this late. But something just came up: an opportunity to meet a publisher who may be interested in the book I’ve been working on for a long time. Would it be all right if we postpone our lunch? How about we get our calendars out right now and set another date?

If you don’t want to tell Jane about your book, then you could just say that a professional opportunity came up. That is truthfully what happened. If you’re unsure how the truth will sound when you say it, write it out first, then practice saying it out loud. I bet as you practice saying the truth to yourself, you’ll get more confident speaking it to others.

Jane may not like being thrown over no matter what the reason, but practicing integrity is not just about the impact on Jane. It is about creating a habit of truth-telling and getting better at the practice of integrity. If meeting this publisher is so important that you want to withdraw a promise you made to Jane, then it’s important enough to tell Jane the truth about it.

If you were to approach the situation in this way, it’s almost unimaginable that Jane would withhold her consent. But let’s say she did. Does the practice of integrity require you to go through with lunch? Well, actually, yes. It does. Jane’s obstinacy may confound and enrage you, forcing you to reschedule your impromptu lunch with the publisher if you can. It’s doubtful a friendship could survive such a spiteful act.

But the survival of a lingering friendship with a former colleague is not what we’re examining here. We’re aiming to create a habit of integrity. And that means following through on your promises unless you’re released. Integrity is not just about fulfilling promises but about practicing the skill of asking to be released when you no longer wish to fulfill them.

Of course, after trying to prevail upon Jane but failing, you may reach the conclusion that you’re not going to blow an important meeting just to honor the “hollow principle” of keeping a promise to a spiteful friend. If so, you may feel, rightly, that you tried everything to act with integrity; just don’t try to convince yourself that you didn’t break a promise, because you did, and that’s a breach of integrity.

But here’s the difference between what you did and what many others do. Rather than simply announcing you were pulling out, you let Jane know that your promise to her was important by asking to be released from it. You offered trust even if she rebuffed the gesture.

As for the hypothetical example of promising to take out a friend for a drink and later discovering he is an alcoholic, it is irrelevant whether he releases you. Avoiding harm to another human being is an implied promise that supersedes any explicit one. Whatever this friend might think of you for breaking your promise, as with Jane, you’ve created a habit of telling the truth, and you’ve confirmed their reasonable expectation that you would do so.

• The Law of Small Things •

When you make a promise that you later want to break, the practice of integrity requires that you ask to be released from it.

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Endorsements

“Stuart Brody's The Law of Small Things is an engaging study in contradiction. It is easily readable and full of real-life examples of truthfulness and values-driven action—or the lack thereof—and it raises challenging questions that cause us to reconsider our daily and unthinking habits of self-justification and self-deception. It calls us to a higher standard of integrity and consistency in our values and actions while it reassures us that the pursuit of this standard is an ongoing process, a journey, rather than an unwavering status achieved and held without continual effort. On the one hand, the standard for integrity Brody proffers may make us uncomfortable as it strips away our usual self-protective illusions; however, he encourages and supports us with his clear-eyed and pragmatic insistence on the need for practice to move toward integrity rather than simply sorting the wheat from the chaff or the good from the bad for all time. This is a book that inspires, threatens, and enables in equal measure, and for those reasons, it is well worth reading.”
—Mary C. Gentile, PhD, author of Giving Voice to Values and Professor of Practice, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia

“The idea that integrity can be learned is provocative. We tend to think that it is something you either have or don't.
The Law of Small Things not only shows us that good behavior, or integrity, can be learned but gives us instruction on how to learn it. This book should be in the office of every elected official from city councils to the United States Senate. If we all practiced the lessons contained in this book, the political noise surrounding us would become a symphony of good manners, and we would all welcome a return to civility. This book is a step in that direction.”
—Gene Terry, former Executive Director, Texas Association of Counties

The Law of Small Things offers an extremely sophisticated yet practical approach to repairing the tear in the social, ethical, and moral fabric of the United States and the world. The prophecy of Isaiah 5:20 says, ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, And good evil; That change darkness into light, And light into darkness; That change bitter into sweet, And sweet into bitter!' A more contemporary translation might be, ‘You are headed for trouble! You say wrong is right, darkness is light, and bitter is sweet.' Stuart discusses a doable, one-step-at-a-time approach that makes every little action count. He shows us how to slowly but surely reclaim spiritual strength to repair our moral, ethical, spiritual connection to the cosmic truth of the great traditions anchored in the Torah's Ten Speakings, the Buddhist Eightfold Path, and the Hindu Yamas and Niyamas. The book's release is perfectly timed to meet society's current needs.”
—Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, MD, MD(H), DD

