Do What Is Right
June 1997

“Do What Is Right,” Ensign, June 1997, 51

Speaking Today

Do What Is Right

From an address given on 3 March 1996 at Brigham Young University.

Elder Richard G. Scott

I have learned from personal experience how being helped to make the right decision at a critical time can bless your entire life. I have also seen, by working closely with individuals, how devastating making the wrong decision can be on the rest of their lives. My intent is to give you suggestions on how you can be sure to make the right choices. With a sincere desire to help you gain confidence in your ability to consistently make right choices, I will share four personal experiences that taught me important lessons. Then I will identify how Satan works so that you will be more prepared to avoid the pitfalls he places in your path. Finally I will suggest specific ways to make correct choices.

In college I was given the privilege of joining an elect honorary engineering society. As I attended the initiatory activities, everyone was drinking. I asked for a soft drink and was handed a glass. As I raised it to my lips I could smell alcohol. I looked around the room. All eyes were on me. These were professionals who had just given me a great honor. Should I pretend to drink so as not to offend? No. I set the glass down and then noticed that three other inductees also set their glasses aside. Do what is right, and others will follow your example. Every time you make the right choice in the face of potential criticism you build strength that makes choosing the right easier the next time. The reverse is also true. Satan counts on that.

One summer as a teenager I worked on an oyster boat off the coast of Long Island, New York, to earn funds for college. The other crew members were seasoned oystermen, hardened by the harsh winter environment in which they spent much of their lives battling the icy ocean and raw wind to secure their catch. I was an enigma to them, easier to distrust than to understand. They shunned me as a company spy, then as a crazy kid who didn’t know how to be a man. Later I became better at my duties and tried to build friendships. They offered to make me “a real man” by inviting me to join them on their all-night indulgences. I thanked them but declined, and the tension grew more intense.

The summer weather was beautiful and the ocean magnificent. We were engaged in relatively simple tasks such as transferring small oysters to a more distant portion of the sound where the nutrients accelerated their growth and improved their flavor. Except when a dredge full of oysters was dumped onto the deck, signaling a flurry of intense activity, there was much time for contemplation. While my deck mates dozed by their shovels, I read and pondered the Book of Mormon. I cannot adequately express the powerful awakening within me that came from those weeks of study of the Book of Mormon under singularly unusual circumstances even though I was constantly ridiculed by the crew for doing it.

We slept in envelope-type bunks sandwiched into the restricted space between the ship’s diesel engine and hull. One night at dockside I retired early since some of the crew planned unrighteous activity outside our boat. I was suddenly shaken into consciousness by the powerful hand of a deck mate, Toddy, a giant of a man. He was brandishing a hammer in my face, and his breath reeked of alcohol. Stunned, I realized that there was no way I could escape him. I thought I had come to the end of the road. Then I heard what he was shouting: “Scotty, get your fins and mask. There’s a man overboard, and you can save him!”

That night I learned a lesson I have never forgotten. Publicly the crew members ridiculed me, but privately they respected me for my standards. The confidence that came from that knowledge let me quietly help three of them with some serious personal challenges. I know that you will find respectful responses as you consistently obey gospel principles.

When you make it clear that you will not vary from your standards, you will be led to individuals like yourself and the criticism from others will become less intense. Often those who publicly deride you for your high standards privately do not want you to violate them. They need your good example. Whether it be turning your back on an off-color joke, refusing to see an R-rated movie or videocassette, or walking out of a party that is moving in the wrong direction, make your standards clear to others by quietly making the right choices when temptation is first presented. A decisive, correct choice made once and consistently kept thereafter will avoid much heartache. Your energy can then be used in keeping your resolve rather than repeatedly wrestling with the same challenge. Also, you will greatly reduce the possibility that you will be overcome by temptation.

I grew up in a home where my father was not a member of the Church and my mother was less active. That all changed later, and they spent much of their life as temple workers. With that background I didn’t know much about the Church even though I thought I did. When I was about to graduate from the university, the Lord led me to someone who changed my life. Her name was Jeanene Watkins. She was a beautiful girl. It took me a long time to date her because so many others recognized her wonderful qualities.

