The Marvelous Gift of Choice
Elder Harold Brown
Ricks College Devotional
January 30, 2001
I am honored to spend a few minutes with you today. This is a marvelous institution, and its greatness is a reflection of the talented and honorable young men and women who attend here. Those who provide leadership, teach, and support this institution are devoted and able individuals. In particular, I commend President Bednar who is an exceptional professional and a greatly devoted Church leader.
Many years ago, two of my teenage friends and I decided to take a drive into the mountains to a place where several small lakes collected melted snow in the spring to water thirsty summer crops in the valley below. We decided to drive in an old car which had been parked for sometime and had long ago exhausted its usefulness. We put gasoline in it, checked the radiator and oil, and by pulling it with a tractor, finally got it started, and we were on our way.
We soon realized why the car had been abandoned. The steep hills were more than it could easily negotiate, and frequently it stalled before reaching the top. When this occurred, we backed down the hill and up the one behind us. Then with a roar of the engine and all the encouragement three teenagers could muster, the old car pushed up the hill, over the top, and down the other side.
We soon reached the crest of a tall hill -- the last obstacle that stood between us and our destination. We opened the gate and looked down -- way down. The road was steep, much steeper than we anticipated. Still, we felt invincible, and although we were miles from home, no one wanted to mention or think about whether or not the car had the power to return up the hill.
We had set our minds upon enjoying ourselves at the lakes. The possibility of not being able to get back was far from our minds, so we drove through the gate and down the steep hill. The car engine revved up as it held back the car's descent to the lakes. We felt the quick drop in the pit of our stomachs.
We enjoyed this beautiful place, the scenery, skipping rocks on the lake, and the simple joy of life and living. As the sun began to lower in the sky, we knew it was time to go home. We looked up the hill, which seemed even steeper now. There was only a short distance from the edge of the lake to the point where the road began a steep angle upwards.
We piled in and started up the hill. We only made it part way -- not nearly far enough. We tried again and again. It was only then that the consequence of our earlier decision began to rest squarely on us.
We were not really concerned about our safety. We could sleep in the car that evening, and even if our tee shirts didn't keep us very warm, we would survive and walk out the next day.
We tried practically everything. Each new effort seemed to propel us a little farther up the hill. Perhaps, we thought, if we could muster one more major effort and have everything work right for us, we could make it out.
We cleared away brush near the lake to provide more distance to make our run. We removed rocks and debris from the road, and two of us stationed ourselves part way up the hill to push when the car reached its limits. One last chance! With the gas pedal to the floor, the old car fishtailed up the road, and as it slowed down, two teenage boys with arms under the rear bumper and faces squashed against the trunk pushed with all their might, as rocks spun from the wheels and stung their hands, arms, and legs.
Finally, we reached the top and were on our way home, a little wiser and armed with a life-long reminder that while we are free at any given time to make choices, we do not choose the consequences of the decisions we make.
Choices now will affect who and what we are in the future. Agency is as basic as life itself and cannot be taken from us. Even in the most dire and difficult circumstances, we may still choose our course. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, was a prisoner during World War II. He suffered greatly and experienced the loss of most of his freedoms. However, he came to believe that even though freedom may be greatly restricted, agency, or the power to choose at any moment in time, remains with us.
You cannot always choose to be whatever you please. Sometimes there are restrictions on the choices we can make. For example, an individual who is short, not very coordinated, and slow has the agency to try out for a professional basketball team. However, his particular physical characteristics may restrict his opportunity to make the team. Agency, or the power to choose, is a constant, while the range of choices or opportunity to make choices may vary.
As students, your choice to study, learn, and master a body of knowledge will significantly increase your range of choices after you graduate. Your choice of employment, where you live, what you do, your salary, and your availability for service will be affected by the choices you make now.
Sometimes we take the gift of agency for granted because making choices is so much a part of all we do. However, we should never forget the heart-rending and terrible price paid in the world before this one to preserve our agency.
". . because, Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down" (Moses 4:3).
". . . a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels" (Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-37).
We can better understand the importance Heavenly Father placed on agency if we consider how we would feel if one third of our brothers, sisters, or other family members rejected our beliefs and were lost to us forever.
We learn that agency is an essential element of our eternal existence. As intelligent beings, the Lord said of us, "all intelligence is independent in the sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, otherwise there is no existence" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:30).
