Your Honor and Your Word

Elder David R. Stone

 

Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

October 9, 2007

As soon as I have been speaking for a few minutes, I suspect many of you will be saying to yourselves: "What is that strange accent he has? I cannot quite place it." That is because I think my accent is probably unique to me. Born in Argentina of an English father and an Argentine mother, I lived in Argentina for the first eighteen years of my life. Following that, in order, I lived in the United States, Canada, Argentina, the USA, Peru, the USA, Venezuela, Argentina, England, the USA, England, the USA, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, the USA, the Philippines, Australia and the USA.

I will leave it to you to figure out exactly what percentage of my accent came from which country.

About ten years ago, when I was a Mission President in the Dominican Republic, I received a call from the second newspaper in importance in that country, named Hoy (meaning Today). They wondered whether I would agree to be interviewed about the Church and our mission, and I agreed.

The newspaper sent a reporter and a photographer to our mission office. The photographer took some pictures of the office and the missionaries, and then he left. The reporter came into my office for the interview. She was young, attractive, intelligent, aggressive and hostile. Her first question was: "Mr. Stone, you are building a great big building, a temple, in downtown Santo Domingo, how many millions of dollars does it cost?

I answered: "Senorita, I really don't know." "Well, it must cost many millions", she said. "I agree with you", I said; "I just don't happen to know the amount."

And then she came to the point. "What are you doing for the poor people in this country", she said. The Dominican Republic, as many of you know, is a very poor country, and there are many people living at a subsistence level.

It is at times like that that I am grateful for the inspiration of the Spirit.

"Senorita," I said; "The people who come to our Church are taught certain things. They are taught to be truthful and honest. They are taught to be dependable and trustworthy. They are taught to be reliable and punctual. They are taught to establish goals and objectives, and work to achieve them. They are taught to work cooperatively one with another. Now, Senorita, if you had a company ... "

She interrupted me and said: "If I had a company, I'd want someone like that working in my company." I said to her: "That's what we do for the poor people in your country."

From that moment on, the interview went like a dream. She wrote a full page article that appeared in the newspaper, with not a single negative comment about the Church. They told me it was the most positive thing that had ever been written about the Church in the Dominican Republic; above the full page article, about the Church and the missionaries, the headline read:  "Preaching The Truth."

Indeed we do, preach the truth; we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But beyond that, our truthfulness and honesty should be part of our everyday lives, and we should show ourselves to be trustworthy and dependable.

There is a story about a company president who was concerned about the honesty of his sales manager. So he went to the financial director, and said:

"Why don't you pay him twice his salary this month, and let's see what happens." So they did, and nothing happened; the sales manager made no mention of it. The next month the president said to the financial director, "This month pay him half his salary, and let's see what happens." The next day, the sales manager was in there complaining that he had only received half his salary. "Yes," said the president, "but last month we paid you twice your salary, and you never said a word." "Well," said the sales manager, "one mistake is ok, but two mistakes is unacceptable!"

Too many people are, as Shakespeare's rogue, Autolycus put it: "Though I am not naturally honest, I am sometimes so by chance." (Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act IV, Scene iv, line 731).

As we read the newspapers, we see story after story about people, whether in business, in government, in the academic world, or wherever, who for one reason or another, have acted dishonestly, and in a corrupt manner. That corruption is seen across all countries, involving people of every culture.

The need for people who are honest and incorruptible is greater than it ever was.

As members of the Church, as true converts to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, our hallmark should be that we are truthful and honest. It is not just happenstance that one of the questions that is asked in the temple recommend interview is: "Are you honest in all your dealings with your fellow men?"

We need to be known for our honesty. When serving in Peru as the Area President five years ago, I came to know General Vidal.

General Vidal had just been promoted to be the youngest general in the Peruvian National Police Force, and I had the chance to go to lunch with him. While we were having lunch, he told me an interesting story.

He said that about two years before, while he was still a colonel, he walked into his superior's office, the general in charge of all Peruvian police. There was another general sitting there, who said to him: "Colonel Vidal, you're a Mormon, aren't you? He replied, "Yes, I am." This other general said:  "Well, I am Catolico, Apostolico, Romano (meaning I am a Catholic through and through), but I know about you, Colonel Vidal."

