Integrity and Values: A Discussion with Elder Robert D. Hales

Robert D. Hales

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


Robert D. Hales

Photograph by Craig Dimond

Recently Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with a member of the Church magazines staff to discuss integrity and values. Here is a portion of their discussion.

Church Magazines: In a world of shifting values, how can members continue to live by standards of honesty and integrity?

Elder Hales: You have to really understand who you are. When you look in the mirror, you have to be able to answer the question, who am I? and to know what your standards are.

I’ve previously told the story of a fighter pilot I knew who was supposed to receive training in emergency procedures. During this process the instructor teaches you what to do in a particular emergency situation, and you learn how to bail out of the airplane if you need to. This pilot would put his arm around the instructor and say, “Check me off for three hours of training.” Then he would go to the golf course or the swimming pool.

The instructor asked the pilot what he was going to do in an emergency situation. The pilot responded, “I’m not going to be in an emergency. I’m never going to have to bail out.” Sometime later there was a fire in his plane, and he didn’t bail out. His plane crashed to the ground, and he was killed.

The time to start learning your emergency procedures is not when the fire warning light comes on. You must decide beforehand what your standards are and how you are going to respond to a situation. You have to decide whether you will hold to your standards or give in to the desires of your employer or to your own desires for profit or personal gain.

Church Magazines: Some would say you can’t live by a strict ethical code and do well in the business world. Can a person with integrity truly succeed?

Elder Hales: Certainly, but you’d better be very good at what you do. Some of your associates will not understand your values and may resent you. Others will respect you for it. But individuals who are not ethical, who are selfish and greedy and hungry for power, will pay the price in the end.

We see this all the time: fine young men and women with integrity who get to Wall Street and then break down and abandon their standards. It’s because of greed, insatiable greed. As they start to become successful, they decide they would like a summer home, then they’d like a boat, then they’d like a home in the Caribbean, then an airplane. They are never satisfied, and they become obsessed with accumulating more and more. They lose their priorities, and then they lose their marriage, their family, and eventually they lose who they are.

Church Magazines: How can greed be prevented?

Elder Hales: One of the great blessings of tithing is that it helps prevent greed. It is best to start paying tithing early. For example, if you learn about tithing as a child but wait until you become a teenager before you pay it, then you may want to start saving money for a mission, and you may think, “Why pay it now?” So you go on your mission, and then you come back and you’ve got school to pay for; then you’re newly married and your family starts growing and you don’t have much money to cover your expenses. Then eventually you start making more money, and you think, “I can’t pay that much for tithing!” It becomes more and more difficult the longer you wait. Decide to pay your tithing now; don’t put it off. It only becomes more difficult.

The beautiful part for me is that money will never possess you if you can let some of it go for tithing and other worthy causes, such as your community or other charities.

I also believe in donating a portion of one’s time. If you share your time and your income, you will not become selfish. On the other hand, if you always put yourself first, you make terrible mistakes, and it affects everything else.

Church Magazines: Can you explain a bit more how each of our decisions affects the next?

Elder Hales: This cumulative process occurs when people lose their standards. They say, “I’ll just have one social drink.” Taking one drink makes it easier to take the second, and they keep rationalizing their behavior, and eventually they lose their priesthood, the influence of the Holy Ghost, and their values. It’s all cumulative. Pretty soon they’ve lost everything.

You don’t know that the first drink may lead you to become an alcoholic. You don’t know that the first pornographic image you look at may become an obsession and may take your life from you—your mind, your spirit, your body. You may think, “I can take one extra pill, right? That isn’t going to hurt anything.” I’ve known men who take 20 or 30 pain pills in a day, and they’ve been hooked for years.

I once met with a man who was a leader in the Church in his community. He was a good man and had a great family. Because of his professional background he was commissioned by the federal government to be on a committee to determine what kinds of materials were obscene. He decided that if he was going to do this, he’d better see the range of things they were looking at to see where the line should be drawn. But he got hooked on this material. And then he was released from his Church calling. He no longer held the priesthood, and he no longer was married to his sweet wife.