It wasn't just that Satan's plan was second best -- more importantly, it simply could never work. There is no existence without agency.
Nephi clearly teaches that men are "free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon" (2 Nephi 2:26). The Lord states also in the Doctrine and Covenants that "the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:28).
The power to choose is within each of us, and nothing can take it from us. We have the power to choose our course in life -- to choose good or evil when the choice is placed before us.
Satan will do everything he possibly can to deceive you. He wants you to make choices that diminish your desire to choose righteousness, in hopes that you will eventually become his servant.
Several years ago, I was asked to visit with a man who came to Church headquarters to visit with a General Authority. The story he related was sad and tragic. When he was a young boy, he was sexually abused by an older man. This experience spawned in him a desire for additional experiences. He had followed the temptation of an escalating desire for sexual sin. Now more than thirty years later, he described himself as being in the "bonds of iniquity," and "bound by the chains of hell," as described by Alma.
In total self-disgust, he declared that he must either stop his sinful behavior or end his life. I knew that he meant what he said. I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. I knew that if he did not feel hope that he might someday soon take his own life.
He had come to believe that he could not cease his sick and senseless behavior.
His days were consumed with bad thoughts and immoral experiences. He claimed he had lost his willpower and that he was addicted to sin and could not change. He had tried many times but felt himself powerless against the forces which he had willingly chosen earlier in his life.
I sensed that, along with the professional advice I might offer him, more than anything else he needed the knowledge and hope that comes from understanding the Savior and His power to help even the most discouraged person.
We talked of the power of the atonement. ". . . the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance. . ., " (Alma 7:13) and ". . . that he has all power to save every man that believeth in his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance. . . ." (Alma 12:15).
We reviewed the experience of Alma and his followers who were taken into bondage by the Lamanites and were delivered miraculously from their power. This experience was used as an example many times for how others were and can be delivered from their bondage, including spiritual bondage -- the bondage of sin, if you will.
Alma said, "But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him" (Mosiah 29:20).
I challenged his beliefs that he no longer had the will power to choose the right and that he must now succumb to temptation. To illustrate, I asked him what he would do if someone he respected entered the room during one of his immoral episodes. After only a brief moment as he thought about my question, he indicated that he indeed would stop immediately if this were to occur.
As we talked about this, he realized that he did have the power and agency to make the right choices, but his desire to do so was greatly lacking because of his continual sin. Individuals suffering even from the strongest addictions still have the agency and power to choose righteousness, however, their desires increasingly diminish with a continuation of sin.
Every act of disobedience takes away light and truth and gives Satan more power over us. "And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience. . . ."(Doctrine and Covenants 93:39).
In a vision of the world and its future inhabitants, Enoch saw ". . . generation upon generation; and Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth" (Moses 7:24).
"And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced" (Moses 7:26).
This great chain was symbolic of the slavery or, as Alma describes, the "chains of hell" that bind those who choose evil rather than good. As one makes these wrong choices, his power and desire to choose righteously is diminished and the time may come when ". . . they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell" (Alma 12:11).
One way men and women gain more desire and power to make correct choices is through obedience to God's commandments. "He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light. . ." (Doctrine and Covenants 93: 28) and "light and truth forsake that evil one" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:37).
While this man had much more to do to repent and straighten out his life, he at least gained hope and a better understanding of God's power to help him and his own ability to begin to make the right choices. Understanding this truth gave him hope. It empowered him with the hope of change, even though the road ahead was still very difficult.
Learn to trust your feelings and to choose accordingly. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, it is probably the Holy Ghost prompting you to remedy the situation or choose to leave. Do not let your fear of what others think overcome your faith in the promptings of the Spirit. The Lord will warn His children about danger as they are willing to listen and to act. Practice by turning off the television or responding appropriately when you feel that what you are doing or viewing is not right.
Each time you exercise your agency and will to make correct choices, even in small things, you gain more light and truth and are more able to make the right choice with even greater temptations and challenges.
While each problem must receive careful attention and effort, we should remember that every time we pray, study the word of God, fast, contribute tithing and fast offerings, or perform any act of service -- our power to make other more difficult choices increases.
Those who learn to exercise self-control and self-discipline learn to make choices as far away from the temptation as possible. It is easier to choose not to enter a bar or pub than it is to avoid drinking a bottle of alcohol already held to our lips. It is easier to avoid pornography if we never enter an establishment where it is sold.
