We all do things that we would want to be considered “off the record” – that is words we have spoken that we really wouldn’t want repeated. Now that I host a daily live radio show, I find that I have to be very careful to only make comments that I would want and encourage my listening audience to repeat elsewhere.
Recent revelations about the extent that the National Security Agency has been tracking the calls, movements, and online activity of everyday Americans have revived the ongoing debate over privacy. Furthermore, in an era of high resolution cellphone videos, very few comments or conversations can truly be considered “off the record,” no matter what the speaker’s intent. Most of us believe we have a right to keep some things to ourselves, but what happens when technology makes the private increasingly public?
So far, we can observe a variety of consequences. Since the Clinton Administration—which famously coined the phrase “the politics of personal destruction”—we have been treated to new scandals of varying degrees on nearly a daily basis. It’s a familiar tune: various politicians, athletes or other celebrities get caught doing or saying things that are not compatible with whatever image they have portrayed to the public. The audio or video goes viral and careers are made and ruined in the process.
Certainly the public’s appetite for the salacious has expanded to accommodate the growing supply, and this reality has undoubtedly driven many worthy people away from public service. But all this technology hasn’t altered human nature; it has merely exposed what has been there since the beginning of time. And as the Spartans learned long ago, greater surveillance and more rules do not change hearts. Greater supervision doesn’t increase integrity, because integrity is a quality of the heart.
Performing an integrity self-check is very simple: does your private life demonstrate faithfulness and purity? Do you exercise control over your emotions and behavior? Are you confident that your choices are moral and right? People who can answer yes to these questions don’t need to be watched all day to ensure they stay out of trouble, do their jobs well and fulfill their duties to their families.
The idea that greater supervision will yield better behavior remains at the heart of many policy initiatives, in realms from education to public health. Many companies and even entire nations have experimented with various forms of surveillance to try to increase output. But where do effective education, good health and economic productivity come from? I believe they come from the integrity of individuals, undergirded by good habits which often are formed in childhood.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.