An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Jan. 24, 2017

The Integrity of Speaking Up

By Col. Lidia Ilcus 633rd Medical Operations Squadron

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Integrity is the cornerstone of our core values. We say that, integrity is doing what is right when no one is looking. But integrity is also saying what is right even when everyone is looking, when no one is ready to hear and regardless of who is asking. 

This is the integrity of speaking up. We know that exhibiting integrity in our actions is imperative, but there is perhaps even greater power in the words we speak, especially when those words are bound to deeds. Real words, thoughtfully considered, spoken aloud, without enmity and with a constructive goal.

In the virtual-driven, techie world of today, spin and double-speak are the norm and cyber text Wiki words lack truth, substance and vowels.

People have the ability to see through spin; they see through pretty language, and are aware that you can’t believe everything you read, but people are also taken in by flattery and wounded by real or imagined barbs. Therein lies the quandary. How do we communicate and accomplish the mission when we have lost the ability to speak to each other, to debate with each other and to call out concern if the integrity of our words seems to be lacking? We had all the tools we needed in Kindergarten. Children have wonderful integrity of speaking up. They call out their playground peers saying "liar, liar pants on fire,” followed by a staunch, “no take backs,” and “sticks and stones.” They work it out, because the goal of playground time overrides their tantrum.

Why should it matter to us? Our playground has no room for tantrums. The integrity of what we say becomes a matter of trust. Miscommunication and mistrust create mishaps.

When actions and words are not in sync, trust is lost because the truth of future words will be questioned. How are we safe, secure, reliable and effective without trust?

In challenging times, with limited resources and with unexpected events at every turn, all we may have is the assurance of our spoken word, that there is a way ahead, that we have each other’s back, that appropriate actions will be taken and that the battle will be won. There is not enough time to explain the rabbit hole into which trust fell.

Or worse yet, too much time is wasted revisiting topics asked and answered but lost in the smoke and mirrors of email and non-verbalized words. The military tries to mitigate with Rules of Engagement on how and when to speak. Tongue and Quill provides guidance for words not spoken, yet we still fumble and quibble. Texting and email have diminished speech and word choice and made it second nature to insult, to “anonymously” bully; we have lost the ability to differentiate jokes, empathy and antipathy.

So what is my message? Put down the iPad, stop reading Facebook and Instagram and start reading Animal Farm.

Take it one step further. Get over “it.” Get over whatever happened on an electronic Hollywood chat interface and pay attention to what is happening around you, to real people, face to face and “speak” to that.

Here is the context:

Buchenwald concentration camp survivor and Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Bottom line is, every one of us is a leader in some way, at some time. We should be true to our word, our real life not virtual not texted Word. What did you walk past today that you could have fixed by simply speaking up? The power of words can be monumental in the actions they grow, the multitudes they motivate. Good words launch space ships and air to ground attacks, and help opponents save face.  Great words inspire, comfort and create.

Do you speak up, for things that matter? Do you know which side of the spoken integrity coin you are on? Do you say “not my job” or do you say “how can I help”? Do you tie those words to actions? Maybe it’s time to figure that out? You should never get heartburn from having to eat your words.

The integrity of a word, your word, can be your compass, your targeting scope and your kevlar.  Gear up.