Some feel they don't have the power to choose -- that their particular temptation or situation is beyond their ability to control. Joseph Smith "observed that Satan was generally blamed for the evils which we did, but if he was the cause of all our wickedness, men could not be condemned. The devil could not compel mankind to do evil; all was voluntary. God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not."
To underscore that sin and wrong choices are not passive but an active choice on our part, he continues. "Those who resist the Spirit of God, would be liable to be led into temptation, and then the association of heaven would be withdrawn from those who refused to be made partakers of such great glory."
It is helpful to remember that when faced with a wrong choice, the Holy Ghost will prompt us to do right. To partake of sin, we must first resist or reject the Spirit, then partake of the sin.
Sometimes individuals are unwilling to use their agency and power to make decisions for themselves. They want someone else to choose for them. Some seek answers from the Lord, hoping He will tell them every small thing they should do. They are unwilling to think and act for themselves. While every person should seek guidance from the Holy Ghost, the Lord also expects us to use our minds and to think for ourselves.
Your mind is a gift from God and a source of revelation. The Lord gives you power to think and reason. Have you wondered how Moses knew what to do to help the Israelites escape from the Egyptians who were coming to destroy them? The scriptures say "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost . . . this is the Spirit of revelation; behold this is the Spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground" (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3).
The process of thinking, reasoning, using our minds, and communicating is a significant and important source of revelation. The Holy Ghost often provides the second witness, or burning within, as a second and sure witness to confirm our initial thinking and reasoning.
In 1856, Brigham Young told Church members: "If I ask (God) to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those I preside over, and get no answer from him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, he is bound to own and honor that transaction and he will do so for all intents and purposes."
We should also seek counsel and advice from those whom we trust, love, and respect. Listening to those who are in a position of authority or who have had experience beyond ours or who know the dangers we may face will help us choose wisely.
Two young married couples discovered this important principle as they traveled to Mexico on a vacation. Searching for a beach which was not crowded with too many people, they stopped at one resort but could hardly find even a place to sit on the crowded beach. They decided to drive further south to look for a better place. As they drove into a small village, they were delighted to see the warm Pacific waters in a beautiful, quiet bay near the edge of the town.
Only a few local residents were near the water's edge. These young couples would have this beautiful vacation spot mostly to themselves.
As they dressed in their swimming suits and approached the water, several citizens tried to caution them, but these young people were thinking of the beautiful warm Pacific waters.
These were not disobedient young people; they simply did not listen carefully to those who knew more about the location they chose for swimming.
They waded into the bay. The water was warm, gentle, and quiet. They felt fortunate that, for some strange reason, no one else in the world seemed to have discovered this beautiful paradise.
After a short time in the water, one of the young women took a step out into the bay. As she placed her foot forward into the sand, she at first felt a distinct movement. Frightened, she tried to jump back, but before she could, she felt the very painful penetration of the tail of a stingray deep into her foot.
I am told firsthand by the two young women, who ran as fast as they could to shore, that both of their husbands passed them up, going the same direction.
Several of the natives came over to see if they could help. They explained what they well knew and what these young people could have learned from them had they taken time to listen.
This particular bay was free from ocean waves. The stingrays would come into this calm water, settle on the sandy bottom, shake and wiggle themselves until a light layer of sand settled over them, and there they stayed to sun themselves.
Had these young couples listened to the warnings the local, more experienced people tried to provide, they would have prevented a painful injury that took sometime to heal.
Seek advice from your parents. Listen to them. They certainly aren't perfect, but most of them spend a great deal of time on their knees asking God to give them wisdom, strength, and the ability to be good parents.
We live in a litigious society. Often we hear of lawsuits against organizations and institutions for the misdeeds of people affiliated with them. Such activity suggests that groups somehow govern the decisions or actions of these individuals, and they are not free to make choices for themselves.
Some individuals and even some groups blame their problems of today on injustices committed generations ago. They seek apologies or recovery from those who live today who had nothing to do with unfortunate incidents of the past.
Some believe that they cannot resolve the anguish they feel today because of wrongs inflicted upon their ancestors years ago. They wait for someone to deliver them from their unpleasant circumstances. By so doing, they rob themselves of the right and responsibility to make decisions that will improve their condition and exercise their faith.
