Integrity, with Chris Bettles

November 06, 2019 Kim Forrester Season 4 Episode 3
Integrity, with Chris Bettles
Integrity, with Chris Bettles
Nov 06, 2019 Season 4 Episode 3
Kim Forrester

Chris Bettles is the director and co-founder of If Not Now Digital, a UK-based marketing company that specialises in social, environmental and creative projects, and he is the producer of an independent documentary series called The Secret of Change. In this episode, Kim Forrester and Chris talk about the importance of integrity and how we can each align our actions and choices with our highest values and principles.

Show Notes Transcript

Chris Bettles is the director and co-founder of If Not Now Digital, a UK-based marketing company that specialises in social, environmental and creative projects, and he is the producer of an independent documentary series called The Secret of Change. In this episode, Kim Forrester and Chris talk about the importance of integrity and how we can each align our actions and choices with our highest values and principles.

Intro:   0:03
Welcome to Eudaemonia, the podcast that is all about flourishing. Plug in, relax and get ready for the goodness as we explore the traits and practices that can help you thrive in life ... with your host, Kim Forrester.

Kim Forrester:   0:17
Are you willing to stay true to your highest values and moral principles? Would you take an opportunity if it meant compromising who you are or what you stand for? Chris Bettles is the director and co-founder of If Not Now Digital, a UK-based marketing company that specialises in social, environmental and creative projects, and he is the producer of an independent documentary series called The Secret of Change. Through his life's work, Chris aims to help raise awareness of the potential of sustainable development, and he is committed to helping those with the best of intentions to flourish. It's my pleasure to be connecting with Chris today to talk about the importance of integrity, and to explore how we can each align our actions and choices with our highest values and principles. Chris Bettles, it's an absolute delight to have you with us on the Eudaemmonia podcast. How are things in Bristol today?

Chris Bettles:   1:22
They are wonderful, thank you very much. It's actually beautiful and sunny for a change. It's been rather wet of late.

Kim Forrester:   1:29
I was actually going to ask, 'How are things in sunny Bristol?' and I thought that that might just be a bit cheeky, but there you go. I am really looking forward to talking to you about integrity, because through the work that you do, it's easy to see that integrity is a major part of how you step through the world. For me, integrity is one of those concepts that is often misunderstood. Tell me first, what does integrity mean to you, and how does it differ from morality or honesty?

Chris Bettles:   1:58
Yeah, it's really good question that and it's one that, when you hear it, it makes you want to quickly Google definitions. And I've avoided that, I've avoided that. I feel that integrity is different to morality in the sense that morality often carries quite judgemental characteristics with it. I feel that we sometimes see it within certain doctrines that enforce views quite heavily, and I think integrity is more of a personal 'living in alignment' with one values. I feel like honesty is more of an external communication to someone. I feel that integrity is more personal, in a sense. It's like, you know 'What do I value? What do I believe in? What do I really care about within my life, and I am I acting in alignment with that?' It's very easy to mislead ourselves sometimes, and to kind of convince ourselves that we are living in alignment with our values - largely because we don't always stop to think about them.

Kim Forrester:   2:57
Immediately, what I can see from what you're saying there is that honesty is about how we communicate with others, morality is about the boundaries that we receive from others, but integrity is purely personal. It comes from within. Does that make sense?

Chris Bettles:   3:13
Yeah, I agree with that. I feel like it can be interesting to identify whether someone else is living with integrity. You can certainly ask it about someone else, but I think ultimately it's quite an internal process.

Kim Forrester:   3:25
Now, you studied criminology when you first left school. So you were basically studying those in society that we would consider to be the most unprincipled. And you were studying the systems we obviously have to deal with these individuals. What did you learn about integrity while you were studying criminology?

