Monday, 6 June 2022

An update: Integrity is doing the right thing

Some time ago I tried to find out who actually recorded the quote, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching" (here). I asked the Quote Investigator, but unfortunately I did not get a response from Garson O'Toole (the Quote Investigator). 

I did find a comment online suggesting that this may be a paraphrase from the book "Shattering the Glass Slipper", by C. W. Marshall. However, as this is a modification of what Marshall wrote, it was (a) too recent and (b) to mashed up to match my recollection (2003). The quote is "Integrity is doing the right thing, no matter what it costs you" (p. 143). Not quite there. And - in my view - way too close to today. 

Then I heard that it was actually a quote from Aldo Leopold's book (1974), A Sand County Almanac, which - supposedly - stated that “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” While this was (a) quite different from the integrity quote wording, it felt old enough to have become embedded in our culture. However, when I got hold of a copy of the book, that quote was NOT in Leopold (1974). I searched for the quote word by word. Not there. Sigh. 

Then I read online that this was - once again - a C. S. Lewis quote. Of course, we know it is not in C. S. Lewis's writings, and even better, I found another two sites which both agreed that this is indeed not in C. S. Lewis's writings (C. S. Lewis Foundation, 2021; O'Flaherty, 2015).  A search popped up a Forbes version of the quote by Anderson (2012), which states that integrity is about "doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances, whether or not anyone is watching". Pretty close. But 2012 is WAY after I started using that quote in class. So no, this is not a go either.

Aha! I then read that it was a quote by US politician, J. C. Watts. This time I actually managed to find an attribution, though the only print source I have found thus far is from 1998 (presumably though he may have said this earlier?). Please note that this is now no longer focusing on integrity, but instead on character. De Capua (1998, p. 8), attributed the following to J. C. Watts Jnr: "Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking". This was recorded at his inauguration in 1996 as "character [...i]s simply doing what’s right when nobody’s looking. For too long, for too long, for too long we’ve gotten by in a society that says the only thing right is to get by, and the only thing wrong is to get caught" (Christianity Today, 2017).

OK: this is not quite right, but perhaps that might be as close as I get for a while. At some point I will take up the torch again. 



  • Anderson, A. R. (28 November 2012). Success Will Come and Go, But Integrity Is Forever.
  • C. S. Lewis Foundation (2021). Quotes Misattributed to C.S. Lewis.
  • Christianity Today (2017). Top 10 Lines Falsely Attributed to C. S. Lewis.
  • De Capua, S. (1998). J. C. Watts Junior: Character counts. Children's Press.
  • Leopold. A. (1974). A Sand County Almanac: with essays on conservation from Round River (6th reprinting). Oxford University Press, Inc. 
  • Milazzo, V. L. (2015). Thoughts for Success: Do the Right Thing When No One Is Looking.
  • O'Flaherty, W. (22 November 2015). (CCSLQ-13) Right Thing. Essential C.S. Lewis.

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