Terms such as "road rage" suggest that those who have it have contracted some illness over which they have no control. Whatever happened to old-fashioned self-control, self-discipline, or just the simple words, "grow up?"
I have found no easy explanation to Moroni's soul-searching, sobering words, ". . . deny yourselves of all ungodliness . . . then is his grace sufficient for you" (Moroni 10:32). These words suggest no shift of responsibility to someone else, no excuses, no magical way out, no shifting the burden to others, no blaming some biological, genetic, or addictive reason for wrong behavior. There is only the straightforward admonition to "deny ourselves of all ungodliness."
We should also be careful about labeling people as homosexual, abusers, alcoholics, or other such labels because labels often subtly imply an identity or disease over which there is no longer personal control or responsibility and which may cause someone to lose hope that they can make choices to stop inappropriate behavior and change their lives.
Recently progress has been made to better understand some of the emotional problems with which individuals struggle. Continued research will undoubtedly help us better understand the relationship between biology and genetics and our mental and behavioral well-being.
However, as we learn more about these important matters, we should be careful to assume responsibility for decisions which we can and do make and the consequences of them. We should make certain that we do not attempt to transfer the responsibility and accountability of decisions we make to a biologic and genetic cause when doing so is not justified and tends to erode our power to be in control of our lives.
To the degree that we wrongly suggest that people's problems are genetically based, caused by chemical imbalance, their parents, the environment, or something other than themselves, we rob them of the power to be in charge of their lives and change.
I bear witness that people can change -- even those who may believe at first that they are helpless to stop their sinful behavior. I have seen the faithful and prayerful break the bonds of passion, habit, and addiction. I have witnessed chains of sin, dependency, and vice shattered by humble souls who open their hearts and minds to the healing influence of the Savior. Even the most sinful person can cease wrong behavior and choose the right course.
Alex Haley, author of Roots, tells the story about a man named John Newton, born in London, England, July 24, 1725, to an authoritarian father and a loving, pious, shy mother -- to John's relief, his father was a sailor who was home only a few weeks between long voyages.
When John was seven years old, his mother died. This was a devastating loss to him, and he became rebellious, stubborn, and disrespectful. At age 11, he became an apprentice sailor on his father's ship. While there, he strayed even further from his mother's teachings.
Looking back on these days, John said of himself, "I believe for some years I never was an hour in any company without attempting to corrupt them." His wayward and sinful life continued as he became a slave trader, indulging his sexual appetite at will with the slaves.
In 1748, after years as a "militant atheist" Newton was on a ship named the Greyhound, and seeking something to do, he came across a book named The Imitation of Christ which, among other things, warned of God's judgment of sinners. After reading it, he flung the book aside. But early the next morning a terrible storm nearly capsized his ship. After pumping water for hours and beginning to lose hope, Newton surprised himself by crying out, "If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us."
After this experience, Newton began a turn to God and goodness. He became a powerful preacher in Liverpool, England; his growing flock captivated by stories of his life, the sea, and the goodness of God in forgiving sinners who repented and turned to Him.
When Newton was over 80-years of age, he joined with William Wilberforce, a young member of parliament, in an attempt to abolish the slave trade on British ships. With Newton's firsthand experience with the slave trade and the position and energy of Wilberforce, these two were able to accomplish this commendable feat.
Newton soon thereafter died and was buried in the churchyard where he preached.
He wrote the following inscription of himself to mark his place of burial. "John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he long labored to destroy."
Alex Haley, researcher and author of this story, closes the article with these words:
"My research brought me to St. Mary Woolnoth. I stood on the very rostrum where the Reverend John Newton had held his congregation spellbound with stories of the sea, his sins, and God's great mercy. As I looked out over the empty pews, the organist played the melodies of hymns Newton had written. One glorious tune swelled up all around me. The verses were written at Olney -- a minor autobiographical lyric that critics say is a poor example of Newton's work. But that hymn has traveled the world, bringing a message of hope and forgiveness to all people of faith.
"I sang to myself the simple words I had learned as a child in a black church in the American South. You know them too:
Amazing Grace -- how sweet the Sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost,
but now am Found,
but now I see."
Long will I remember that warm sunny afternoon driving into the mountains with my friends. The lesson we learned was important to remember. Yes, we have the power to choose our course in life. We must accept the consequences of what we choose. When your challenges are difficult and your burdens hard to bear, remember this: God will never forsake you nor forget you.
