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Integrity: Honoring Our Word

Brothers and Sisters, aloha! It is wonderful to welcome you to our first BYU-Hawaii devotional of this New Year. We hope that each of you had a wonderful break and enjoyed the opportunity to remember the Savior and His birth as well as spend time with loved ones. We are grateful to have you with us on this beautiful campus and we look forward to a rewarding and fulfilling year. For many people throughout the world, the start of a new year is a time for making resolutions, for outlining goals for self-improvement, and for laying out plans for accomplishing positive and uplifting purposes. In keeping with such thoughts, today I would like to talk about one of the fundamental tenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ: Integrity.

In 1955, at the groundbreaking services for this beautiful campus, the Lord's prophet, President David O. McKay, stated the two foundational purposes for which this university was being established:

"First, for things pertaining to God and His Kingdom [and] what that means toward establishing peace in the world. Secondly, [so all who attend here can] develop character, and [become] noble men and women. The world needs men [and women] who cannot be bought or sold, who will scorn to violate truth, genuine gold. That is what this school is going to produce. More than that, they'll be leaders. All the world is hungering for them"

Today I would like to talk about the very essence of the character that President McKay was referring to:
men and women who are noble.
men and women who cannot be bought or sold
men and women who would scorn to violate truth
men and women who are genuine gold
men and women prepared to be the leaders for which the world is hungering.

At the core of such character is integrity with its close cousins, honesty and truthfulness.

The Latin root of the word integrity is "integer." Other words that share that same root include 'entire' and 'integrate.' Integrity is, therefore, the quality or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, and undivided. The Latin root of the word honest is "honestus," which is also the root for the words, honor and honorable. Honesty is the quality or condition of being truthful, sincere, candid and worthy of honor. To have integrity - to be whole, complete, unbroken and undivided - means that we are honorable. We speak the truth, we do not deceive, and we honor our word.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin expanded on this by saying,

"Integrity means always doing what is right and good, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but even more importantly, in our thoughts and in our hearts. Personal integrity implies such trustworthiness and incorruptibility that we are incapable of being false to a trust or covenant." While some might regard integrity as insignificant, the Lord and His prophets do not.

I'd like to explore with you why integrity matters. As a part of that discussion, I will also consider Lucifer's interest in the matter, and will then suggest some tips for developing your integrity, especially while you are here on this campus. Finally, I will reflect on some of the great blessings the Lord has promised to those who consistently practice integrity, being honest and truthful in all aspects of their lives.

The Importance of Integrity
Elder Oaks has observed:

"There are few words in the English language with any more beautiful connotations than the word truth. In one of its meanings, the word truth is synonymous with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scripture teaching us that the glory of God is intelligence adds 'or in other words, light and truth' (D&C 93:36). The Psalmist referred to God as the 'Lord, God of truth' (Ps. 31:5). And John described Jesus as 'full of grace and truth' (John 1:14)."

God, through His prophets, has always taught that seeking truth and saying what is truth is a commandment. The book of Genesis reveals Abraham's depth of integrity. In the fourteenth chapter, we read this remarkable statement:

"And Abram said to the king, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,

"That I will not take a thread [or] even a shoe latchet, and that I will not take anything that is thine."

In his book, Standing for Something, President Hinckley further explained the great significance the Lord places on integrity and honesty:

"It is neither coincidence nor happenstance that five of the Ten Commandments deal essentially with [integrity and] honesty in [their] broadest sense.

'Thou shalt not kill' (Exodus 20:13). It is an act of the most grievous kind of dishonesty and betrayal to take the life of another.

'Thou shalt not steal' (Exodus 20:15). Stealing is obviously an act of dishonesty.

But so too is adultery. In the vernacular, this evil is described as 'cheating' or as 'infidelity,' meaning to be untrue [or lacking in integrity] to someone.

Similarly, the malicious spreading of untrue accusations - 'bearing false witness' - to injure another is the most vicious kind of dishonesty.

And finally, 'coveting' partakes of the greedy desire to have that which belongs to another."

I'm sure we can all recall the story of Job, a faithful and prosperous man. The scriptures recount that eventually Job lost everything he had in this world--his wealth, his health, and even his posterity. How did Job respond? In spite of all that had happened to him, Job reaffirmed:

"My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit.

"God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.

