Becoming People of Integrity

Ned C. Hill

Ricks College Devotional

November 28, 2000



I very much appreciate the invitation to speak to you today. President and Sister Bednar have been gracious and thoughtful hosts. At BYU we are following with great interest the transformation that is taking place on this campus to bless the lives of more young people in the Church. You are entering some exciting as well as challenging times as you move from a two-year to a four-year institution. I am confident you have the right man at the helm of the college to lead you in this new phase of development. I had the privilege of seeing President Bednar in action on several occasions as the various Church institutions met with the Board of Trustees. From what I observed, members of the Board have remarkable confidence and trust in President Bednar. He is clearly a man of unusual vision, creativity, energy, faith and integrity.

The invitation to speak to you caused me to dig into the biographical writings of my wife Claralyn's father, Joseph Eddy Martin who graduated from Ricks 63 years ago in 1937. It was informative to note some of the contrasts between then and now.

Those were difficult times as the country was pulling out of a devastating depression. Unemployment was rampant. No one had money. The college faced serious financial pressures and it was not clear that it would remain a private, Church-related school or be taken over by the state of Idaho.

Eddy Martin started attending classes in 1934 after his mission. Like so many other people, he had a difficult time finding work — no part-time employment was available especially for single people. He couldn't attend fall and spring terms because he was needed at his family's farm in Menan for the harvest and planting. The family had already mortgaged the farm to send Eddy on a mission to the Southern States. They had no money left for college. So he had to borrow $125 from a family friend for that first quarter at Ricks.

He brought from home — fast-food had not been invented then (that's hard for a college student today to comprehend!) nor could it have been afforded in any case. Most students didn't have money to even buy groceries from the store — food came from the family farms. But "we ate well," he said. In his second quarter, a year later, he reports that he finally got a part-time job cleaning the offices of the president of the college. That at least paid for tuition.

One of his roommates, Ted Parkinson, could not afford a winter coat — it's hard to imagine a winter in Rexburg without a warm coat. So as to not bother his roommates by studying when they were sleeping, Ted would walk to campus at 4 a.m., climb through a window in one of the buildings and find a warm place to study. The janitors were very understanding.

Students helped each other out. Their hardships seemed to bring them together. Eddy Martin blossomed at Ricks. He became an excellent debater and the editor of the Rixida, the college yearbook. He notes, President Bednar, that the entire costs for typesetting, layout, photography, printing, binding, shipping, etc., came to $650 — it's probably a bit more than that today. He expresses in his writings the closeness he felt to his instructors and associates — Ricks is noted for that kind of closeness. He kept in contact with many of his Ricks' friends over his 87 years. He became the valedictorian of the 1937 graduating class of about 70 people. Just before the graduation ceremonies that year, he wrote in his journal that Commissioner Franklin L. West, Church Board of Education, announced in the Purple Blaze that the Board had decided that Ricks College would be continue to be maintained as a Church school. The state of Idaho refused to take over responsibilities for the campus.

Although Eddy Martin went on to two more years at BYU after graduating from here, he always spoke glowingly of his days at Ricks. He and his wife Sarah, toward the later years of their lives, remembering the depression and its attendant financial hardships, set up trusts for each of their 40 grandchildren to enable them, if they desired, to serve missions and to attend college. They also set up an endowment to provide scholarships to several Ricks college students each year.

My wife, one of seven daughters of Eddy and Sarah Martin, inherited the frugality of her parents. Let me illustrate. A couple of years ago, our mainly brick house in Provo needed the trim to be painted. Since an estimate by a professional painter said it would cost us about $3,000, Claralyn asked me if perhaps I would like doing the job myself —"Think of the money we could save!" Now I don't mind painting, but the main difficulty I saw was with the height. Our home is three stories tall and, of course, most of the trim is on the upper story. I demanded a recount of the vote but the "dimpled chads" unfortunately swung the vote in her direction. So, I was elected.