Alma the younger, who knew something about overcoming serious challenges, including sin, taught us something about God's desire and willingness to help. After describing the pains he felt for his sins, he said, "Never, until I did cry out for mercy, . . . did I find peace to my soul" (Alma 38:8).
". . . I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day" (Alma 36:3) and, ". . . as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions" (Alma 38:5).
I bear witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
There are many examples of people of integrity (and some who lack it) in modern times. May I illustrate from my own observations related to the business world? See if you can see what lessons we might glean from them.
I recently attended the funeral of my friend Lowell Benson, Executive Vice President of the O.C. Tanner Company and their chief buyer of diamonds and gold. He was also a stake president in Salt Lake City and a great friend and graduate of BYU and the Marriott School of Management. His funeral packed a large stake center. I was curious to see that people attended from the diamond capitals of the world: Antwerp and Johannesburg. Their messages were read at the funeral. I paraphrase, "We knew Lowell as an excellent man of business. More importantly, he was a man of integrity. He drove a hard bargain but he could always be trusted to keep his word."
Jon Huntsman, Sr., is one of the most successful businessmen in America. (His corporate jet enables President Hinckley to travel the world.) He has founded a number of companies in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Two of his former employees were in my MBA class at BYU and told me of the box factory he created in Russia to help this emerging economy. Initially the company was told it would have to pay a certain tax rate on boxes sold to Russian customers and a much lower rate on boxes shipped for resale to other former republics. After the company started producing boxes, a tax administrator came and informed the company that the rates were being increased on the exported boxes--to a point that made the company completely unprofitable. However, the official said, if certain amounts could be paid under the table directly to the tax official, he could "take care of them." It is Jon Huntsman's policy never to pay a bribe. He never has, he never will. The official was insistent. Jon Huntsman decided to sell the factory to local management for one dollar rather than pay a bribe. He lost his investment of millions of dollars but he would not compromise his integrity for money.
Recently one of our top BYU MBA graduates accepted one of the most lucrative jobs of the year with a prestigious company. He and his wife moved to a large city and were enjoying the prospects of a rapid move up the success ladder. But he was asked to engage in business practices that compromised his integrity. His supervisor wanted him to make significant misrepresentations to customers. He approached his superiors and told them he could not do what they were asking him to do. He was fired. He spent several months out of work. Fortunately, he finally did get another very good job--even better than the first.
An accounting clerk at a large university became a respected member of his profession--even holding a high office in his professional association. He was active in his church and community and had a good family. One day he discovered how he could take small amounts from the university without anyone noticing. He told himself that he was underpaid anyway--and besides, he would only use the money a short while and then return it. But the next month, more money was needed. Just a little more would not matter--he'd pay that back, too. The months stretched into years. The total amount taken swelled to several hundred thousand dollars. Then came the day when an audit uncovered his fraud. His reputation was shattered. His career came to an end. His family disintegrated. Ties with his church were broken. Where once he was a respected member of the community, now he was a common criminal unworthy of the trust and confidence of any employer.
Two partners in an e-commerce start-up company negotiated a contract with a large company to provide their customers seminars on this new field. The large firm provided seed money to help the small company get started. A few months later, the partners realized that, under the terms of the contract, they owed the large company about $40,000. If that amount had to be paid immediately, the small company would have to shut its doors. The original intent of the contract would not have required payment, but the wording of the contract was such that the small firm owed the $40,000. At the same time this was discovered, the large company changed the manager who was responsible for the contract. He probably did not know of the contents of the contract nor of the intent. The two partners had a choice--if they told the new manager about the $40,000, they could have to pay it and lose their company. If they did not tell him, the new manager may never find out and they could stay in business. The partners said to each other, "It's only money. We built our company on the principles of integrity. We can't let money stand in the way of that principle." They called the new manager and explained the situation. He asked for a few days to consider the matter. He later called back and said, "You have been men of integrity. We find that a rare commodity in today's business. Because we now know we can trust you, we want you to keep the $40,000." That year, the small company did over one million dollars in business with the large company and the relationship continued at that level for many years.
