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FIRST-PERSON: People of integrity

SAN JOSE, Calif. (BP)–When the state of Virginia joined the revolt against the United States, Robert E. Lee sided with the South. Despite fighting on the losing side in the Civil War, this general’s fame has outlived him.

Lee is still lauded for his valiant leadership of an out-manned and out-spent Confederacy. However, far less known is fellow Virginian George Thomas -– like Lee, a graduate of the West Point Military Academy.

Soon after Fort Sumter erupted, Virginia’s governor offered Thomas the command of all state artillery forces. Most Virginians assumed he would side with the South.

But in the spring of 1861 he announced he would remain loyal to the Union. Declared Thomas: “I took an oath at West Point to defend the Constitution and to serve my country. I do not break my oaths.”

Thomas went on to become a great general, rising to the rank of Union army commander in Tennessee and Georgia. Historians rank him among the top Union generals. Congress passed a post-war resolution in his honor.

However, he paid a high price. Loyalty to his country earned him scorn at home. Not only did he sever ties with his native state, but with his own flesh and blood.

When Thomas died from a massive stroke in 1870, nearly 10,000 people attended his funeral in New York. But not a single member of his family attended. Asked later why, one of his sisters replied, “As far as we’re concerned, our brother died in 1861.”

What would drive a man to risk deeply rooted family ties to uphold his nation’s honor? I believe it lies in West Point’s Cadet Honor Code, simply defined as: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.”

On a behavioral level, the Code represents a simple standard. On a developmental plane, West Point expects cadets to live above minimum standards. As leaders, they are to develop a commitment to ethical principles that guides their moral actions.

West Point’s core mission is to develop leaders for the United States Army. A leader of character knows what is right and possesses the moral courage to act on that knowledge.

The conduct expected of military cadets ranks far above that demonstrated in recent years in businesses, corporations and government agencies.

In certain business sectors, discussing honesty, integrity or ethics prompts laughter. Worse, I have discovered that in Christian circles keeping your word is not a given. I long ago stopped trying to keep track of broken promises made to me in churches.

Given this reality, it is no wonder that Christ’s simple command, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37a) is seldom applied in the business world.

The question is: What can be done about this sad state of affairs? As followers of Christ, whether we are involved in business, education, government or other fields, I believe we all need to adopt a code that we will operate by, regardless of circumstances.

While there are dozens of qualities we should embrace, I think it starts with integrity. Possessing integrity means we will want to integrate truth into everything we do.

Ask almost anyone about Enron, WorldCom or other corporate scandals and you are likely to hear responses about how people in these enterprises lacked integrity.

Interestingly, three of the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:15-17) are directly associated with integrity:

— Number 8: “You shall not steal” (verse 15).

— Number 9: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (verse 16).

— Number 10: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (verse 17).

I like to think of integrity as living on the outside like you think and are on the inside. Integrity is the integration of life into a cohesive lifestyle. With integrity, we act the same at work as we do at a worship service, or the same way at home as we do on vacation.

A glaring problem in many societies is the establishment of different rules for work and home:

— The woman who would never allow her children to lie has developed a lifestyle of lying in order to make sales at work.

— The man who would never cheat on his wife regularly cheats on his income tax returns.

— The church member who professes to believe in Christ thinks nothing of violating copyright laws by burning CDs or copying MP3 files to pass along software or music to friends.

Integrity requires a company to communicate the same message to the general public it does to employees. It requires that a company do for its employees what it promised them at their hiring.

Ever felt disillusioned because a raise or other promised perk somehow never materialized? And the explanation of why included the reasonable-sounding explanation of an economic downturn or company restructuring?

The lack of integrity (wholeness) also promotes a compartmentalization of our lives. In other words, we separate our behavior into secular and spiritual realms.

If you adopt different rules for your spiritual life than your secular existence, it demonstrates a lack of integrity. Why? Because a person of integrity has integrated his or her values into a pattern of wholeness.

When you think of integrity, do you think of a person who lives up to that standard? I do. And I want others to think of me in that way. Without a doubt truthfulness is part of integrity, but so is living up to one’s commitments.
Adapted from “God@Work (Volume 2): Developing Ministers in the Marketplace” by Rich Marshall with Ken Walker. A former pastor, Marshall is a speaker and the founder of ROi Leadership, a corporate training business in San J

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  • Rich Marshall