Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching

The saying, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching" is often misattributed to C. S. Lewis, even referenced to his 1952 book, "Mere Christianity".

Not so. I have Lewis's 1952 book as an ebook, and have searched it. He does have the phrase "enough steam for doing the right thing. But..." on page 10. However, this is the only place in the book where this occurs, and the full phrase does not appear at all.

So not this book. And not C. S. Lewis, either.

Wikiquote, a great resource for 'who said what', lists this saying under misattributions, suggesting instead that a close version of it comes from the Journal of Clinical Psychology: Monograph Supplement, Issues 19-28, in 1965, on page 22, from an unknown writer.

And, as mentioned, the quote is not quite the same: "Integrity means doing the right thing, even when no one else is there to judge".

However, I have always thought this saying had been translated from the works of the medieval monk, Thomas à Kempis. And that it came into English as "whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching" (though privately I always wondered if that might be "as if God were watching").

I got to thinking about this again today, and thought I would actually find out WHERE this had been written. So I scanned through some ebooks online - thank goodness for Project Gutenburg! 

Having searched through "The Imitation of Christ", "The Chronicle of the Canons Regular of Mount St. Agnes", "A Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ", "The Little Garden of Roses and Valley of Lilies", "St. Lydwine of Schiedam", and the Thomas à Kempis biography by Sir Francis Richard Cruise, I am no closer to finding the actual quote.

So I have emailed the Quote Investigator to ask. Will update you all when I hear back.




  1. I realize this post is dated ----- have you found the source?

    1. Kia ora Soutenus, no, unfortunately: I have not had any reply 😷

  2. Did you ever receive an answer?

    1. Kia ora Unknown, no, unfortunately I did not get a response from the Quote Investigator. I did find a comment online suggesting that this may be a paraphrase from the book "Shattering the Glass Slipper". However, as this is a 2003 modification of what Marshall wrote, it was (a) too recent and (b) to mashed up to match my recollection. Then I heard that it was actually a quote from Aldo Leopold's 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: With essays on conservation from Round River, who stated “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching—even when doing the wrong thing is legal.” However, that quote was NOT in the book. I checked the quote word by word. Not there.


      Then I read online that this was - again - a C. S. Lewis quote. And we know it is not in C. S. Lewis's writings.

      Then I heard it was a J. C. Watts quote, and this time I found an attribution, though it is from 1998 (presumably though he may have said this earlier?).The only source I have managed to find in writing thus far is from De Capua (1998, p. 8), attributed to J. C. Watts Jnr: "Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking".

      It is not quite right, but perhaps that might be as close as I get for a while again.

      De Capua, S. (1998). J. C. Watts Junior: Character counts. Children's Press.


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