A Big Gray ‘But’

Is integrity always black-and-white—or can it have shades of gray?

Integrity is the cornerstone of the jewelry industry. That’s not to imply that other industries don’t also have a high degree of ethics, but how many other fields accept a handshake as a binding contract for the exchange of a million or more dollars? Nor are there many instances when a supplier will send out a product on memo, essentially saying “pay me when you sell it and I’ll take it back if you don’t.”

Perhaps our emphasis on integrity has its roots in the long-standing association of gemstones and religion. From pre-Biblical times, through the Bible and other key writings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, to almost every other major religion in the world, precious metals and gems have been considered objects of exalted value. Since a fundamental purpose of any religion is to provide a basis of ethical and behavioral standards for a society, if jewelry is frequently mentioned in a religious context it’s not surprising that it would also be associated with high ethical standards.

Back to the original question: Is integrity black and white? The question—which has been debated by Greek and Roman philosophers, rabbis, popes, bishops, kings, queens, a few Presidents and probably every college student on earth—is not going to be answered here.

The answer lies within each of us. Each of us, both personally and professionally, has a point at which we’re willing to cross the line from what’s absolutely ideal to what we can live with. Sometimes the two are the same. Sometimes they’re a little off. And sometimes, for some people, they’re a lot off.

The jewelry industry is full of black-and-white issues. Gemstone enhancement disclosure, for example, is pretty straightforward: Tell the customer what he’s buying. Underkarating is also pretty clear: It’s plumb or it isn’t.

Then there are the times when we say, “Gee, it would be nice, but …” This is the gray area. Gee, it would be nice if I could remodel my store with wider aisles, but I don’t want to spend the time or money, so I won’t hire a person in a wheelchair—but of course that’s against the ADA laws, so I will find another, legally acceptable reason for not hiring that candidate.

Is this right? No, it isn’t.

But what if remodeling at this time would put your business into more debt than it can handle? What then?

That’s the old gray “but.” How gray your “buts” are—i.e., how far you’re willing to compromise what you believe to be right—is a decision only you can make.

This month’s “Up Front” has an obituary and tribute to Donald S. McNeil, a former editor-in-chief of JCK. McNeil spent 25 years at JCK, first as managing editor and later as editor-in-chief. JCK‘s long-standing reputation for editorial quality and integrity was cemented during McNeil’s tenure, and when he retired, the standards he set were further ingrained under the leadership of George Holmes. Holmes, who wrote the tribute that appears on page 32, spent 24 years as JCK‘s editor-in-chief. He was the editor who hired me in 1986 as a junior reporter and production editor, and who steeped me in JCK‘s tradition of journalistic integrity. I met Don McNeil only once or twice, but the torch that’s been handed to me is fueled by his legacy as well as that of my mentor, Holmes. As we go forward, I will add to it the forthright standards with which I was raised. I’m proud to be the torchbearer who brings the JCK tradition to you, and I hope you take the same pride in what your business brings to your community.