Chris Bettles:   3:41
Yeah, it's really interesting. I think it probably helps to go back to why I decided to study criminology in the first place. And to make the distinction: criminology is not forensic pathology or anything like that, which it often gets confused with. Its not crime scene investigation. It's not anything interesting in that sense. It's a social science. But I did choose to do it with the intention of going into the police or justice system in some way. And that was, I think, because I always had quite a strong sense of justice and felt that that's an important thing to pursue within society. And I think as we grow up, the kind of enforcers of justice around us - you know, the people who hold justice - are police officers, people within the legal system more broadly. And so I thought, 'Well, that's naturally where I'm led to go.' And having studied it for not very long, it was within the first year of my three year degree, that I realised that I absolutely didn't want to be part of the criminal justice system, either as police officer, or as a criminal lawyer, or anything in between. And the reason for that, I think, is that what I saw was a very broken system in many ways, and I'm not talking about any specific criminal justice system. I'm not talking specifically about the criminal justice system here in the UK or in the US or other places. I'm talking quite broadly in the sense that there are not many criminal justice systems that are functioning particularly well. There are some, and there are some that have been doing so for a long time. And yet we see very little change from those that are not. And I felt that, while many very honourable people go into the criminal justice system - as a police officer, for example - with the notion that they can be a better police officer, that they can be a fair person within a less than ideal system and that they can make change, the truth is, I don't believe that is often the case. I feel like people make ... You know, everyone can make a difference in whatever they do, whatever line of work they find themselves in. There are ways in which they can behave and conduct themselves that has a positive - or at least a more positive - impact on those that they come into contact with. Whether you're working at a till in a service counter or whether you're incarcerating someone for suspected breaching of the law, I think you can do that as well as you can, and it can have a positive impact in some way on the people that you're dealing with. And so when you say 'what did I learned about integrity', I think I learned that many of our systems that claim to be upholding morality, upholding justice, within our societies are actually doing nothing of the sort. And there are so many different circumstances in which we see people make decisions. And if it's breaking the law, our first and foremost conclusion is, 'Well they must be someone with no integrity, they must have no values. They must have no ...' And I think, honestly, that is rarely the case. I think that certain crimes - perhaps the ones that we think of most vividly when we think of criminals, particularly the violent ones - we think of, has being, 'Oh, you know, they must be sick in the head. They must have some kind of ... you know, they must be a psychopath, a sociopath. They must have something missing in order to be able to carry out these ...' The majority of crime is pretty boring, day to day, low level crime and the majority of people in prison are in prison for those reasons. Whether that's selling drugs or whether that's stealing or anything else, it is largely quite small level activity. And there are any number of reasons for which people can decide to do this. And I think, when you're looking at a society that is hugely unequal in many ways, the fact that some people break the rules in order to attain a sense of equality with those around them is not very surprising and is not even necessarily a signal of a lack of integrity. I think, if anything, it's an indication that our society, as a whole, is lacking in a lot of integrity.

Kim Forrester:   8:12
Yeah, I love that you bring that up because most people would assume that there is an inherent sense of integrity in our social systems, in our justice system, in our journalistic practices. Obviously you have seen another side to it, and we certainly don't want to, you know, burst people's bubble about this. But maybe it's really important for us to look to the systems that are pressuring people to step away from their principles. Do you think that is an important part of how we live our lives - is to not assume that the system is correct, and the system is moral, and the system is just and to actually have a little bit of compassion for the people who are falling outside of the rules? And going, 'Well, how is the system enabling them or facilitating this sort of movement away from what we think its principled action?' Do you think it's a valuable concept for us to carry around?

Chris Bettles:   9:03
100%. You know, we are individuals and we make our own decisions to an extent. But, let's be honest, we are part of a global society and one which we're able to interact with on a daily basis. You know, if we try and kid ourselves that, actually, we're all independent of that and we all make our own decisions, it's nonsense. We are ultimately animals that behave in a certain way, in certain circumstances. And, depending on what circumstances impact on us, we behave in different ways. Now, is there a diverse range in which people respond? Yeah, absolutely. And will everyone respond in the same way in the same circumstances? Definitely not. But we can generalise quite well. And we can say, actually, the majority of people in these situations will be more likely to commit this crime, or to behave in this way. And I think that we absolutely need to look at the integrity of our systems, rather than just us as individuals within it.

Kim Forrester:   10:05
Cool. So I want to take you, at this moment, into politics then, because I think it's important. And it's certainly a space in which I think many people are assumed to be totally unscrupulous and totally without integrity. Which I find really interesting because we vote them into power. And I've always felt that one of our greatest opportunities, as individuals, to build a brighter world is to consciously use the power of our vote. You work with a lot of political organisations. How do we know if a politician has integrity? So, what do you look for in your elective representatives and in the political campaigns you choose to work with?

