Posted on November 10, 2014 by Robert Ringer


We are living through a period of human history when morality has become a passé topic. For that very reason, vigilance and self-discipline are in order, because morality is perhaps the most important element in leading a successful life.

In that vein, the first step is to define your moral standards, because they serve as an ethical compass that prevents you from straying off course when the winds of temptation begin howling around your ship of life. Millions of people continually crash on the rocks of bad consequences, often suffering irreparable damage because they allowed themselves to get trapped in rough waters without first making sure they had their ethical compasses aboard.

It’s important to understand that for any strategy or plan of action to be sound, it must begin with a solid moral foundation. Without such a foundation, anything a person tries to build is destined to crumble. The bad effect of a bad cause may not show up immediately, but you can be certain that ultimately it will make its appearance.

When I speak of establishing a strong moral foundation, I’m talking about possessing a clear set of values that guides your day-to-day behavior. You need to know what you believe in ahead of time so you don’t have to think about the right action to take at the moment of truth.

What do you believe is moral? What do you believe is immoral? What do you believe is ethical? What do you believe is unethical? What do you believe is good? What do you believe is bad?

If you don’t formulate your moral beliefs ahead of time, your actions may inadvertently be based on spur-of-the-moment whims, emotion, or instant gratification. In other words, you’ll be in danger of revising your ethical standards to fit each new situation as it arises, a practice commonly referred to as “situational ethics.”

An individual who engages in situational ethics is someone who does not possess a fixed standard of right and wrong. Right is simply whatever he perceives to be in his immediate best interest at any given time, which is a fool-proof formula for failure.

That’s why it’s so important to decide on a clear, concise set of moral values when your intellect is in control. Then, in highly emotional situations, you’re more likely to act in accordance with the moral standards that you have decided — in advance — to live by.

Which brings us to the subject of integrity. Integrity is an impressive sounding word, one which people like to bandy about rather carelessly. Unfortunately, very few people really understand what the word means, and even fewer practice it — including, and especially, those who expound on it the most.

Integrity is adherence to your code of moral values. It’s one thing to talk about moral values, but quite another to consistently adhere to them.

During a question-and-answer session at one of my seminars, a gentleman in the audience said he believed that all government spending, with the exception of expenditures for protection of citizens’ lives and property, was theft, and therefore immoral. He confessed he felt guilty because he was a builder of government housing (meaning that his main source of income was derived from money extracted primarily from unwilling individuals, euphemistically referred to as “taxpayers”).

It was a lucrative business for him, and he was in a quandary as to what to do. He asked me if I thought it was wrong for him to continue to profit from taxpayer money.

Of course, he knew full well what the answer was, and I felt as though he was hoping I would grant him some kind of dispensation and make everything all right. First of all, I don’t have the power to grant dispensations, nor does any other human being. Integrity is a highly personal matter, meaning that every individual has the power to embrace or reject it.

A hundred priests, ministers, and rabbis can forgive you, but all that matters is whether or not you can, with clear conscience, forgive yourself. There’s only one way to protect your integrity: You must absolutely refuse to compromise it. There is no other method that I know of that works.

What I’m talking about here is how well you practice what you claim to believe in. What you believe in and what say is one thing; what you do is quite another. I like to think of this consisten­cy of belief, words, and actions as con­centrici­ty.

Try to imagine two perfect circles, one representing what you believe in and what you say, the other representing what you actually do. When these two circles are nearly concentric — that is, when they are almost perfectly aligned — it means you are adhering to your code of moral values.

But when those two circles begin to pull apart, it indicates that your integrity is slipping. And when what you do begins to pull too far away from what you believe in and what you say, you may find yourself looking in the mirror one morning and realizing that you’re beginning to dislike and disrespect yourself. At first, you may not be able to figure out why, but if your integrity is important to you, the reason will soon emerge.

That said, I recognize that we’re all human and therefore imperfect, thus it’s not possible for your words, thoughts, and actions to be in perfect alignment 100 percent of the time. But that’s precisely why you have to work hard at concentricity every day of your life. It’s the only way you can hope to adhere to your values on a consistent basis.

The temptations to allow those concentricity circles to pull farther and farther apart are everywhere, so it takes a great deal of vigilance and self-discipline to hold them together. The payoff? It’s when concentricity becomes a way of life and you do the right thing without even having to think about it.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

13 responses to “Concentricity”

  1. bobmarley says:

    "The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively."