A father was preparing his taxes late one night. He had assembled all the appropriate records and worked hard to determine what he owed the IRS--never the most joyful experience in life. When all was computed, he found that he qualified for a small refund. But then he suddenly remembered a transaction. He had been paid for one fairly large job in cash. No records were made of the transaction. He realized that the IRS couldn't have received a report of this income and likely would never know about it. Reporting it would cost him over $1,000 in state and federal taxes--a sizeable amount to his young and growing family. But then he thought, "I am a man of integrity. This is a small price to pay for resting well at night knowing I have been honest." He had to take out a short-term loan from the bank but he paid the extra taxes and slept well.
Now, what can we learn about integrity from these stories? You probably drew your own conclusions. Let me suggest a few of mine. First, integrity usually extracts a price. To be a person of integrity we must be willing to pay that price. It cost Jon Huntsman literally millions of dollars. It cost the MBA student his job. Neither had any hope of monetary reward for living with integrity.
Second, living with integrity may bring recognition from the world--but not necessarily. People came from Belgium and South Africa to honor Lowell Benson for his life of integrity. The start-up company was rewarded with millions in revenues because they established a relationship of integrity with a customer. A recruiter told me the other day that his firm came to BYU to find employees because he knew they were well-trained and had integrity. But worldly recognition is not necessarily the case nor should it be expected. The young father was not rewarded with public acclaim but with a clear conscience, peace of mind and a good night's sleep.
Third, the decision to live with integrity is not always the easiest path to follow--especially if one measures decisions by worldly standards. The MBA student's decision to leave a prestigious firm over an issue some might consider "just business" would not have been considered wise by worldly career consultants. Sometimes living with integrity bring pain.
Fourth, people generally don't set out to intentionally lose their integrity. Loss of integrity comes usually very slowly, a small step at a time. The accountant did not intend to defraud his employer, only to be "fairly compensated." He just took a little at first. He always intended to pay it back. He never considered himself a "bad man" or one who lacked integrity.
Fifth, loss of integrity can bring devastating consequences that go far beyond the incident where integrity is compromised. The accountant lost everything he valued: his family, his church, his career, his respect in the community, his friends and, for a time, his freedom.
Think of the ills in our society caused by a lack of integrity. Families are torn apart when a husband or wife lacks integrity in upholding marriage covenants. Children become alienated from parents when there is lack of integrity in the family unit.
Countries are destroyed when law enforcement officials lack integrity in upholding laws. We recently sponsored a student from Armenia, one of the former republics of the Soviet Union. She was amazed when we told her if she ever needed help, she could ask a policeman to assist her. "In my country," she said, "one would not dare go to a policeman for help. No one trusts the police. They take bribes. They might harm you before they would help." The lack of integrity in this country has almost brought commerce to a standstill.
Think of the billions lost each year in the retail trade in the U.S. due to shoplifting. It is a sad note that for most retailers, the majority of their losses come from employees rather than dishonest customers.
And think of further billions in aid that is sent to underdeveloped countries in Africa and elsewhere. What a tragedy that such a high percentage is siphoned off by corrupt political leaders rather than benefiting the people who so desperately need this assistance
Now we may not be able to exert much influence on some of these very large problems--but we can start by changing ourselves and maybe, just maybe, that will help the world be a little bit better.
How can we become or continue to be people of integrity? I suggest to you a principle borrowed from an investment expert, Alan Folkman of Oregon who was our most recent Distinguished Alumnus in the Marriott School of Management.
It is said that Albert Einstein called this principle "one of the most powerful forces in the universe." The principle I am speaking of is compound interest. Here's an example of it. Did you know that if you started saving $200 a month from the time you start work at age 25 and continue until age 70, you will have accumulated over $1,000,000 (at 8 percent). Now you really only put aside a little over $100,000. Where did the rest come from? Interest on the first $200, then interest on the second $200 plus more interest on the first $200, etc.
Further do you know what happens of if you delay the start of that savings until age 45? Now you're saving more than half the time of the first example but you only end up with $200,000 in the end--1/5 the amount. Why? Much less interest on interest because of the shorter time.
Another example, if someone--say a thoughtful ancestor--had put $1.00 (just ONE DOLLAR) in 1776 in an account for you earning 8 percent per year, you would have about $31,000,000 today! Too bad our ancestors didn't do that for us!