Chris Bettles:   10:46
There's a number of things. I don't think there's any one thing that, you know, if you get that right then you will know that someone is a person of integrity. But I think, you know, first and foremost: voting record. What have they done historically? Consistency within that - you know, have they consistently stuck to something? Now, don't get me wrong, having integrity doesn't necessarily mean that you stick to the same beliefs or support the same systems over and over again. You may well act with integrity, but really change your understanding and therefore change what you might support. However, it's a good indicator. I think it's good to look back and see, 'Well, what have they been saying? Have they said that historically, and what are they saying now?' And I think the reason that many of us don't do this is because it takes ages. It takes a long time, so I absolutely understand why people don't. But I think, honestly, if we want to understand whether a certain politician has integrity, spend some time looking at how they've behaved and whether they act in line with it.

Kim Forrester:   11:47
Two questions. Firstly, do you think that there we're kidding ourselves if we think we can sort of 'gut check' if someone has integrity or not? You know, do you think we're kidding ourselves if we think that we can just look at someone - a politician or, you know, a long term friend - and go, 'It feels like they have integrity'.

Chris Bettles:   12:05
I very much respect that kind of intuitive feeling that we get about people and I think that it should be paid attention to. But I think we should also be really cautious the extent to which we rely on it. If you just turn on the television, having not engagd with politics for a number of years and just go, 'Oh, you know, what's he got to say? Oh yeah, I think he might be alright', I think you're selling yourself short a little bit. I think that could be combined with, 'Okay, I feel this way. Let me take a look and see if there's other evidence to support my feeling.' 

Kim Forrester:   12:38
If that measures up under empirical evidence. The second question then: values and moral norms change over generations and across cultures around the world. In your view, is integrity a fixed position in the moral universe, or do you feel it can change over time?

Chris Bettles:   12:56
I feel that integrity itself doesn't change. I think what behaviours it leads people to carry out does. And I think that's because, you know, integrity is whether you are acting true to what your values are. And I think that those values that society agree with can can change spectacularly, as you rightly point out, over time. But I don't necessarily feel like the process of living with integrity changes that much. I also think that we shouldn't get overly attached to our behaviours. The reason I say that is because it is absolutely okay for us to change our opinions, and change our beliefs, andto change our practices. And we will, almost inevitably - most of us will almost inevitably - behave in certain ways and make certain decisions that, when we look back on them, we feel like they weren't the best decisions to make. Does that mean that we weren't living with integrity at the point we made them? I don't think it does necessarily. But I think integrity is not a one-off process to go through; it is constant. I feel that throughout my life I have to regularly check in and go, 'Do I want to do this? Am I going to do this? Does this actually align with my broader beliefs and values and what I want to see in society?' I think a really good example of that is the company that I run, If Not Now. We work with a range of clients but they are broadly within the social and environmental sector. But, ultimately, the reason we say social and environmental sector is because we want to work for organisations and people that are acting with the best interests of people and the planet at heart. And there's definitely a spectrum there, you know. And it's not like we say we only work for charities or we only ... you know, there's not a clear distinction in that sense. You know, we work for companies, we work for grassroots movements, we work for individuals that might want to fund a certain campaign, and we have a range of different people. So we have to check in, every single lead that comes in. We have to say, you know, 'Is this actually in alignment with what we want to do? You know, do we want to do this?' And the answer might be, 'We're not certain and therefore we're gonna leave it this time'. Or it could be , 'We're not certain. We're going to start, and we're going to see how it goes after an initial period.' Yeah, integrity is a constant process of kind of pausing and reflecting on what is you care about, what means most to you, and whether you're living in alignment with those.

Kim Forrester:   15:40
So I hear you saying there that, if we're living with integrity, we're not always going to make the same decisions. But tell me, Chris, if we're living with integrity, does that mean we're always going to make the right decisions?

Chris Bettles:   15:53
Definitely not, definitely not. *laughter*

Kim Forrester:   15:55
*laughter* Great. 

Chris Bettles:   15:58
Does it always mean we'll make ... No, I don't think it does. I think we are humans and we make mistakes, and it's really important that we are open to doing that. I think, if we fear never making mistakes, then we do very little. And I also feel that the kind of 'call out' culture, as it's been referred to, that we have now - whereby people are scrutinised extremely heavily and often publicly shamed for something that they may have said or done - I think is really difficult for people, particularly people in positions of influence or positions of fame to navigate. Because, on the one hand, it's great that we have such accountability; it's great that we have people that are able to say, 'Oh, hold on a minute', you know, 'you've come out and said this. But, actually, look at all these things you've said, or look at all these things that you've done. That doesn't seem in line with that.' In one way, that's good and in another way, it allows very little room for any of us to make mistakes.