With the money saved, I bought a tall extension ladder, lots of paint, brushes, scrapers and other supplies. All went well on the lower levels. But then I eventually had to get to the very top of the house. My ladder would not reach. Not to worry. Anyone with a PhD and normal household items should be able to tackle any of life's problems. After considering available resources, I decided to drag a wooden picnic table to the appropriate spot and placed the extension ladder on top of it. But I encountered two additional problems: First, the picnic table plus the ladder, fully extended, still did not permit me to quite reach the peak. And second, the ground sloped putting everything at an angle. What to do? In the garage I found some leftover bricks and some long 2x4s. By stacking the bricks to the appropriate height, I could compensate for the sloping ground while giving me a foot or so of extra height. By putting the long 2x4s over the bricks, the picnic table on the boards and the ladder on the picnic table, I figured I could finally reach those upper levels.

It was time to ascend my engineering masterpiece — bucket of paint tied carefully around my neck, paintbrush and scraper in my hand, ladder tightly grasped by the other hand. As I looked down from the top, it appeared to me that I was several thousand feet above my yard below. Holding onto the ladder for dear life, I carefully reached up to scrape and paint those upper corners. I had the distinct sense that the slightest slip on my part would not only result in paint smearing over onto the bricks but in a very rapid descent that would likely land me in the hospital or, possibly, morgue.

I then realized two things — first, how foolish I was not to let the experts do this work and, second, how thankful I was that my ladder, picnic table, 2x4s and bricks had integrity — I trusted them to perform their functions and they did. I was glad the unseen ladder manufacturer left no weak spot on that ladder that would cause it to buckle under pressure. The table did not give way. The bricks and the boards held under pressure.

I quickly but very carefully finished my work at that high elevation and, I am happy to report, descended to ground level without incident. I am even more pleased to inform you that next time this kind of work is needed, Claralyn has given me permission to call in experts who have not only experience in this type of stunt work but also great insurance coverage.

I also made the observation in painting some areas, that parts of the wood trim looked fine from the exterior but the interior was rotted away. I could push my finger right through the wood. It lacked integrity. It appeared all right from the outside but its purpose of providing insulation and moisture protection had been compromised. I had to replace several sections.

What do we mean by the concept of "integrity?" Integrity of a metal means that the metal has certain measurable qualities throughout. If it lacks integrity, the metal has a flaw that may not be seen by the naked eye but may cause the metal to fail when pressure is applied. Integrity of a tool means that the tool will perform in accordance with its specifications. It has consistent qualities that can be measured and tested. The ladder, for example, was certified to support so many pounds of weight — and it did. It performed under pressure.

The integrity of a person is the measure of how consistent that person is from the inside to the outside. A person of high integrity is what he claims himself to be. Such a person of integrity performs under the pressure of real and demanding situations — not just when it is easy. It's one thing to be a ladder standing in my garage; but the real test of that ladder is when it has to perform under pressure. Likewise it is relatively easy to claim to stand for certain values when the pressure is off — but much more difficult to live those values when life's pressures come.

Let's be more specific to you and me. It is relatively easy to proclaim to be a follower of Christ. The person of integrity, however, will not only proclaim outwardly to follow the Savior but will, under the pressures of life, demonstrate attributes of the Savior on a consistent basis, day in and day out. Internally that person of integrity will be Christ-like so that, no matter what the challenges, principles taught by the Savior will come through — whether in a group or alone, in public or in private, on Sunday or on Monday, in church or in a sales room.

I submit to you that one of the most important things you can do in this life is to become a person of integrity. Most of you are already doing a wonderful job of that right now. At Ricks you are known as people of integrity and I commend you for it. The world desperately needs people of integrity. Let's talk about how we might always remain people of integrity.

The Lord speaking about Joseph Smith's brother said these loving words: "…blessed is my servant, Hyrum Smith, for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart." (D&C 124:15)

Loyal and true Hyrum! He was faithful to the Gospel and completely devoted to the Prophet Joseph throughout their lives. He was tried and tested and proved faithful under all challenges — even at the very end when he joined Joseph in sealing his testimony with his blood in Carthage, Illinois.

The Lord evidently highly values integrity. He promised great blessings to Solomon if he "…will walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart…" (I Kings 9:4) Unfortunately, David did not retain his integrity throughout his life.

Job is held up as a man who "…holds his integrity…" in spite of numerous challenges. (Job 2:3)

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%). 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% 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."

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.