"My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live."

Clearly, Job was honest and true and filled with integrity and that was true on every level: In his relationship with God, in his relationship with his fellowmen, and in his relationship with himself. Now contrast that with what the scriptures teach about Satan. Elder Oaks has summarized:

"There is no more authoritative or clear condemnation of the dishonest and lying person than the Savior's description of the devil as a liar and as the father of lies . In the letters of the New Testament, we read from the pen of the Apostles these commandments: 'Lie not one to another,' and 'Wherefore, speak every man truth with his neighbor.' "

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob declares that the liar "shall be thrust down to hell." Similarly, in his grand vision of the three degrees of glory, the Prophet Joseph Smith included "liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie" among those who will "suffer the wrath of God on earth" and be cast down to hell to "suffer the vengeance of eternal fire."

It is no wonder that Elder Mark E. Peterson, one of the great apostles of this dispensation, declared:

"Honesty is a principle of salvation in the kingdom of God. Just as no man or woman can be saved without baptism, so no one can be saved without complete honesty."

Given the supreme importance of integrity, and its encompassed honesty and truthfulness, in the lives of those who accept and follow the Savior, it is not surprising that Satan would attack these virtues so vigorously. In a Priesthood session conference talk, President Faust admonished:

"We all should be concerned about the society in which we live, a society which is like a moral Armageddon. I am concerned about its effect upon us as [sons and daughters of God]. There are so many in the world who do not seem to know or care about right or wrong. We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving."

How are we each doing against such a standard as this? Are we really truth loving? At this point, I would like to invite each of you to take a brief self-test or self-evaluation suggested a few years ago in a talk by Elder Bednar. First, listen carefully to the following exchange presented in a general conference address in1966 by President N. Eldon Tanner, a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. President Tanner recounted the following:

"A young man came to me not long ago and said, 'I made an agreement with a man that requires me to make certain payments each year. I am in arrears, and I can't make those payments, for if I do, it is going to cause me to lose my home. What shall I do?'

"I looked at him and said, 'Keep your agreement.'

"He responded, saying, 'Even if it costs me my home?'

"I said, 'I am not talking about your home. I am talking about your agreement; and I think your wife would rather have a husband who would keep his word, meet his obligations, keep his pledges or his covenants, and have to rent a home than to have a home with a husband who will not keep his covenants and his pledges.'"

Now for Elder Bednar's self-evaluation and self-test. Candidly and silently, answer the following questions: Did President Tanner's counsel seem old-fashioned, out-of-date, and unreasonable to you or did it seem appropriate? Would not losing your home be more important to you than keeping your word and the agreement you had made? Or would keeping your word and the agreement you made be more important to you than keeping the home? Is the counsel President Tanner gave in 1966 equally applicable in 2010? Or do you think our current conditions and circumstances are so different that his 44-year-old counsel is no longer relevant?

If you are unsure of the correct answer, perhaps this quote from President Hinckley will help make things more clear:

"In all this world there is no substitute for personal integrity. It includes honor; it includes performance. It includes keeping one's word. It includes doing what is right regardless of the circumstances."

Elder Bednar would agree, and in his talk he goes on to suggest that "our answers to these basic questions indicate our susceptibility to two pervasive latter-day sicknesses: First, the rapidly spreading disease of dishonesty, and, second, the contemporary epidemic of ethical failures." He concluded by saying that if we "found President Tanner's instruction about keeping our word and honoring an agreement to be impractical, obsolete, or out of step with our current thinking, then [it is likely that] the corrosive and eroding and debilitating impact of these two latter-day diseases on our characters and on our souls is well under way."

Developing the Qualities of Integrity
What is it that makes so many people so susceptible to lapses in integrity, specifically by failing to be truthful and honest at all times? You might imagine that in over 40 years of teaching and following the lives of many of my former students I have observed a wide variety of behaviors in this regard. I'd like to share just one of those experiences with the hope that it can serve as a basis to better understand some of the challenges in today's world. It will also give some insight into what we might do to gain the blessings the Lord has promised to those who, like Job, refuse to "remove their integrity."