“Mr. Brody finds in the ‘practice of small things' a way to ingrain within ourselves the most important values: integrity, authenticity, and good conscience. Recommended reading for anyone who aspires to enter the arena of public life or for those who want to live with a good feeling about the everyday decisions they make.”
—Jonathan Rothschild, Mayor of Tucson

“Stuart Brody defines integrity as the keeping of promises, clearly stated or implied. He then demonstrates how keeping our commitments is critical even in seemingly inconsequential situations with plenty of examples drawn from his political, personal, and consulting experience. Brody refuses to let readers off the hook, challenging us to keep our promises, both big and small.”
—Craig Johnson, author of Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership and Professor Emeritus of Leadership Studies, George Fox University

“This book is a must-read for anyone interested in personal transformation, corporate social responsibility, and national change. The reader is invited to become a soul-searching participant in an examination of his or her own moral choices, conveniences, and illusions. But Stu also poses a way through the thicket of self-interest to transform ourselves and our culture. Although most of the examples are drawn from the American experience, it is easy to see how they apply to all cultures. I intend to use it in my own courses in France.”
—Paul Clermont, Teacher of Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, ESCE International Business School, Lyon, France

“It's been said that ethics is ‘obedience to the unenforceable.' But in this book, Brody shows us that the world of integrity does not need so much to be enforced as enticed. We need to practice the behaviors he outlines and build the skills of integrity like any other core competency. This book offers us tools to help us navigate the gauntlet of ethical issues and discern what is right for the many unique situations in which we find ourselves.
The Law of Small Things helps us accomplish that big task.”
—Paul Campbell, Director, Public Sector Group, UnitedHealthcare, and Adjunct Professor, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Stu Brody's many years in government service and politics have provided him significant insights into the nature of trust in government, or, as we more often experience it, the ‘breakdown of trust' in government. Rather than simply condemning politicians, he has provided a more complex analysis of personal and public integrity and a long-term and practical approach to addressing it.”
—Jeffrey M. Wice, Fellow, Rockefeller Institute of Government

“What you have in your hands is not simply a book but a door to a fulfilled, rewarding, and perhaps unimagined life.
The Law of Small Things invites you to make a journey, as an observer of your actions in the world, a journey that allows you to write your story consciously and mindfully and to achieve incredible results in all areas of your life.”
—Soraia El Kutby, CEO, Human Change, Mexico City, Mexico, and author of Customer Experience

“Right action is the foundation of credibility in all human relationships, including business and politics. But doing the right thing often eludes us, despite our best intentions. Brody's
The Law of Small Things so well illustrates that faithfulness to integrity in ‘small things' is the cornerstone of the practice of integrity and the ultimate ethical best practice. One only has to look at the news headlines every day for corroborating evidence.”
—Alan Richter, PhD, President, QED Consulting, coauthor of the Global Ethics & Integrity Benchmarks, and co-editor of An Inquiry into the Existence of Global Values

“Stuart Brody's
The Law of Small Things is an innovation in the teaching of ethics. He shows us what we have lost by our unconscious and self-interested practices and what we stand to gain by a revived and renewed understanding of the meaning of integrity and the purpose of practicing it: nothing less than the revival of faith in ourselves and our government.”
—Neil Vance, DPA, Kanbay Chair in Ethical Governance, University of Arizona

“Reading Stu Brody's
The Law of Small Things is like taking a journey with a wise friend who guides us through a conversation about the everyday ethical issues we all face but often give little thought to. In this larger meaning, integrity is not merely about living a moral life personally; it is about creating an ethical climate that shapes the setting in which we live and act collectively. This insight into the meaning of integrity gives a larger resonance to our small acts. Stu Brody offers a practical meditation for discerning this wisdom, and he does so with exceptional intelligence, humanity, and humility.”
—E. Thomas Moran, PhD, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and Founding Director, Institute for Ethics in Public Life, State University of New York at Plattsburgh

“Stuart Brody in
The Law of Small Things pulls the curtain back to reveal our capacity for self-delusion. This is not necessarily news, but it is exceptionally timely during this period of political turbulence. Yet as Brody reminds us, the problem doesn't begin with national crises. It begins in small day-to-day decisions and concessions to convenience that we are all subject to. The Law of Small Things is a book for all of us to read and digest. The integrity of our social lives is at stake.”
—Richard H. Robbins, author of Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism

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