Turning to the general in charge of the police force, he said: "I need Colonel Vidal to go to this place and solve a corruption problem that I have there." "I am sorry", the superior replied, "but he can't go because he is straightening out a corruption problem where he is right now."

The other general then turned to Colonel Vidal and said: "Give me the name of another Mormon colonel". And Colonel Vidal did so. "Then I want that colonel to go to this place and solve the corruption problem." "I am sorry", once again the superior said, "but that colonel is also straightening out a corruption problem where he is right now."

Once again the general demanded of Colonel Vidal: "Give me the name of another Mormon colonel." "I am sorry, sir, said Colonel Vidal, "there are no other Mormon colonels."

Now, of course it is true, that there are people in every religion who are people of integrity. But I thought it was interesting that this general, "Catolico Apostolico Romano", had apparently formed such a favorable opinion of Mormons, that he wanted a Mormon colonel to solve his corruption problem. Because those two members of the Church were known to be honest and incorruptible.

Elder Carlos H. Amado of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who is originally from Guatemala, told me a story about Colonel Conde, a member of the Church who served in the Army in Guatemala. Although he had been a high ranking officer, and had served in the Ministry of Defense, he lived in a modest house, and could be described as living a poor and simple life; but he was known far and wide in the Armed Forces for being honest and incorruptible.

After his retirement from the Army, he was called to serve in the Presidency of the Guatemala Temple. One day, an Army truck pulled up to the Guatemala Temple, and the officer in charge came into the Temple.

The conversation went something like this; the officer said: "When you built this temple, you were allowed to bring in equipment duty free, because it was for a place of worship. 1 am representing the Customs Department to perform an official inspection, to ensure that the equipment for which you received a duty exemption is still here in the temple."

The temple worker at the door said: "But sir, this is a dedicated building, and no one is permitted to enter the temple unless he is a member of the Church, and holds the proper recommend."

"I am sorry about that," said the officer, "but I have my duty to perform, and 1 will need to come into the temple to inspect the equipment."

Just then, President Conde of the Temple Presidency came to the reception area. "What is it that you wish?" he said to the officer. The officer recognized him, and saluted. He explained to the former Colonel Conde what it is that he wished to do. President Conde said to him: "I certify to you that all that equipment is still here in the Temple."

"Then that is all I need," the officer said to President Conde, "Your word is good enough for me." And he went away, knowing that he could trust what the former Colonel Conde had said.

What manner of men ought we to be? Like the people of Ammon, we should be: " ... perfectly honest and upright in all things ... (Alma 27:27).

As President Hinckley has said: "It is possible to be honest every day. It is possible to live so that others can trust us-can trust our words, our motives and our actions." (Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing For Something, Pg. 28)

When I served in the Area Presidency in Mexico, a stake president told me about a woman in his stake. She was an accountant, and worked for a Mexican firm. At the end of the year party, she happened to be sitting across from, or close to, the general manager of the company. When they came around with champagne for the end of the year toast, she told the waiter:  "No, thank you."

The general manager heard her, and said: "Oh, you must drink, it is the end of the year toast." She said, "No, thank you. For religious reasons, I do not drink." "Oh, you can this one time," he said, and told the waiter to serve her champagne. She placed her hand over her glass, and declined. He insisted, she refused, and he did not hide his displeasure at her firmness.

Several months later, the financial director resigned. The next day, the general manager called her into the office. He told her that the financial director had resigned and that he was going to appoint her to take his place.

Then he went on to explain why, in words like these: "At the end of the year, at the company party, you refused to drink champagne for religious reasons, in spite of the pressure which I put upon you to do so. When I thought about the people in the financial department, I decided that I could trust you more than anyone else. I believe that you will do the right thing in spite of any pressure which might be brought to bear on you. That is why you are the new financial director of the company."

What kind of women ought we to be?