Some years ago I was teaching a graduate-level required course to a group of students who were in their final semester of a master's program. As I read the major papers that had been submitted just two weeks before the planned graduation, I discovered that two different students had submitted essentially the same paper. At the time, I did not know if only one of them had cheated or if both had cheated. However, given the reputation of the university for having a strong and long-standing honor code, I knew that I needed to fail any student who had cheated on this significant portion of their course work. I also knew that failing a student meant that they would not qualify for graduation with their classmates.

Having gotten to know both students, I remember well how sad I was to contemplate the possibility that one or both of them had cheated. As I met with the first student, it was clear that he felt great remorse and self-disappointment about having cheated. He readily confessed that he had copied the paper of a third student who had taken the course a year earlier and chosen to research and write on the same topic. As painful as the situation was, he understood and accepted that he would need to retake the class and not receive his diploma for another six months.

While I would have much preferred that he had not cheated, his willingness to learn from his mistake, accept responsibility for his actions, and accept the consequences that would follow allowed the two of us to continue to be good friends and have mutual respect for one another.

In sharp contrast, when I met with the second student and pointed out that I was aware that her paper was almost identical to one that had been submitted a year earlier and to one submitted that semester by one of her fellow students, she denied any wrongdoing. Furthermore, she angrily said that she would appeal to the president of the university if I persisted in disciplining her and refused to give her a passing grade so she could receive credit for the course and graduate as planned. But having confided with other faculty members, all of whom agreed that the honor code required the consequences that I had outlined for each student, I stuck with my original determination.

This second student did indeed go to the president of the university but my decision to have her retake the course and graduate at a later time was upheld. She then tried to convince the dean to let her walk at graduation and receive an empty diploma cover, so no one would know she had not graduated. In essence she wanted to extend the deception.

Fortunately, the dean refused her request, and she chose to tell her friends and family that she was sick and would miss graduation. I've often wondered what happened to that second student and what her life has been like as a result of her failing to learn such an important lesson about integrity at that point in her life.

As I have reflected on my experiences with these two students, and many other personal experiences I have had, I've been struck by the need for some practical guidelines if we are to avoid the pitfalls and traps with which Satan and his followers would seek to ensnare us. Let me suggest a handful that I've found useful.

First, it's important to recognize that integrity, or "honoring your word," has two equally significant aspects. The first aspect of integrity comes before we give our word. This aspect requires that we carefully consider what it will take to "honor" our word - that is, to keep it. We are far better off to decline giving our word when it is doubtful we can keep it, than to give our word and then not honor it. Unfortunately, underestimating what it will take to honor our word before we give it is a far too common occurrence.

Similarly, a person with integrity would never give his or her word to two or more things that are in conflict or at odds with one another. Thus, if we have already given our word on one item, we would decline to give our word on anything else that would be inconsistent with that. Only giving our word when we can honor it is fundamental to what it means to have integrity - to be whole, complete, undivided and unbroken.

But there is a second aspect of integrity and honoring our word that is equally important. It has to do with how we respond when we discover that we will not be able to honor our word as it was given earlier. Dr. Michael Jensen, a Harvard researcher, suggests that if we truly honor our word, then as soon as we discover we won't be able to meet a commitment or promise we have made, we will inform all those who will be impacted and seek diligently to repair any damage that may result. Unfortunately, far too many in today's world forfeit their integrity by seeking to cover up or hide the fact that they will not be able to keep their word.

Consider the case of my two students I mentioned earlier. Both had given their word that they would obey the honor code and not cheat. In the first case, the person cheated but, when caught, admitted it and sought to make amends and live with the consequences. In the second case, the student not only cheated but then sought to avoid admitting it and to escape the consequences. This second student even sought to perpetuate the deception by pretending to be sick on the day of graduation.

One of the tools of decision making you will likely learn about during the course of your studies here on campus is that of cost/benefit analysis. Basically, when faced with a decision, this analytical tool suggests that for each option, you compare the costs of that option to its benefits. While the tool of cost/benefit analysis can be useful in many decision-making situations, "honoring one's word" should never be submitted to such a pragmatic test.