As we began to date I discovered that she was all I had ever dreamed of finding. I fell completely in love with her. I could tell she had deep feelings for me also. One night when we were talking about the future she carefully wove into the conversation an important comment. She said, “When I marry it will be to a returned missionary in the temple.” I don’t remember anything else she said. I hadn’t thought much about a mission and didn’t understand much about temple marriage. I went home and couldn’t think of anything else. I was awake all night. I couldn’t do anything at the university the next day. Soon I was at the bishop’s office, having prayed about the importance of a mission. Jeanene and I both served missions, and when we returned were sealed in the temple. I came to realize that she would have left me to find someone else had I not made the right choices.

Jeanene’s courage in standing up for her dream of a temple marriage to a returned missionary, regardless of her love for me, made all of the difference in our lives together. I will never be able to thank her adequately for trusting in the Lord and not compromising her righteous dreams.

Your decisions are like switch points on a railroad system. They determine where you will end up in life. When you consistently make the right choices, you are the happiest, receive the greatest personal growth, and have the most productive life. When you make the wrong choices, you may find yourself at an entirely different destination than you want. Should there be transgression in your life, repentance will permit you to correct your course. However, repentance is often a painful process, and sometimes sin may leave permanent physical scars in mortality even when the spirit is healed.

At one time I worked on the staff of Admiral Hyman Rickover, a hardworking, demanding, misunderstood man who became the father of the nuclear navy, which provided great protection for the United States at a critical time. I have great respect for him. After 11 years in his service, I received a call from the First Presidency to preside over a mission. I knew I would have to tell Admiral Rickover immediately. As I explained the call and that it would mean I would have to quit my job, he became rather excited. He said some unrepeatable things, broke the paper tray on his desk, and in the comments that followed clearly established two points:

“Scott, what you are doing in this defense program is so vital that it will take a year to replace you, so you can’t go. Second, if you do go, you are a traitor to your country.”

I said, “I can train my replacement in the two remaining months, and there won’t be any risk to the country.”

There was more conversation, and he finally said: “I never will talk to you again. I don’t want to see you again. You are finished, not only here, but don’t ever plan to work in the nuclear field again.”

I responded, “Admiral, you can bar me from the office but unless you prevent me, I am going to turn this assignment over to another individual.”

He asked, “What’s the name of the man who wants you?”

I told him, “President David O. McKay.”

He responded, “If that’s the way Mormons act, I don’t want any of them working for me.”

I knew he would try to call President McKay, who was ill, and that the conversation would benefit no one. I also knew that in the Idaho Falls area there were many members of the Church whose families depended upon working in our program. I didn’t want to cause them harm. I also knew that I had been called as a mission president by the Lord. I didn’t know what to do. Then, a hymn began to run through my mind: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow” (Hymns, no. 237).

While I had never contacted a General Authority in my life, I had been interviewed by Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, so I had a feeling to call him. I explained that the admiral would try to call President McKay and would make some negative comments, but everything was all right. I would be able to accept my call. While doing that, my heart kept saying, “Is this going to turn out all right or will somebody be innocently hurt who depends on our program for livelihood?” The hymn would come back, “Do what is right; let the consequence follow.” True to his word, the admiral ceased to speak to me. When critical decisions had to be made, he would send a messenger or I would communicate through a third party. We accomplished the changeover.

My last day in the office I asked for an appointment with him. His secretary gasped. I went with a copy of the Book of Mormon in my hand. He looked at me and said, “Sit down, Scott, what do you have? I have tried every way I can to force you to change. What is it you have?” There followed a very interesting, quiet conversation. There was more listening this time.

He said he would read the Book of Mormon. Then something I never thought would occur happened. He added: “When you come back from the mission, I want you to call me. There will be a job for you.”

You will have challenges and hard decisions to make throughout your life. But determine now to always do what is right and let the consequence follow. The consequence will always be for your best good. You will learn that it is easiest over the long run to stand for what is right and do the difficult thing to begin with. Once you take that position, following through is not too hard. An individual who cuts corners and justifies some departure from true standards for whatever reason finds that seeds are planted that produce problems later. Those problems are far more difficult to overcome than taking a correct stand initially.