We do not use the phrase "Word of Honor" as much as we used to. Perhaps because it was somewhat associated with the aristocracy, and we are more democratic now. Or perhaps because we should not have two standards of truth and trust, but only one. But there was a time when one's "word of honor" was an unbreakable bond.

 

Let me tell you of an instance when a man's word of honor proved crucial, and indeed, fundamentally changed the history of the world.

At the end of the 18th Century, and the beginning of the 19th, Napoleon Bonaparte bestrode the world like a colossus (to paraphrase Shakespeare's comment about Julius Caesar). A brilliant military tactician, he had conquered most of Europe, become Emperor of France, and King of Italy, and placed his brother on the throne of Spain. Eventually, after his disastrous invasion of Russia, he was forced to capitulate and was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. His stay there lasted less than a year. In February 1815, he escaped, made his way to Paris, and once again raised an enormous army to confront his enemies.

Opposing Napoleon towards the north, in Belgium, were two armies of about equal size, one under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and the other more than 10 miles away, under the command of the Prussian Field Marshal, Von Blucher. Although they together outnumbered Napoleon, the French Army was larger than each of them. Napoleon moved quickly toward Belgium, hoping to catch the armies separated, defeat Wellington first, and then turn and defeat Von Blucher. Wellington and Blucher had promised to come to each other's aid if attacked.

On the 18th of June, 1815, the most decisive battle of the 19th Century was fought, at a place called Waterloo. Napoleon attacked Wellington's Army, which was on the defensive most of the day. All day long the battle raged, with the outcome in the balance. Toward evening, after fearsome carnage, and the decision in doubt, Wellington was heard to say: "Night, or the Prussians must soon come."

Earlier, news had been brought to Field Marshal Von Blucher that Wellington was under attack. Von Blucher was 73 years old, and he had been injured when his horse was shot beneath him, so that he could hardly mount to ride; his generals counseled prudence, and that they should prepare to face Napoleon another day.

But Von Blucher had given his word, and he told Wellington's attach:  "We are going to join the Duke." (Elizabeth Longford, Wellington: The Years of the Sword, Pg. 443).

 

In the evening of that fateful day, after a march of more than 10 miles, the Prussian army arrived at the battlefield, and began to attack the right wing of Napoleon's army.

With the arrival of the Prussians, Wellington then ordered an all out attack, and the Napoleon's Army first retreated, and then gradually disintegrated. Napoleon fled, was captured, and exiled to the island of St. Helena, never to return. The history of the world was changed, because one man, in spite of his difficulties, had given his word, and kept his promise.

What manner of men ought we to be?

President N. Eldon Tanner served in the First Presidency for 18 years. He was a counselor to four Presidents of the Church, President David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball.

When he was yet a boy, growing up on a farm in Canada, his father served as bishop of their ward. On one occasion, his father had to conduct a funeral in town, and asked the young Eldon to do a number of things in his absence. He became involved in other things, and totally forgot about his assignments until his father arrived home.

When his father pulled up, he looked at his son and said: "My boy, I thought I could depend on you." This was a defining, watershed moment in young Nathan Eldon Tanner's life. He then and there resolved, that he would never again disappoint someone who had trusted in him. It was a creed he lived by. (In Memoriam: President N. Eldon Tanner, The New Era, Jan 1983).

As President David O. McKay liked to quote: "To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved." (George MacDonald). Yes, because we are very often loved simply because we are, as our parents love us because we are their children. But we are trusted because of what we are, or what we have become.

I cannot help but think of the prophet Joseph, accosted on all sides, his life in extreme danger, leaving Nauvoo and riding off toward the West, toward the Rocky Mountains, where he knew by prophetic vision the Saints would eventually have to go. While on his way, hearing that many of the Saints felt that he had abandoned them, he turned about and returned to Nauvoo and certain death; because he did not want to abandon those who had placed their trust in him.

What manner of men ought we to be?

Many years ago, I went to work in a new company as Executive Vice President. This company was somewhat troubled, and somewhat disorganized. Reporting to me were six Vice Presidents, and the first time I called a meeting with those six, I arrived two minutes before nine a.m., to find only one sitting there. We talked for a few minutes, and then another other came in. They straggled in one after the other, the last one arriving more than 20 minutes late.