Let me illustrate what this would imply regarding something each of us deals with on a daily basis here at BYU-Hawaii. When you applied for admission to BYU-Hawaii, you had a decision to make regarding the Honor Code. The same decision is faced by each faculty and staff member who is offered employment here. In deciding to become a part of the BYU-Hawaii Ohana, we each have committed to obey the Honor Code. That is, we have given our word of honor, and put our integrity behind that commitment. In doing so, we personally committed to the principles of complete academic honesty, chaste residential living, modest dress and grooming, and temple-worthy ecclesiastical standards, all consistent with living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No matter how small the infractions, how sad it is when an individual student or employee fails to honor his or her word in connection with the dress and grooming standards, whether it be in wearing immodest clothing or failing to be clean shaven. How disappointing when a student cheats on a paper or exam or violates some aspect of the residential living standards. How tragic when a person seeks to cover a sin by lying to a Priesthood leader in hopes of receiving a continuing ecclesiastical endorsement even though he knows he has failed to honor the standards required and to which he has previously committed.

Each such situation is clearly reminiscent of the Lord's counsel to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants. While Satan would have us "set our hearts upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men," the Lord would have us learn that the "powers of heaven, can be controlled and handled only upon the principles of righteousness." We cannot hope to "cover our sins" or "exercise control upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness."

Any such situation also brings to mind the Savior's question recorded in Matthew:

"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

What a blessing it is to have living prophets who know and teach the importance of honesty, truthfulness and integrity in our personal lives and within our families. Such qualities are fundamental to our salvation and to receiving the blessings of the Lord!

From the teachings of Elder Bruce R. McConkie we learn,

"To say 'We believe in being honest' is to testify that because we believe in Christ and His saving truths, we automatically accept honesty as a divine standard to which every true believer must conform. And so it is with all true principles; they inhere in, are part of, and grow out of the saving truths. It is only when [our behaviors] are tied to gospel doctrines that they rest on a sure and enduring foundation and gain full operation in [our lives]."

In other words, consistently and faithfully honoring our word--both in giving it in the first place and in repenting, making restitution, and seeking forgiveness when we realize we are falling short of honoring it--is fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to living worthy of all the Lord has promised His faithful followers.

I would invite you to turn once again to the self-test I shared earlier. Do your standards of integrity, honesty, and truthfulness match the Lord's standards as shared through the scriptures and His prophets? If not, now is the time to commit to make the changes necessary so that they will. You might start with that aspect of the honor code you find most challenging. You have given your word of honor. Decide that you will keep that promise, and then, whenever you become aware that you are falling short, repent and seek forgiveness as the Lord would have you do.

Your goal should be to make the qualities of integrity such an integral part of who you are that you are no longer driven by or directed by rules guiding your behavior but rather are able to govern your life with principles, the principles of the gospel.

As President Faust once summarized:

"Honorable men and women will personally commit to certain self-imposed expectations. They need no outside check or control. They are honorable in their inner core. Integrity is the light that shines from a disciplined conscience. It is the strength of duty within us."

Indeed the promise of peace in this life and in the eternities to come is inextricably linked to our developing and practicing the principles of honesty, truthfulness and integrity with God, with our fellowmen and with our selves. As Elder Richard L Evans of the Quorum of the Twelve once observed:

"To find peace” the peace within, the peace that passeth understanding, men must live in honesty, honoring each other, honoring obligations, working willingly, loving and cherishing loved ones, serving and considering others, with patience, with virtue, with faith and forbearance, with the assurance that life is for learning, for serving, for repenting, and improving. And God be thanked for the blessed principle of repenting and improving, which is a way that is open to us all."

Our modern day Prophets have repeatedly counseled us that the blessings of personal peace can only be ours to the degree that we "nurture in our own souls the principles of personal purity, integrity and character that foster the development of peace." I testify that is true. As we make integrity, honesty and truthfulness fundamental elements of our character, we will be at peace with ourselves, with our families, and with God. And we will have the power to be a greater influence for peace in the world around us.

I humbly echo the invitation extended by President Hinckley, who said, "I invite you to walk the path of faith with me. I challenge you to stand for that which is right and good." I am grateful for the blessings of being on this campus where so many understand and are committed to the principle of integrity and the values of honesty and truthfulness, and where the blessings that come from those characteristics are so readily apparent. These blessings include associating with

men and women who are noble
men and women who cannot be bought and sold
men and women who would scorn to violate truth
men and women who are genuine gold
men and women prepared to be the leaders for which the world is hungering

My hope and prayer is that we may all strive to strengthen our ability to honor our word and to act in accordance with the principles the Savior and His prophets teach us. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.