Viewpoint: Developing an Incorruptible Character

Contributed By the Church News

  • 23 October 2016

The world is in desperate need of men and women of character, virtue, and honesty, such as Captain Moroni. “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17).

Article Highlights

  • Duke University’s study on honesty concluded that dishonesty is a common trait.
  • Seeing their peers cheat encourages individuals to cheat.
  • An antidote for dishonesty is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe, and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our Father in Heaven.” —President Thomas S. Monson

To measure the honesty of an individual, Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely performed something he called “the matrix” test, which gathered some interesting insights into human psychology (see The Truth about Dishonesty [2012]).

In a classroom setting, participants came at various times and were given a 20-item set of simple math problems and only five minutes to do them. Participants were given 50 cents for every correct answer.

When the five minutes were up, the participants were invited forward to shred their answer sheet and report, on the honor system, how many problems were solved correctly to an administrator. The participant was promptly paid and allowed to go.

What was not apparent to participants was the fact that the shredder only shredded the edges of the paper and the answer sheet remained intact, allowing for examination. Most people lied and indicated they solved two more problems than they actually did, Dr. Ariely reported.

Dr. Ariely also reported that if participants saw someone else cheat, they felt justified to cheat. Dr. Ronald E. Riggio analyzed the study and said, “Ariely’s research goes on to show that the incidence of cheating is not greatly affected by the chances of getting caught, but cheating increases if another participant is seen blatantly cheating—a modeling effect” (“Why So Many of Us Lie, Cheat and Steal,” Psychology Today, 2012).

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching” (Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court [1997]).

As children of God, we are involved in a similar experiment. Will we remain true to the commandments of God, even though the heavens feel distant?

With the noticeable decline of morals in society affecting friends, family, and civic and religious leaders, one might feel justified in lowering his or her own morals and standards, but this is a slippery slope to sin.

Melissa Dahl with New York Magazine quoted Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University College of London, in an article about how lying becomes easier and easier to do.

“At first, even a little lie provokes a big response in brain regions associated with emotion, such as the amygdala and insula,” she said. “The tenth time you lie, even if you lie the same amount, the response is not that high. So while lying goes up over time, the response in your brain goes down” (“The Truth About Ways People Lie,” 2015).

The world is in desperate need of men and women of character, virtue, and honesty, such as Captain Moroni. “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men“ (Alma 48:17).

The antidote to an ailing world is the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person who follows its principles will receive the strength to resist temptation and remain incorruptible from the influences of the world. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

At the October 2010 general conference, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “Faith and character are intimately related. Faith in the power of obedience to the commandments of God will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is intended to be used” (“The Transforming Power of Faith and Character”).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles provided a definition of personal integrity in the April 1990 general conference. He said: “To me, 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 importantly, 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” (“Personal Integrity”).

In a message titled “Integrity” delivered at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on May 7, 2010, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recited a childhood story of an old emperor who was trying to select a replacement by giving the youth in his village each a seed. They were to grow the seed as best they could and report back in a year.

A young boy named Ling received a seed, which he took home and planted. Each day he would water the seed and watch for growth but nothing happened, said Elder Holland. The other youth in the village soon bragged about how well their seeds were growing, but Ling still saw no growth.

After a year, the youth of the village brought their plants to the emperor, said Elder Holland. Ling had nothing, but the other youth had wonderful trees and bushes of various sizes and shapes.

The emperor explained he gave each of them a boiled seed, which would not grow, but all of them except Ling had replaced it with a different seed, he said. Apparently only one young person among the group had the integrity to abide by the rules even though it made him look like a failure. Ling was chosen as the new emperor because of his integrity.

As followers of Christ may we have the incorruptible character to stand for what is right, even if it seems like we are the only one. “May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe,” said President Thomas S. Monson, “and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our Father in Heaven” (“Dare to Stand Alone,” Oct. 2011 general conference).