Several years ago I was in Philadelphia speaking to about 400 administrators and trustees of a large teacher pension fund.
At the end of the talk, I left the group with a story that asks, in essence, if we all had to make decisions with our families looking over our shoulder, would we be comfortable, proudeven, of the decisions we make?
Just before leaving to catch a train, a polite, gray-haired man taps me on the shoulder. “I want to thank you for your talk, this morning,” he says. “I just wanted you to know, that story you told about ‘Taking it to your family,’ that actually happened to me!”
“It was the ‘30s,” he began, “the depths of the depression, and my father did not have regular work but he had a reputation for being a man of great integrity.
“One day, the owner of a local bar asked him to come to work as his bartender. It seems the man was having trouble finding someone who was honest enough to keep his hands out of the till.
“Knowing my father to be rigorously honest, the man offered him thirty-five dollars a week if he took the job. However, there was a problem: my father did not drink; both he and my mother came from families who were opposed to drinking on religious principle.
“Interested in any offer that could help his family financially, my father was troubled because his principles did not hold with working in a bar. So, he came home and brought the decision to his family.
“He sat us all down, my mother, older brother and myself and told us about the offer. He explained that, although this was a good opportunity to make a lot of money, it would mean doing something that he was morally opposed to. ‘So, I’m asking you,’ my father said, ‘what should I do?’
“My brother, who was eight at the time and two years older than me, asked, ‘Will Grandpa know about this job?’
‘No,’ my father said. ‘Grandpa lives several hundred miles away, in the next state.’
“Then my brother asked, ‘Will God know about this?’
“My father smiled, realizing what he’d believed all along, and said that he wouldn’t be taking that job.”
Now, whether you agree or disagree that drinking is immoral is not the point. This man saw – by his father’s own actions – that it was more important to stand by your principles than achieve personal gain, even with a family to support.
Looking into the man’s eyes, I could see that this still had a powerful affect on him. “I was six-years-old at the time,” he said, “but I never forgot that moment. Whenever I had a tough decision to make, I always remembered what my father said and what it meant – that his integrity was more important than anything else.”
Former Senator Alan Simpson perhaps said it best, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”