“Stories from the General Authorities: Advice to a Son,” New Era, June 1974, 44
Stories from the General Authorities:
Advice to a Son
Every time I have the opportunity to direct myself to young people, I have a difficult time to keep from weeping. You see, once I had a boy, and when he had spent one year in college, he went to war. I like to think he went bravely.
When he was interrogated by the sergeant in charge, the sergeant said, “There are these schools.” And he named them—“radio, cooking, foreign language, intelligence, hospital. …” He named about eight of them. The young men were told that they could go to one of these, if they wanted to choose, before they went further into the army. He said, “You can go to one of these schools, or you can take combat.” And my son and one other young man with him said without any hesitation, “We’ll take combat.”
Later I said to him, “Why did you ask for combat?”
And he said, “Someone has to do the fighting.” He said that he did not want to have it on his conscience that he had deliberately dodged so that some other boy might have to take a chance on being killed. He said, “If anyone has to die in this war, I would feel terrible if I didn’t take my share of the risk.”
To me he is still twenty—about your age. And so perhaps you will allow me to speak to you as though I were speaking to him. The advice I would give you, I would give him.
I would say to him, do not lie. Just one lie told and you have committed yourself to remember every facet of the situation to protect that lie. Furthermore, once you lie and are discovered, just once, all the rest of your life that person will not trust you. Every time your name comes up, if he is in a position to give you some position or advantage involving trust, that lie will be remembered, and he will not have confidence. You may have repented long since and have been forgiven, even by him, but in spite of himself, he will wonder if you truly have repented. On the other hand, if you tell the truth always, no matter what, it will someday save your reputation and perhaps your honor.
I had an experience that illustrates this truth. My wife was very ill. I was in Provo at a Scouting affair—I don’t recall what it was now—and I had promised her that I would come home by six o’clock that night. I had left food at the side of her bed so that she could have something to eat, because she couldn’t get off the bed—she wasn’t able—and I had to leave her alone.
Things took place in Provo so that I didn’t get away until eleven o’clock that night, and I was worried as I headed for home. The roads in those days weren’t like they are today; one had to pass through every town along the way. I passed through Salt Lake at midnight. Going north on the highway—the moon was full; the light was bright; I could see as easily as in daylight; and I was the only person on the road—I went quite rapidly until I got to Farmington Junction where I was to turn off to go up over the mountain road toward home. I turned off on that road, and I really hit it up. I had that car going 70 miles an hour, which was good for those days over that road, and I whipped past the road going over to Hill Field, and then went down into Weber Canyon. I got about halfway down the hill when through the rear view mirror I saw the flashing red light. The patrolman had been hiding up Hill Field road. So I pulled to a stop and got out. (One always wants to get out of his car when a policeman comes, and hold out his hands so the policeman can see that one is not armed—at midnight, anyway!) It was now nearly one o’clock.
So I walked back a few yards and stood there, and his headlights picked me up, and he came to a stop about thirty yards away. He got out of his car and came up to me. He said, “May I see your driver’s license and your car registration.” So I got the car registration, and he took a look at it—he didn’t bother to look at my license.
I said, “I suppose you are arresting me for speeding.”
He said, “Yes, you were going faster than 60 miles an hour.”
And I said, “I was going faster than 70 miles an hour.”
I said, “Well, give me the ticket. I’ve got to get home; my wife is ill and helpless. I’ll pay the fine, but let me go.”
He said, “Well, I’m not going to give you a ticket. I’m going to give you a warning ticket so you won’t do it again. This will make it so you will not have to go to court, but if you do it again, of course, then they’ll collect on both counts.”
I couldn’t imagine why he had given me just a warning ticket. He wrote out the ticket and handed it to me; then he smiled, held out his hand, which a police officer seldom does, and said to me, “My name is Bybee. I used to be one of your Scouts at Camp Kiesel.”
All the rest of the way home, every time the wheels turned, I said to myself, “What if I’d lied to him—what if I’d lied to him—what if I’d lied to him.”
I can guarantee that if you lie, that lie will last you all of your life and will burn into your soul over and over again until you die.
A second bit of advice I would give my son is do not bear false witness. It’s easy to do. We do it all the time. We love the juicy morsel about what someone did or what someone thought they did. “If you can’t say anything good about a person, don’t say anything at all”—you’ve heard that over and over again.
I don’t speak of times when a person is on trial and you are testifying in a court. I speak of the times when you thoughtlessly brand someone with a trait or an act, which may or may not be true, but which you heard; and with a certain amount of pleasure you enjoy repeating the tale to your associates. It is dangerous business.
One time I was conducting a conference in Salt Lake City and President George F. Richards of the Council of the Twelve was there. I invited him to speak, and he said, no, he didn’t care to speak but to go ahead. So I began to speak, and I told them that if they ever told a story about anybody, that story would stick to that person no matter how long he lived, and it would be believed by most people, and therefore they must not bear false witness.
While I was speaking, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there stood President Richards right behind me, and he said, “I’ve changed my mind. I want to speak.”
He said words about like this: “Once upon a time I was a high councilor in a stake, and somebody made a serious accusation against a man. We debated whether to have him in and try him. Finally, the stake president decided he would talk to him privately, and apparently he did, and the man proved to the satisfaction of all of us that not only was he not guilty of the accusation, but he hadn’t even been in the country when it was supposed to have taken place. He was away somewhere, and he couldn’t possibly have done it.”
He said, “Forty years went by, and that man’s name came up for a very high appointment in the Church. In spite of myself, I caught myself wondering if the story told about the man was true, even though it had been proven false.
I had to get hold of myself to keep from voting negatively against that man on a false story told forty years before that was proved false.” Then he sat down, and I continued speaking.
That can happen to you. And if it is told about you, you’ll know what I mean.
May the Lord bless you young folks.