“The only shield to [a person’s] memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is imprudent to walk through life without this shield” (Winston Churchill).
RECTITUDE MAY NOT BE A COMMONLY USED WORD, BUT ITS MEANING IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, BOTH TO OUR INDIVIDUAL LIVES AND TO ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITIES. The core meaning of rectitude is simply “rightness.” To rectify something is to straighten it out or make it right, and so rectitude is the condition or quality of being right. It means correctness or moral uprightness.
Isn’t being right something we ought to aim for? I believe it is, and by being right I don’t just mean being right in an intellectual argument; I mean being right morally — doing in every situation the thing that is right. Contrary to what many have been led to believe in our day, there is such a thing as right, and what is right basically comes down to doing what is just, as defined by the objective, immutable standards of justice that all people are subject to. Thomas Aquinas put it this way: “Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.”
When we fail to do what is right, we damage the world we live in, usually more than we realize, but we also hurt ourselves. Without rectitude, we are severely wounded as human beings, as anyone knows who has ever lived for any length of time with a bad conscience. As Churchill observed, rectitude is a “shield” that we need to have. “It is imprudent to walk through life without this shield,” he said.
If we don’t have rectitude, we don’t have anything worth having. Without integrity, we are nothing. If we amassed all the wealth in the world but sacrificed the principles of right conduct in the process, our wealth would, in the long run, be nothing but cold comfort to us.
But finally, bear in mind that rectitude is the only way to have any good influence on those around us. What we are speaks much more loudly than what we say or do, and so let’s resolve to be people of integrity. People of justice. People who simply do what is right.
“The effective impact upon us of men of honor, rectitude, and goodwill is to arouse kindred impulses within us. We begin to detect in ourselves undeveloped capacities. The touch of the heroic awakens in us the slumbering hero” (Charles Malcolm Douglas).