Integrity: “Swear allegiance to the office”

Did you all know that the file cabinet from the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist is on display at the Smithsonian’s American history museum? The writer of a blog post about the Smithsonian observes in Around the Mall that this is where “Nixon’s Troubles Began.” The retrospective look back to 1971 is interesting. But it is worth looking forward, as well. As it turns out, Egil “Bud” Krogh, the man in charge of the Nixon White House “Plumbers” unit formed to combat leaks, learned a lot from his experiences, which included prison time.

Interviewed in April 2008 by Paul Bedard of U.S. News & World Report, former Nixon aide Bud Krogh said, “You can never check your personal integrity at the door.” Bedard noted that

“Krogh . . .admits that he clearly did when accepting without question Nixon’s request that he find out who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Once dubbed ‘Mr. Clean,’ he conceded that there was so much pressure to do what Nixon wanted and also to be liked that ‘we didn’t even see the ethical issue’ of digging into the files of the psychiatrist for Pentagon Papers figure Daniel Ellsberg to find damaging information. His team found nothing.

Now a long-serving lawyer in Washington State, Krogh has lots of advice for those who might join the new administration next January. First, he says, swear allegiance to the office, not the man. Next, ‘align yourself with good people’ who can determine what’s ethical and what’s not. Avoid groupthink. And challenge requests and decisions you think are wrong.

‘I’m not saying it’s easy,’ he said, explaining that ‘you don’t want to risk alienating the president for fear that you won’t be in the next meeting with the president.’ As part of his integrity drive and book, he has also developed a model called ‘the integrity zone’ that he hopes incoming White House staffers will review. ‘It’s the book I wish I could have read 35 years ago when I was sworn in,” he said.”

Krogh’s book, Integrity, is well worth reading. The part where he quotes a National Archives official, John Powers (a friend of mine), on a break-in certainly caught my eye! Around the time his book was published, Krogh also put up a website called the Integrity Zone. At the top of the front page is this quote from an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclites:

“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the full light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny. It is the light that guides your way. “

I like the advice Krogh offered in the U.S. News interview in 2008. But not everyone is situated so they can seek out people with whom to brainstorm or talk through every problem they encounter. Sometimes, in Washington, you’re largely left alone with your own thoughts, day after day, month after month, year after year. It’s largely up to you to work out, internally and on your own, how to handle what you encounter.

If you find yourself in such a position, find ways to cope. Look for models of probity to study and learn from and provide moral support, close up and directly if possible, from afar and indirectly or by inference, if actually building alliances isn’t possible. (Sometimes, given Washington and “Washington,” the former will be hard to do.)  And find ways to stay balanced and centered.

Different people have different coping mechanisms. Me? I like reading. I like writing. I like taking long walks. And I like listening to music. Two of those four I can do at the same time.  As a kid I really did check books out from the public library and then trail behind my mother, opening a book and trying to start reading it on my walk home! I also played the violin as a child.

with-sis-in-elementary-school-orchestraNot surprisingly, violinist Joshua Bell became a big favorite of mine a few years ago. I recently put up a video with a static image and an audio track of him played the Vocalise. Very soothing and calming, good thinking music. I walk to it sometimes, too. It almost slows me down when I listen to it. I find myself strolling along very nonchalantly, too much so at times!

For the end of the workweek, well, the official end, anyway, here’s a video which shows how Bell produces those beautiful sounds on the violin!  Lots of good close-ups.

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