  2. John john brudenell-leech says:

    thank you Robert – a great reminder for me, when those circles start to come about it ripples out to every aspect of your life

  3. Jeff says:

    The concentric circles image is fine. But we have to look at the root cause that we lose integrity. It is because we have removed God from the equation. In effect, we have made ourselves God. The result is individuals feel they should own other individuals — buy them, sell them, abort them, generate them — use them in whatever ways bring satisfaction. Similarly, we own ourselves outright — so whatever we want to do to ourselves and our bodies is “our right” — that includes self destructive actions like taking drugs, or plastic surgery to “perfect” one’s looks, or suicide-on-demand by doctor’s prescription.

  4. Kath says:

    Beautiful article, Mr. Ringer, I loved reading it!

    To Jeff: Defining morality and integrity through God is a very, very simplistic way of seeing things. Of course the church wants to take all the credit. But let's remember that the church, which pretends to represent God, therefore God's moral values, has been both in the past and the present not so moral and full of integrity. They murdered people, tortured (during the Middle Ages), the 20th century was full of rape and abuse scandals, and they are not the most giving of all, either. Quite the opposite, they like to take more than to give (I'm mostly referring to the Catholic and Christian Orthodox churches).

    God or believing in God has nothing to do with being moral or having integrity. Morality and integrity are the result of much more complicated factors, such as family, education, society norms and values, culture, even mental health has an impact on a person's morality and integrity, as well as other factors. Morality and integrity existed long before God, and an example is the Greek philosopher Plato (Platon), whose philosophy still stands today at the basis of the Western civilization. People of today are not more moral and do not have more integrity than people who lived more than 2,000 years ago before God existed. And yes, as modern humans, each of us has the right to decide what to do with our bodies, faces, health, and lives, in general. We have earned that! Too bad some still believe in the pack mentality that leads to enslaving people to church precepts, politicians or businesses.

  5. Serge says:

    Crossing those moral lines leads to complete destruction sooner or later. How many Pastors, CEO"S, or anybody for that matter have destroyed their careers or families with instant gratifcation. They thought it would be discreet but they got found out. To maintain that integrity one only needs to think of the destruction it will lead to.

  6. Ken says:

    Great article Robert … thanks for the reminder.

    To Kath: Although you make some great points I picked up a couple of things you might want to reconsider. I guess it certainly will depend upon your belief system (or lack thereof), but according to mine and most Christians I'm aware of, is the notion that God is the beginning of everything, so asserting that there were people who existed before God is a pretty flawed argument. What makes you think He wasn't around 2000 years ago?
    Secondly, I think you have organized religion and faith in God confused. Yes, you're right, there are plenty of flaws in all organized religious organizations, as well as plenty of abuses. I suppose that can be blamed on the fact that they've always been run by imperfect people. On the other hand, perfecting your faith in a perfect and forgiving God can do nothing but lead you farther down the path of getting those concentric circles closer together. Just something to think about.

  7. Robby Bonfire says:

    How many people in this world cannot be bought, where it comes to their ethics and morality? The few who cannot be bought are the idealists who are detached from the realities of the world they live in, and who profess to believe that supernatural "miracles," and the like, can be created by compiling a wish list and thinking positively as the direct route to their desired end result.

    I will take my chances with those who have a better and more realistic grip on the ways of the world, and who refuse to allow the Pollyanna's out there, to run the show. "Corruption, for lack of a better word, is good." Those striving for perfection in themselves, while holding others to that impossible standard, scare the hell out of me.

    Rodney Dangerfield's confrontation with the college professor in the classroom, in "Back To School," best embodies, to my mind, the credibility gap we are dealing with here, between the practical and the idealistic. You choose, which side you are on.

    • Jean says:

      Your thesis sounds like an excuse to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it. That, of course, makes you a sociopath and one of the most dangerous people on earth – completely self-centered and unstable when it comes to follow-through. I don't consider myself an unrealistic idealist, but I do pride myself on being the most dependable factor in the equation. My clients love it, my banker loves it and I can sleep at night.

  8. Patrick says:

    I just quit working someplace because they were bringing up events that happened years and in some cases decades ago that had nothing to do with the workplace. They did it to be smug and arrogant. Obviously lacking any morals and ethics. And since I never told them about such events, makes me wonder what was the point in bringing all that up?

  9. Helen Spingola says:

    How does one forgive one's self???