When they were all there, I said: "Gentlemen, I called this meeting for 9 o' clock. Only one of you was here on time. Each of you who arrived late, was guilty of gross discourtesy towards those who were here on time. Is your time more valuable than ours?" You could have heard a pin drop. After all, I would be the determining factor as to whether they got a raise or not. To the best of my recollection, none of them were ever late again.

I note the following in the story of Abraham and Isaac, to be found in Genesis; as you remember Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son, as a test of obedience: "And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called out to him out of heaven, and said: Abraham, Abraham: And he said, Here am I. ... " (and the angel said):  "Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him ... (Gen 22:10-12).

What if the angel had been late? Do you think the Lord trusted him to be on time? And yet, we see people who make a habit of arriving late. Somehow, they do not seem to have grasped the fact that being punctual is an attitude, and it has to do with our dependability and reliability.

In my service as a General Authority, I noted that none of us arrived late for the meetings we had with the other General Authorities, prior to General Conference. In fact, we usually made a point of being there good and early, because President Packer does have a habit of looking around a few minutes before a meeting is scheduled to start, and if he thinks everyone is there, he starts. And you don't want President Packer seeing you walk in late.

 

The way we act sometimes, reminds me of the story of the thief, the robber, who was picked up by the police. He was hauled before the judge, and sentenced to prison for a term of five years. When he had served his sentence, he was given back his civilian clothes, and released from prison.

As he was walking down the streets of his hometown, he put his hands in his pockets, and pulled out a ticket, a tag. Then he remembered that the day before he had been picked up by the police, he had taken some shoes to the repair shop. He thought, "Well, it's been more than five years, and there probably isn't much of a chance, but I might as well check." He went to the shop and said: "Sir, I brought my shoes in here a long time ago to have them repaired, and I wonder if there is any possibility .... "

The shoe repairman looked at the ticket, studied it for a minute, and then said: "Were these brown shoes, with laces"? "Yes" said the man. "And did you need new soles and heels?" "Yes, yes!" said the man.

"Come back Friday, and I'll have them ready."

For many of us, making a commitment is not enough. We need constant reminders, and follow up. But if we are truly trustworthy and dependable, these reminders should not be necessary. If you promise somebody that you will have something done ... then get it done ... and on time. Be dependable and reliable. Shakespeare’s Cordelia speaks of “that glib and oily art; to speak and purpose not…” (King Lear, Act I, Scene I).

I cannot help but think of Socrates, that wonderful and wise philosopher in Athens. He had discoursed on knowledge, and justice, and great themes of goodness and virtue. The Athenians considered him subversive, so they brought him to trial, and sentenced him to death by poison.  However, his deathbed statement is not about some abstract philosophical principle, but about the discharge of an obligation, the fulfillment of his word.  He drinks the poison, and then, as his limbs get heavy, about to die, he speaks his final words, to his friend Crito: “Crito, I owe a rooster to Asclepius.  Remember to pay the debt.

The people of the Lord are a covenant keeping people. We make covenants in the temple, and these should be inviolate. In the economy of God, the only truly poor, are those who fail to keep their covenants.  Our failure to keep our covenants impoverishes us, in perhaps, the only way that really matters.  But in addition to that, in our everyday affairs, we ought to be a people who keep their promises, and whose word is to be trusted.


Among the covenants we make when we are baptized, is the covenant of tithing. It is a solemn commitment that we make when we join the Church, and it is inherent in the covenants that we make in the temple. In our temple recommend interviews, we are asked whether or not we pay an honest tithe. It is generally true, that we are the sole judges as to whether we are paying an honest tithe, because our honesty is assumed.

Many years ago, I went to Peru with my family to be the general manager of a small company there. We only had 42 employees, but one of them was a member of the Church, a young salesman named Mario. I was serving in the stake presidency, and on one occasion I asked the bishop of our ward:

"Bishop, how is your family?" He said: "My family are all very well, except that my niece (who lived in our ward), is unhappy because her husband won't pay -tithing."

