From a devotional address given on September 10, 2002, at Brigham Young University–Idaho.
I want to begin with a brief test and a self-evaluation. The following episode was presented in a general conference address in 1966 by President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982), a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church.
“A young man came to me not long ago and said, ‘I made an agreement with a man that requires me to make certain payments each year. I am in debt, and I can’t make those payments, for if I do, it is going to cause me to lose my home. What shall I do?’
“I looked at him and said, ‘Keep your agreement.’
“‘Even if it costs me my home?’
“I said, ‘I am not talking about your home. I am talking about your agreement; and I think your wife would rather have a husband who would keep his word, meet his obligations, keep his pledges or his covenants, and have to rent a home than to have a home with a husband who will not keep his covenants and his pledge.’”1
Now for the self-evaluation and the test. Carefully and thoughtfully and honestly answer the following questions. Did President Tanner’s counsel seem old-fashioned, outdated, and unreasonable to you, or did it seem appropriate? Would losing the home be more important to you than keeping the agreement, or would keeping the agreement be more important to you than keeping the home? Is the counsel President Tanner gave in 1966 equally applicable today?
What Are Integrity and Honesty?
The words integrity and honesty are closely associated and often used interchangeably. We must remember, however, that these terms are related but are not exactly the same.
Integrity is the quality or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, and undivided. The word integrity is related to other words with the same root such as entire and integrate. These expressions share the notion of being intact, sound, uncorrupted, and perfect. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has explained: “Integrity means always doing what is right and good, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but, more important, in our thoughts and in our hearts. Personal integrity implies such trustworthiness and incorruptibility that we are incapable of being false to a trust or covenant.”2
Honesty is the quality or condition of being truthful, sincere, candid, and worthy of honor. The word honesty is related to other words with the same root such as honor and honorable These expressions share the notion of being genuine, trustworthy, upright, respectable, and decent. As President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, has taught: “We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.”3
An Example of Integrity
Albert Frehner and Matilda Reber were married in 1888, in the St. George Utah Temple. They then established their humble home in Arizona. To provide for his family, Brother Frehner hauled freight between El Dorado Canyon and Bonelli’s Ferry. Sister Frehner nurtured their growing family and took care of the household chores.
Albert and Matilda had been married for 10 years when Albert was called in 1898 by President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) to serve as a missionary in Switzerland, his native land. At the time Albert received the call to serve, Matilda was expecting their fifth child. However, it never entered their hearts or minds to refuse the call. Both gladly accepted the challenge.
Matilda assumed the total responsibility for the care of her young family, for their cotton farm, and for running the post office out of a small room in her home. Five months after Albert left on his mission, Matilda gave birth to twin girls, Edith and Ethel.
One day Matilda was attending to her duties in the post office. A man, as he was ready to depart after completing his postal business, gave her 25 cents to send to Albert in the mission field. I know 25 cents does not sound like much today, but to Matilda it meant a great deal! Matilda thanked the good brother, and then asked him if she could use 2 cents of the money to buy a stamp. She explained that she had written a letter to Albert a week or two earlier but did not have the 2 cents to purchase the necessary postage. The man agreed, and the letter was mailed.
Matilda was the manager of the post office. She easily could have borrowed and used a stamp—fully intending to repay the two cents when she was in a position to do so. And no one would have known. In her dire financial situation, it would have seemed reasonable to go ahead and mail her letter at the time she wrote it. But Matilda would have known! And she was a woman of integrity and honesty. She simply refused to use, in any way, something for which she could not pay. She also was careful to seek the man’s permission to use a portion of the money for a purpose other than that which he had intended.
The integrity and honesty of Matilda, my great-grandmother, have had a profound and lasting impact upon my life. She is an example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with herself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
Honesty in Schoolwork
Cheating in academic work is unprincipled, dishonest, and a form of self-deception and betrayal. No student can hope to ultimately succeed in a career or profession if he or she builds upon a foundation of fraud. Please read carefully the following story told in a session of general conference in 1996 by President James E. Faust:
“A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. ‘Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.’”4
The young, lanky medical student who challenged the cheaters was J. Ballard Washburn, who became a respected physician. He also served as a General Authority and as the president of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple. Elder Washburn provides all of us with a powerful example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with himself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
Honest in All Things
The thirteenth article of faith begins, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.” [A of F 1:13] It is significant to me that the first trait listed in this inspired summary of basic Christian virtues is honesty. Indeed, the very fountain and foundation of our daily discipleship are integrity and honesty.