Do what is right even though it seems that you will be alone in so doing, that you are going to lose friends, that you will be criticized. What you will find is that by doing what is right, after a period of testing, the finest friends will be discovered and you can mutually support each other in your resolve to be obedient to all of the commandments of the Lord.

I have never been sorry on any occasion when I stood for what was right—even against severe criticism. As you learn that truth, you will also discover that when you have taken a determined stand for right, when you have established personal standards and made covenants to keep them, when temptations come and you act according to your standards, you will be reinforced and given strength beyond your own capacity if that is needed. Difficulty comes when you enter the battle of temptation without a fixed plan. That is what Satan desires, for then you are ripe for defeat.

Satan is determined to overpower you, not with an onslaught of serious temptations suddenly presented, but by carefully placed alluring though seemingly unimportant infractions of your long-established standards. He would use these temptations to skillfully lead you away from the path of righteousness. Satan knows that as long as you can be led by the Holy Spirit, you can resist him. He has no power over a righteous person. The Lord has made it possible for you to resist Satan’s temptations. When obedient, you will be inspired to know what to do and have the capacity to do it.

So that you will be forewarned, I will try to show you how Satan works. Let us pretend that to your right are all the good things that can be done in life. The farther to your right, the better they are. To your left are all the wrong things that can be done. The farther to your left, the worse they are. In the middle, it is difficult to discern what is right and what is wrong. This middle area is where Satan works with righteous people, the twilight zone where you cannot clearly discern between what is good and what is bad. It is easy to become confused here. Live well within the wonderful area of good the Lord has defined, and you won’t have any problems with temptation. If you are not sure whether something is appropriate to look at, to listen to, to think about, or to do, then avoid it. You could be headed for one of Satan’s traps.

Now, observe how Satan works. A righteous returned missionary meets a pure, lovely young woman. They are at an age when they can think seriously about marriage. They begin to date. He develops deep, beautiful feelings of love for her, and she for him. Neither one intends to do anything that is wrong. They have decided not to cross the boundary into Satan’s territory.

When he is with her he wants to express the feelings he has for her; somehow after a while holding her hand doesn’t quite communicate what he feels. Each time they are together they do what they did the time before and a little more to express physically their feelings. They move closer and closer to the boundary, but they are determined not to cross it. One day Satan plants the seeds of rationalization in their minds. By that I mean he tempts them to believe that something that is really wrong can be twisted or justified to be acceptable because of their special circumstances. Rationalization is one of the devil’s most effective tools. These thoughts are planted: “You really love each other. You plan to be sealed in the temple. You both are worthy and will be true to each other. You are an exception. You have not reached the limit.” In their minds the boundary is moved farther to the left.

So they continue their physical expressions. They are very much in love. Each time they become a little more intimate. Strong, powerful emotions are aroused, but they are sure they can control them. They are going to be sealed in the temple. Then those emotions become overpowering, and they commit acts that they had determined they would never perform outside of marriage. Their lives are terribly complicated—tragically and unnecessarily.

Please recognize that you cannot barely cross the boundary and not encounter the high risk of slipping into places you have no intent of ever visiting or experiences you have no desire of ever having. That is how Satan works. He knows that the powerful emotions of sexual transgression are addictive. One act leads to another and to another. Appetites are generated and powerful emotions experienced until the transgressor loses all perspective of reality and is led deeper and deeper into sin without recognizing how far one has wandered or how rapidly one is being imprisoned. You have seen how others begin with experimentation then are drawn deeper and deeper into sin apparently without any recognition of how far they have fallen.

How can two people in love avoid crossing the boundary and falling into temptation? First let us define love. To love another righteously is to protect, to elevate, to keep pure and undefiled, to sacrifice one’s self for the benefit of the other (see Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 279). To love is to hold in reserve sacred, intimate experiences for the sanctity of marriage. When these experiences are appropriately shared in marriage, they draw a husband and wife together and strengthen them for the growing responsibilities of parenthood. These sacred experiences result in the formation of physical bodies for the spirit children Father in Heaven entrusts to a mother and father. In this sacred setting appropriate intimate expression is beautiful and purposeful.