Kim Forrester:   17:16
To be human.

Chris Bettles:   17:16
To be human . And I think that, ultimately, you know, it's really important that we recognise that. Absolutely, call people out but the fact that they have behaved in certain ways in the past is not necessarily indicative, I think. And hence why I said earlier, you know, when you ... a good way to assess whether a politician has integrity, you know, part of it might be to look at their voting record and to look at consistency. But it's not everything because consistency is not, alone, an indicator of integrity, I don't think. I think someone who has been very strong in a position on a certain issue and has pursued that and has, at some points, changed their view because they have gained more knowledge, or because they realised that what they thought - in their, you know, very human way - was the right answer, in fact, wasn't the right thing to do, that in itself can be a sign of integrity. So it doesn't necessarily mean that you won't make mistakes. And, to be honest, mistakes I don't feel are always a bad thing either. I think they teach us a little humility, if nothing else.

Kim Forrester:   18:26
I really want I come back to that 'call out' culture that you were talking about because I can see that it's probably one of the greatest challenges we face in the world today - is that we've come to see everything these days with, like, a purity filter. We've come to see the world as black and white, and that's not how the world works. So let's say that you have an opportunity to work on a project that will help preserve the environment but, in order to do so, you have to work with a leader or a group that you know to be corrupt or dishonest. Or you have to work with someone who, in the past, has made some questionable decisions. Purity of integrity is actually impossible sometimes. So what do we do if by staying true to one of our principles, we undermine our integrity in another area?

Chris Bettles:   19:14
Yeah, that's a very interesting observation and I think it's one that we should be really aware of. I think I'll go back to what I said before. I think it's a constant process to undergo and we have to make our own decisions on this. There are lots of things that can help us but I think that the best thing to avoid, really, is just assuming; just assuming that, 'Oh, this will be the case' and to not question. Because I think when we stop questioning, that's when we quite easily and not always intentionally drift away from living with integrity. I feel like we should always question - both our own decisions and the decisions of others. And the truth is, we may not be able to know. You know, if there is a company coming to us that are saying, you know, 'Here's £100,000 to run a campaign on this issue that we know you care about and we really want to see benefited',  and it turns out that that same organisation has been funding projects which completely contradict that for a long period of time, it's very hard to know whether you are taking money from someone and putting it into something good - which in that situation is the best thing you could possibly do, even if you don't agree with how they obtained it - or whether, actually, in doing that, you are simply enabling an organisation to continue to carry on with that behaviour that has been so damaging.

Kim Forrester:   20:41
Do you feel it comes down to, perhaps, the injection of a greater good. When you're sitting there and you're trying to decide whether to take on a project, or make a decision, or take an opportunity - as a business or is an individual - and there are questionable elements to this decision, do you feel that it simply comes down to what we feel is best for the greater good?

Chris Bettles:   21:04
It probably does in a sense, yeah. And often we're guessing. And it can be an educated guess, absolutely, but we are guessing at what we think, or perhaps predicting what we think, the future will lead to. You really do have to look at this and feel out, 'What feels right to me at the moment?' And be open to the fact that that might change. And if it does, be honest enough with yourself and with others, and have humility and say, 'I made the wrong decision. I believed it was the right decision at the time. I can see that it wasn't and I'm changing how I'm going to behave, moving forward, based on that.'

Kim Forrester:   21:40
Right. Now, let's get down to the real nitty gritty - because you are a parent. Do we have a responsibility, as parents, or as aunties, or guardians, or caregivers to set an example of integrity for our children? And, if so, what does that look like? 