People of integrity and honesty not only practice what they preach, they are what they preach. And the Savior stands as the finest example. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is not just that the Son of God brought light into a darkened and fallen world; He is the Light (see 3 Ne. 11:11). It is not just that our Savior showed us the way; He is the Way. It is not just that Christ made the resurrection available; He is the Resurrection (see John 11:25). And it is not just that Jesus of Nazareth restored the truth and taught the truth; He is the Truth.
Integrity with God, Self, and Others
I want to share two more examples of integrity and honesty involving students at Brigham Young University–Idaho. I believe the simplicity and seemingly ordinary nature of these events make them extraordinary.
The first episode was described in a letter from a local business owner that I received while serving as president at BYU–Idaho.
“A girl living in one of the dorms stopped in, shopping for a tie to send to her boyfriend who is serving a mission. She took a close look at the ties and found a great looking one. We stepped over to the checkout counter, and I rang up the sale. She paid with a check and left. I went about my work, and about an hour later I looked up and saw the same girl walking into the store. She had an interesting smile on her face as she walked up to me. She handed me a check and explained that I had accidentally put the check she had written back into the sack along with the cash register receipt and the tie. I really did slip up on this one! We laughed, and I thanked her and told her that I really did admire her honesty.”
This young woman clearly exhibited integrity and honesty with other people. She is also increasing in integrity and honesty with God and with herself.
The second example comes from a letter I received from a student.
“I recently attended an outdoor dance. Just before the dance, my friends and I were sitting on the grounds eating pizza. I took my wallet out of my pocket to show my friends some pictures, and then I forgot to put my wallet back as we got up and left for the dance.
“Later that evening I realized what had happened. I proceeded toward what I thought should be the location of my wallet. I quickly realized that my wallet was no longer there. I knelt down right there in the grass and began to pray to my Father in Heaven to help me find my wallet.
“I then returned to my dorm room with a very optimistic attitude. I walked into my room fully expecting the wallet to be sitting right there, but it wasn’t. So I proceeded to check my telephone messages. And there was a message from the Lost and Found saying that someone had returned my wallet and I could pick it up any time.
“I am so grateful to be here at a university where I can trust my fellow students. I never found out who returned my wallet, but I have thanked him or her many times in my prayers. I have thanked them for helping me to have a spiritual experience, one that I will never forget.”
The unknown person at BYU–Idaho who returned this young man’s wallet is an example of integrity and honesty with God, of integrity and honesty with herself or himself, and of integrity and honesty with other people.
How to Gain Integrity
You and I must strive to become people of integrity and to be honest with God, honest with ourselves, and honest with other people. Integrity and honesty with God result from knowing and understanding who He is and our relationship to and kinship with Him as our Eternal Father.
Integrity and honesty with ourselves result from knowing and understanding who we are as sons and daughters of God. And integrity and honesty with other people result from knowing and understanding they are sons and daughters of the Eternal Father and are our brothers and sisters. All unprincipled and dishonest thoughts and actions are a betrayal of God, a betrayal of self, and a betrayal of other people.
Becoming people of integrity and honesty does not occur quickly or all at once, nor is it merely a matter of greater personal discipline. It is a change of disposition, a change of heart. And this gradual change of heart is one that the Lord accomplishes within us, through the power of His Spirit, in a line-upon-line fashion. For example, in Philippians 2:12 [Philip. 2:12], Paul encourages the Saints to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But how are we to do that? Note the answer that follows in verse 13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” That is, we give ourselves to the Lord and choose to be changed. He is working on us and in us.
Remember that becoming people of integrity and honesty is not simply a matter of more personal determination, more grit, and more willpower; rather, it is accomplished through the enabling power of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I believe the best test of our integrity and honesty is when we personally enforce in our own lives that which ultimately cannot be enforced. There are so many aspects of being honest and of living the gospel that simply cannot be enforced in our lives by anyone else. You and I bear the responsibility to become people of integrity and honesty—people who are true and trustworthy when no one is watching and when no one else is around.
May we seek and qualify for the enabling and strengthening power of the Savior’s Atonement. And may each of us become and contribute to the latter-day light that will literally “chase darkness from among you” (D&C 50:25).
I testify that God the Eternal Father lives. Jesus Christ is His only Begotten Son. And I witness that as we yearn to and become people of integrity and honesty, we will increasingly become like Them.
- 1. “Keep Your Covenants,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1966, 1137.
- 2. “Personal Integrity,” Ensign, May 1990, 30.
- 3. “Honesty—A Moral Compass,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 41.
- 4. Ensign, Nov. 1996, 42.