Satan’s agents speak of love, but it is really lust. It is the increasing gratification of personal appetites at the expense of another person. It leads to serious violation of the commandments of God. Why does Satan concentrate so intently on sexual transgression? Because he knows that immorality feeds upon itself. It numbs spiritual sensitivity and neutralizes the will to resist. There is never any place for Satan’s kind of love in your life. If elements of it have found place in a relationship, get rid of them now.

Here are some specific suggestions to help you keep from crossing the boundary:

  • Choose voluntarily to do what is right. Only willing obedience yields the full blessings that come from obeying the commandments of God.

  • Firmly establish personal standards. In time of deep spiritual reflection when there is no pressure on you and you can confirm your decisions by sacred impressions, decide then what you will do and what you will not do to express feelings. The Spirit will guide you. Do not vary from your decisions no matter how right it may seem when temptation comes. Don’t take the first step, as innocent as it may seem. The realization of your dreams depends upon your determination to never betray your standards.

  • Recognize that the boundary between good and evil never changes but that you can be tempted to color your perception of that boundary by trying to justify something you suspect or know is wrong as being acceptable in your special case.

  • Surround yourself with good friends by being in the right places doing the right things. None of us is up all of the time. When you are down it is easier to make a serious mistake. Surround yourself with friends who can remind you of your worthy goals. Some individuals are so eager for friendship and popularity that they compromise their standards. You will not obtain desirable friends that way, but you can lose your worthy dreams.

  • Stay close to the Church. You will have a constant refreshment of your resolve to do what is right and will be strengthened by the example of others doing the same.

  • Do not be misled by what the world defines as acceptable. To intentionally excite emotions that are reserved for sacred purposes within the covenant of marriage is seriously wrong. I solemnly witness that it is transgression to touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body except within the bonds of marriage between a man and woman. Satan has spread abroad the idea that much intimacy is permissible short of the final act among consenting individuals. That is a devastating lie. Such activity is a violation of the law of chastity and requires repentance. It is not only wise to be moral, it is a fundamental commandment of God which he considers to be very important.

Your spirit body was created by your Heavenly Father in His image. As you are obedient He will lead you to happiness beyond what you can now imagine. His purpose is to help you realize your fullest potential in growth, accomplishment, and happiness while here on earth. His objective is your eternal happiness.

There is another who is extremely gifted, powerful, and brilliant, but his devilish purpose is to bind you to be his servant. One of the most powerful tools he has to take you from the course of happiness is to tempt you to experiment with intimate acts. Sexual transgression feeds upon itself. It stimulates powerful, physical emotions that become increasingly addictive. At the same time, it numbs spiritual sensitivity and neutralizes your will to resist. Immorality is foreign to your nature. Knowing that, Satan will tempt you to begin with small addictive doses rather than tempt you to step from a clean and pure life directly into serious immoral transgression.

Nephi gave a powerful way to succeed in overcoming temptation. He said, “Whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24).

If there is anyone who reads this article who has seriously transgressed, with all the tenderness of my heart I ask you to repent now. It is not good to violate the commandments of the Lord. It is tragic to do nothing about it. Sin is like cancer in the body. It will never heal itself. It will become progressively worse unless cured through repentance. You can be made spiritually whole, new, purified, and clean every whit through the miracle of repentance. If you have transgressed, please see your bishop so that your worthy dreams can be made reality. For those who commit a serious mistake, Satan whispers: “Your life is ruined. There is no way back. You might as well continue in the path you are on.” That is a lie. The Savior gave His life that even the most serious transgressions can be overcome and an individual can be made new, clean, and pure through repentance and obedience to the Lord’s commandments. To believe otherwise would be to deny the power of the Atonement of our Savior.

Your happiness now, throughout this life, and on into eternity depends upon your making correct decisions and holding fast to them. Some make choices based only on their personal experience and trust little else. Some make choices by blindly following their peer leaders. Others choose what they think will provide the most friends and greatest success. Some wait for a challenge to present itself and then decide what to do. Each of these alternatives can be disastrous.

With all of the love in my heart, I ask you to resolutely decide to keep the standards of the Lord. Live so that the Holy Ghost can inspire you to consistently do what is right. I testify that as a result your worthy dreams or something even better will be yours. Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you. They want your happiness more than you can now possibly know. They will help you attain that happiness as you steadfastly do all you can to obey their commandments.

Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett

Photo by John Luke