You've all heard the story about Manhattan Island, New York, being purchased in 1626 by Peter Minuit from the Manhattan Indians for $24 worth of beads and trinkets. What a steal!? Perhaps not. If those Indians had invested that $24 at just 6% in some mutual fund, today that would be worth $70 billion. If they had been able to average 8% a year, that $24 would today be worth $76 trillion!!
What does that have to do with integrity? Alan Folkman suggested that just as substantial investment returns are accumulated over a long period of small, consistent investments, integrity is accumulated and compounded through the investment of small acts of honesty, consistency, and faithfulness. Small efforts at obedience, small measures of forgiveness, honesty in very small things, small attempts to follow the Savior, when practiced over many years, become ingrained in us forming eventually steel chords of a great soul of integrity. Then when the tests of life come--and they surely will come to all of us--that great soul of integrity will prove itself equal to the challenges.
Of course, the converse is also true. Small acts of dishonesty, small lies, small thefts, small gossip, can also be compounded over time to the detriment of our souls.
Perhaps this process of compounding is what the Lord had in mind when he spoke of the ten virgins. The five wise ones had saved up oil, drop by drop, perhaps over years. Starting early brings a much greater benefit than starting too late. The five foolish virgins who delayed found, like those who start saving late in life money or integrity, they could not possibly make up the difference. For them it was everlastingly too late.
How do we know of we are becoming a person of integrity? Let me give some possible questions to ask ourselves to determine if we are on that road to integrity. These are the small things that we must do over and over to eventually become great souls of integrity.
Am I honest in school assignments? Would I ever pass off work as mine when actually it was created by another? Would I ever take from another that which I should not without fair compensation--for example, do I use pirated computer software? Do I make illegal copies of copyrighted materials such as music or published articles?
Is there integrity in my business dealings? If I received more than I should have, in a business transaction would I return the excess? Would I ever represent my product to a potential customer as something it is not?
Does my dating comply with the principles of integrity? Do I help my date uphold principles to which we have committed our lives?
Am I honest in my taxes? Am I honest in my tithing and fast offerings? Am I honest in my relationship with my employer? Can I be counted to provide an hour's work for an hour's pay? Can I be completely trusted with my employers assets?
Can I be trusted with another's reputation--in other words, can I be trusted to avoid gossiping about another? Am I a true friend when that friend is not around?
How do I behave when no one is watching, when no one can find out what I did?
When I give my word, can it be relied upon implicitly? When I make a commitment, do I keep it? When I make a sacred covenant, do I uphold my vows?
While it takes years to become a proven person of integrity, it is so easy to lose integrity--and so difficult to restore it. Nephi warned us that it is easy to " lie a little, take advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor, there is no harm in this " we might be tempted to say. (2 Nephi 28:8
How do you know when you are losing your integrity? The still, small voice will tell you, the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. I promise you that if you listen and heed its warning, you will know clearly if you are getting on the wrong track and need to make a course correction. In contrast, if we ever become too busy or too insensitive to listen, then we may find ourselves as Laman and Lemuel. Nephi said of them: " and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling that ye could not feel his words." (1 Nephi 17:45)
I suggest to you that, while we have many examples of people of integrity all around us, we must look to the Savior to see the perfect example of a man of integrity. Throughout his life, he never wavered from doing his Father's will. He was the same inside and out--what he preached was exactly what he practiced. He never feared nor sought the opinions of the world but steadfastly carried out his divine mission. He stood ever ready to pay whatever price His integrity demanded--ultimately paying that enormous, incomprehensible price for us in Gethsemane and then on Calvary. He refused to "shrink" but drank from the bitter cup that was placed before him.
I know he lives and leads this Church today through a living prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley. What a great blessing we have to have this great prophet of integrity leading us today--both the Church and this wonderful institution, Ricks College. I testify that those who serve with President Hinckley--his counselors President Monson and President Faust, the Quorum of the Twelve, the Seventy--are also men of complete integrity, worthy of our trust and support. I have had the blessing of seeing these men close up and testify of their divine callings. I testify that Joseph Smith was a great man of integrity, the prophet of the restoration.
I know that it is worth whatever price we must pay to become people of integrity. The world needs you to become such a person. The Lord needs to rely on us as people of integrity so that we may bless his children. Oh, how sweet it would be to have the Savior say of you and me:
" blessed [are you] for I, the Lord, love [you] because of the integrity of [your] heart" (Doctrine and Covenants 124:15).
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2001 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.