A few years ago GEICO ran a series of commercials featuring rhetorical questions to answer the question, “Can switching to GEICO really save you 15% or more on car insurance?”
My favorite offers the rhetorical question, “Was Abe Lincoln honest?” It then switches to a scene where a rather short and squatty Mary Todd Lincoln is looking at herself in a mirror. Abe is standing in the background behind her. She turns to him and asks, “Does this dress make my backside look big?” Honest Abe quickly recognizes the ethical dilemma he is in. While he wants to be a man of integrity and tell the truth, he also knows if he does, there will be grave consequences to pay. Cautiously he responds, “Perhaps a…” and holds his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. She storms out of the room, leaving a bewildered Honest Abe to figure out how to navigate the relational white water in which he now finds himself.
While we chuckle Honest Abe’s ethical dilemma, this commercial reminds us that life has a way of testing whether or not we are truly people of integrity – people who are truly committed to being honest in all aspects of life, truly committed to being the person we claim we are, and truly committed to being faithful to the fulfillment of all responsibilities and pledges to which we have committed ourselves. For a salesperson, it occurs every time he/she is tempted to exaggerate his/her product or to pad his/her expense account. For a manager, it occurs every time he/she is tempted to falsify spreadsheets regarding monthly or quarterly production. Personally, it occurs when a person is tempted to renege on a debt, to deceitfully back out of a commitment when a more enjoyable opportunity comes along, or to cheat on his/her marriage vows.
How can we be people of integrity? How can we live honestly and stay true to the person we claim to be?
1. Realize that dishonesty is an affront to God who Himself is truth.
Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight. (NASB)” God has designed life such that truth is the foundation for trust, and without trust there is no foundation for a healthy relationship – whether that relationship be business or personal. Truth and honesty breed trustworthiness.
2. Recognize the basic causes for failures in integrity and reject them as acceptable behavior – such as:
- Feelings of entitlement. These can lead to resentment and a desire to get even when one feels he/she has been mistreated (i.e. passed over for a raise or promotion).
- Greed, selfishness, and covetousness which cause a person to be willing to cut corners to obtain desired possessions and/or ends.
- Fear of failure which can cause a person to do whatever necessary to cover his/her backside.
- Lack of respect for honesty as a core value, which keeps dishonesty as an open option at all times.
3. Make these key commitments:
- Always do what you say you will do. Be a promise keeper, not a hope breaker. Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was known as a man of integrity. Obert Logan, the Cowboys' starting free safety in the mid-1960s, tells that right after Landry was abruptly let goby the Cowboys, he was scheduled to speak at an athletic banquet for Logan’s school. When the city of Dallas began formulating plans for a parade in Landry’s honor, Logan realized the parade would conflict with the banquet. He told the coach's secretary that he understood that the parade would necessitate Landry's need to miss the banquet. Landry quickly called back and said, "Obert, my commitment is to you, and I'm going to fulfill it. They can have the parade another weekend.” Tom Landry did what he said he would do and that helped make him a great man.
- Be who you say you are. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Whenever you do a thing, act as if the world were watching.”
- Establish your non-negotiable core values and be unwilling to compromise them.
The Bottom Line
Remember that integrity brings security to life. Keep two important truths in mind. First, “he who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out (Proverbs 10:9 NASB).” Second, “the integrity of the upright will guide them, but the falseness of the treacherous will destroy them (Proverbs 11:3 NASB).”
About the Author
Jerry Long is a retired minister [38 years] living in metro Greenville, SC. He and his wife Lynne have two daughters and three grandchildren. He holds degrees from Clemson University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.