Chris Bettles:   21:59
Yes, so I think setting an example of integrity is the important bit out of the question that you've asked. Because my understanding is that we can tell our kids whatever we want but, ultimately, they will mirror you - whether they want to or not.  Or they think they are, or not. And I think that, that's not to say that people will always copy their parents in every way. You know, there are great examples of children that have gone on to live very different lives to their parents, and to the better often. It's not that it's impossible. But, ultimately, they will pick up on a lot of what you do. They will watch you more closely than anyone else in the world, and they will imitate you, and your behaviours, and your coping strategies, and your decisions, and often your, kind of, ethical framework. You know, they will be doing that. I mean, I remember hearing ... someone said to me recently that your inner voice is, in part, the voice of your parents. And I thought, 'Well, that's an interesting thing.' And I've started paying attention to, you know, the things that I hear in my head and I think, 'Oh god, yeah, that is my mum. That is my dad.' So, I think we do have a responsibility to set an example of integrity. I think, having recently become a parent - my daughter's 10 months old - I think, recently becoming a parent you also feel a sudden pressure, too, as well. You know, someone's watching and you're responsible for another life, another human being that is going to be behaving in certain ways. I think also, however, it's really important not to judge ourselves too harshly. I think it's really easy to become ... to feel a lot of shame around the things that we wish we could do better, particularly when it comes to being a parent. And I think having a really strong sense of, you know, trying to do our best and really continuing to do that. And being able to accept our own flaws and our own limitations is a really important part of that process, as well.

Kim Forrester:   24:13
That's very powerful. And just before we move on, I just reminded myself of a story I heard many years ago. A father and his young daughter were buying tickets for an entertainment fairground, or what have you, and under seven was free. And the gentleman said, 'Oh, my daughter just turned seven last week.' And the ticket holder said to the gentleman, 'Well, why did you tell me? I wouldn't have known the difference.' And the father replied, 'No, but my daughter would have.'  

Chris Bettles:   24:43
That's brilliant.

Kim Forrester:   24:43
And I think that's a really powerful example of the kind of integrity that we can demonstrate; that we can set an example for, for our children. Final question, Chris, and this is one that I ask every guest on the Eudaemonia podcast. Can you perhaps recommend a morning reminder - so this could be a daily ritual or practice, perhaps an affirmation - that can help my listeners anchor their daily actions and choices in a sense of integrity?

Chris Bettles:   25:14
Yeah, this is an interesting one. Okay, so it is with integrity that I fully acknowledge that I'm rubbish at sticking to a particular routine.  I really wish there was one that I had found that continued to work forever. I think, if I was to speak quite broadly, I would say that, it's great to take time and to just, literally, give you space to do nothing. Which, as someone who runs his own company and has a young - very young - child, is far easier said than done. But just, yeah, just taking ... even if it's just a few moments to clear your mind a bit. I mean, I've practised meditation before, I've practised yoga before, for quite a while. I also went through a daily process called the Wim Hof Method, which involves breathing, meditation and exercise, and exposure to cold, actually. I've done many of these different things and they've all helped me. And I think that they do give you time to just pause the, kind of, busy mind that is all about doing and all about thinking, and help you, kind of, go back into being a bit more. And, I think from that place we're able to make better decisions when it comes to acting with integrity. But that said, I'm not going to recommend any specific practice. Because what I've found myself is that, really, I don't think there is any one. I think, I mean the ones that I've mentioned - meditation, yoga, the Wim Hof Method - you know, all these things can be really beneficial. Exercise could be really beneficial. But I think it really does depend on the person. I think what's important is that you find what works best for you, at any point in time - and that may change and that's okay - in order to help you do that.

Kim Forrester:   27:12
That was precisely the value I saw in your answer there, actually. I thought, there are some of us, if we're living with integrity, who simply cannot stick to the same routine over and over. So I actually adore the answer that you gave us there, Chris. Chris Bettles, how do people find you, and how do they find out about If Not Now?

Chris Bettles:   27:31
Great question. So, If Not Now is We are just in the process of changing how we position ourselves slightly. We're going to be referring to ourselves as 'digital activists' more than digital marketers, because for just the simple reason, it sounds a lot better and also more accurately aligns with what we do. You can find me on Twitter at @chrisbettles1. You can also find me on Instagram @chrisifnotnow, and if you want to drop me an email, then

Kim Forrester:   28:07
Chris, I'm incredibly grateful to you for giving your time, your wisdom, your insights about integrity today. Thank you so much for being part of the Eudaemonia podcast.

Chris Bettles:   28:16
Thank you so much, Kim. I really, really appreciate it. It's been an honour to be on.

Kim Forrester:   28:20
American businessman W. Clement Stone once said, 'Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.' You have been listening to the Eudaemonia podcast. If you'd like to learn more about how to live a truly flourishing life, please subscribe and check out for more inspiring episodes. I'm Kim Forrester. Until next time, be well, be kind to yourself and live each day with integrity.