Her husband was Mario, the young man who was our salesman. I determined at that point that I would keep checking with the bishop, and that if Mario ever started to pay his tithing, I would give him an 11 % salary increase (so that he would have the same amount of money after paying tithing, that he had had before). Naturally, I didn't communicate this to anyone.

Every so often, I would meet with the bishop, and I would ask him: "Is Mario paying his tithing?" ''No, President, he is not", the bishop would answer. The weeks went by, month after month after month went by, and the time finally came that I was transferred from Peru; and Mario never knew, that if he had paid his tithing, he would have received an 11 % increase in his salary.

Now I am not promising you that you will receive an 11 % salary increase if you pay your tithing; but I am promising you that you will be blessed if you do so. And those blessings could be much greater than a simple increase in salary.

But that leads me to wonder how many times in our lives there are angels ready to bless us; if only we will be obedient to a principle or to a commandment. But because we are not, we do not receive the blessing, and we never know that it was right there, almost in our hands.

 

"For I will fulfill my promises that I made unto the children of men," sayeth the Lord (2 Nephi 10: 17). And he also says: "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." (D&C 82:10) In the context of which we have been speaking, we know that the Lord keeps His promises and his commitments. Should we not keep our promises and our commitments?

In ways that may sometimes be imperceptible to you, people will come to know of your honesty and trustworthiness. A year ago this summer, our youngest son, who was at the University of Michigan getting an MBA, spent the summer as an intern with a nationally known company. On the first day of his internship, the company leaders spoke to the interns and indicated to them that the company sought to have the highest standards of honesty and incorruptibility .

During the summer, our son was on an assignment in the city where he was living, and where he therefore did not have his lunch expenses paid by the company. His co-worker had been assigned there from another city, and was therefore there on expense account. When they went to lunch she suggested that she pick up his lunch tab, because her expenses were paid. He said: "Well, that wouldn't be right, because I am not entitled to an expense account lunch while here."

It was a small thing perhaps, but meaningful. When he had his exit interview at the end of the summer with the executive in charge, the man said to him:

"I understand that you took to heart our talk about honesty and high standards." My son said: "Yes, but I am not sure to what you refer." The executive said: "Well, it has to do with whether or not you are entitled to have your lunch put on someone else's expense account." He graduated with an MBA last spring, and given the standards that that company strives to have, it is not surprising that he was offered a job, and he is now working for them full time.

Those of us who revere the Declaration of Independence as the founding document of this nation, can immediately recognize some of its most memorable passages: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Those words have echoed through the centuries. But the men who signed that declaration, knew they would be viewed as traitors. And so, that magnificent document concludes, in a ringing affirmation of their purpose: " ... we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Fascinating that they used the phrase "Sacred Honor." Because there is something sacred about our word, our honor, our promise and our bond.

In that Great Council in Heaven, God the father said: "Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man, and said: Here am I, send me."  That was our Savior, in whom we trusted, and who we loved. (Abraham 3:27) And He had the trust of Heavenly Father.  Referring to him, God said: “I will send the first."

Jesus Christ was worthy of that trust.  What manner of men and women ought we to be? Even as He is.

As members of the Church, we seek to live by the highest standards of honesty and integrity. While at the University, we observe the Honor Code. In many cases, we are the sole observers, and the sole judges of our conduct. But we are on our honor, in that time honored sense, to live a life of integrity.

As President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: "We cannot be less than honest, we cannot be less than true, we cannot be less than virtuous if we are to keep sacred the trust given us. Once it was said among our people that a man's word was as good as his bond. Shall any of us be less reliable, less trustworthy than our forebears?" (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley-pg. 267).

I pray that honesty and incorruptibility may be the hallmark of BYU–Idaho students. That people will know that in you they can trust, that you are dependable and reliable, because of the lives that you lead, because you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, and because of the testimony of Jesus Christ that lives within you.

I know that He is my Redeemer. I know that He lives, and goes before us, to prepare a dwelling place amongst the highest. I pray that we will be worthy of that honor. In the name of Jesus Christ.

 

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