Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Integrity

A number of years ago Cecil Samuelson, the president of Brigham Young University, gave a talk on integrity. He said a number of things that are worth rereading, and touched on only a few aspects of integrity, but a few of them are worth reviewing here:
It does seem to me that the issues of integrity are particularly important in the university setting and all the more so at BYU. We are here to seek knowledge and wisdom. We make clear statements to ourselves and to the world that we live in an environment that not only encourages but demands that what we do is in the context of our faith and best efforts to live gospel principles. Indeed, our final article of faith begins by stating, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” (Article of Faith 1:13; see also HC 4:535–41). In other words, we believe in integrity and all of its meanings—particularly the three definitions I mentioned that include soundness, completeness, and adherence to a code of values. At BYU we believe in the Honor Code. We preach it, we teach it, and we must practice it with soundness and completeness.
President Samuelson went on to enumerate a number of integrity issues that apply at BYU:
Résumé Padding

Sadly, I believe résumé padding is a fairly recent term that is now widely understood. Some believe that it may be worth a calculated risk to suggest achievements not attained or other misrepresentations of a personal record. What is not always appreciated is that in doing so, a different record is being made that will follow the offender throughout life. Not only have people of prominence and others lost coveted jobs, they have been branded forever as people without integrity. That is a heavy but probably fair burden.
President Samuelson was talking about including items on a resume that the individual actually has not done. One wonders whether including items of dubious quality or planned projects that have not been completed count. Surely, after a decade in the field one's track record either shows that one can produce or that one cannot; there should be no reason to pad a curriculum vitae with unaccomplished accomplishments or purportedly forthcoming publications.

President Samuelson also mentioned another problem:
Giving False Information

All of us misspeak on occasion. In our case, I hope it is because of an honest mistake or a faulty memory. When unintentional, we hope for correction or the opportunity to set the record straight as soon as we recognize the error. Of much, much greater concern is the intentional communication of false information. Most of you are regularly interviewed by your bishops and less formally, but often more directly, by your parents. Although it is tempting to misrepresent the truth in some circumstances, a lie is a lie. More than 30 years ago, President Dallin H. Oaks told a BYU devotional audience, “A lie is not always told in so many words. It may be a creature of concealment or a misrepresentation by action or a half-truth” (30 January 1973, “Be Honest in All Behavior,” Speeches of the Year, 1972–73 [Provo: BYU, 1973], 89). He then went on to quote Elder Richard L. Evans, who said:

Truth or untruth is not always altogether a matter of literal language, but often of implication, of inflection, of innuendo, of subtle suggestion. A clever person intent on being untruthful can give a false impression, even when his literal words can little be called into question. [The Spoken Word, “Neither Lie One to Another,” Improvement Era, November 1961, 854]
A billboard currently on the road to Salt Lake says "Partial honesty is the worst policy."

In some ways, though, integrity is not all that hard to figure out.

Let's suppose that you are offered a job for the summer. You will be paid $1000 to feed a couple's cat for the summer. They will also leave $10,000 to pay for cat food. You can have integrity either accepting or declining the job. If you have integrity and do not think you can feed the cat, you decline the job. If you accept the job, you must feed the cat or forfeit your integrity.

Perhaps you are only taking the job because you are in dire circumstances and need the money to feed your family. Still, you must feed the cat or forfeit your integrity.

Maybe the cat is old and on its last legs. All the same, you must feed the cat or forfeit you integrity.

Perhaps the cat is mean and nasty. That may be true, but it is irrelevant. You must feed the cat or forfeit your integrity.

Surely, the cat does not need all $10,000 for cat food for a summer. That may be so, but you cannot spend the money on something else and keep your integrity.

Perhaps you have a dog that you love very much. If you feed the dog rather than the cat you forfeit your integrity.

Perhaps your dog is poorly fed. If you think so, feed him from your own money. If you use the couple's money to feed the dog you forfeit your integrity.

Perhaps you think your dog is more deserving of food than the cat. That may be true, but if you feed the dog rather than the cat you forfeit your integrity.

Perhaps, after a couple of months, you think that the couple trusts you. If you have integrity they should; if you do not they shouldn't.

Perhaps you think that they will never notice something missing. That may be so, but if you spend their money on something else, you forfeit your integrity.

President Samuelson closes with the following story:
Many years ago I was faced with what I considered to be at the time a serious professional dilemma. In reality it was more like the need to choose between two very attractive alternatives with respect to my future career. I thought and prayed about the matter a great deal and discussed it thoroughly with Sharon, my wife. I frankly wished that I could have had the steady counsel, experienced frequently over the years, from my father about this matter, but he had died the year before. Because the decision facing me potentially had some implications for my Church service, I sat with a senior, respected Church leader and sought his counsel. I weighed with him my alternatives and all of the potential considerations in detail. I waited for his direction or questions. After a moment he looked me in the eye and said, “Above all else, you need to protect your integrity.” That is all he said, and it didn’t initially seem to be responsive to my questions. As I thought about it, however, it almost immediately became clear what my best alternative was, and the test of time has proven it to be so. . . . Let my advice to you be that which I received from my trusted mentor: “Above all else, you need to protect your integrity.”