Discretion is the perfection of reason, and a guide to us in all the duties of life. ~ Walter Scott
What does integrity mean. I often hear catchy things like “acting the same when when no one is watching” or “not doing things you wouldn’t want your mother to see.”
On the surface these seem helpful. They hint at the need to act in the same manner despite the circumstances. They also hint at something a bit more sinister. Let’s address each of these latter first and former later (just to make sure your paying attention).
Are we all only kept in check from doing evil because of what others think? The last time no one was watching were you tempted to … drink milk from the carton instead of a glass, practice talking like a sailor, rob from your spouse’s super secret cash stash, eat chocolate till you puke, slash the neighbors tires … maybe you were. I am guilty of some of these and thinking most of them but to be honest I don’t really care if someone knows I binge on chocolate and wash it down sans glassware.
There are many things that claim to keep all us sinners in line, but there is something different about those who violate social norms and those who don’t. I propose most people are generally not sinners. We don’t violate the rights of others and if we step over a line it is usually due to ignorance and not malice.
Most of us follow basic rules of integrity such as treating others with respect and dignity. For those who have a different MO, they continue to violate despite sanctions, risk, societal view, parental approval, religion, or morals and values training.
Characters who violate are interesting to the vast majority of us because we all want to find an answer for the atrocities we see in life. The dilemma we as a society face is not losing perspective of how the majority of people behave because most people fall within a range of acceptable behavior with outliers at both ends (pedestals are not proper perches for people).
Now for the former – circumstances do dictate changes in behavior as they change. I walk differently if the lights go out at night than I would if they remained on. I have learned to take more tentative steps when I can’t see (thank you coffee table who I swear moved by at least a foot).
I believe we all have the ability to use discretion and very often do.
I read somewhere (no I don’t have a resource to share) that there are fewer accidents at intersections with yield signs as opposed to stop signs. From personal experience I think this makes sense. Legislation isn’t for the general population, it is more often a way to control or identify the outliers. Either they are going to violate the law or point out everyone with a pinky toe across the line (like me stopping for 2.5 seconds instead of 3 at that stop sign).
Conflict runs rampant when we create arbitrary rules for others to follow. Want to trump up the tension in a character have them hold tight to a rule and not use discretion. Make them believe they must never talk to police, and then have an officer show up at the door. Have them believe they must never tell a lie and have a serial killer ask them where their pretty blonde neighbor keeps a spare house key.
Rules are great for the writer and their craft, but maybe not so great for the general population and getting along. Most of us can solve dilemmas with little trouble if we don’t hold so tight to the rules that we stop thinking.