Before they divorced, I met with him and his wife, and I asked them, “How did this come about?” He answered, “I started bringing it home.” His wife said, “He would come home and wouldn’t even have dinner with us. He would take a sandwich into his den, and he would view this material. It totally obsessed him.”

The man told me, “The one thing I want you to teach more than anything else is that pornography is all-consuming. When I started, I had never seen it before. But after I had my first experience, it would not leave my mind.”

So as I said before, you have to decide what your standards are before you ever confront a situation. You have to decide, “I’m never going to have my first pornography experience on the Internet or anywhere else.” Questionable material may pop up on your computer all the time. What do you do? You get rid of it. You delete it. You’ve got to have a delete button in your life. You shouldn’t have to sit there and say, “Should I look at this, or should I not?” You can’t rationalize and say, “Well, maybe just once. Maybe I ought to experience or see a little of it so I know what it is.”

Church Magazines: The same concept could apply to other areas besides pornography.

Elder Hales: Yes. You say to yourself, “I’m never going to have my first cigarette, I’m never going to have my first drink, I’m never going to say my first swear word.”

Church Magazines: Some would argue that you’re not really free if you don’t try some of these things.

Elder Hales: They don’t understand what freedom really is. I am a great believer in agency. Going back to the beginning of time, when we were in the Council in Heaven, we all had to choose what we were going to do. One-third of our brothers and sisters chose to follow Lucifer. The rest of us chose to follow Christ. We chose agency. When you look at corrupt government, evil societies, or whoever the dictatorial individual is, you realize that agency must be very important if their evil behavior was allowed.

You have to have agency to choose between good and evil. So we say, “I understand I’m free to do what I want. I’m my own person. I have agency.” It’s true that we are free to make our own choices, but we’re not free to choose the consequences of those choices. Once you understand that, you begin to understand that there is a great price to be paid for agency. Those people who think agency means “I can do whatever I want whenever I want” do not understand. They may be able to do what they want, but they can’t choose the consequences.

We also have to say, “What are the eternal consequences? What should the eternal perspective be?” And that’s what I would hope—that every time we make an important decision, we say to ourselves, “What is the effect of this decision on my eternal progression?” Then many of the decisions become easy and clear-cut, because you then say, “I know who I am; I’m a child of God. I know where I’m going, and I know what I must do to achieve that eternal goal.” And with every decision you make, you say to yourself, “Does it move me closer to that goal or away from it?”

Church Magazines: How can you stand up for your standards while respecting the fact that those around you may have different standards?

Elder Hales: I don’t think you flaunt it. By your very conduct, people will know who and what you are. They will know what you will accept and what you won’t accept. It’s how you dress, it’s your demeanor, it’s how you conduct yourself.

I have great friends who aren’t members of the Church. I enjoy their intellect; I enjoy their company. They’re good people. I think the people you choose as your friends in the workplace and in your life make a huge difference. If you have to change your conduct to suit them, they aren’t your friends. You’re in servitude.

There are two things about friendship that I have learned. One is, good friends do not make you choose between their way and the Lord’s way. Second, good friends make it easier for you to stay on the strait and narrow path and to gain eternal life. In other words, when you are in their presence, it’s easier for you to live properly. If you have friends who encourage you to compromise your principles, you have to ask yourself, “Why are they my friends? Is it so I can be popular?” We aren’t here to be popular. We are going to have to stand by ourselves and be alone in many cases. Leadership is lonely. And sometimes, when you hold to your beliefs, you may not be popular. Some may be upset at the values you have.

Church Magazines: Is there anything else you would like Church members to understand about integrity and values?

Elder Hales: What I would emphasize more than anything else is that Church doctrine remains constant. It used to be that the Church and the world weren’t very far apart. Now the world is accelerating downward fast. There are many who would like to have the Church be a few steps behind the world but moving with it. But wherever the world goes, however deviant it becomes, the Church will remain constant. Once you understand that, you understand that you can’t do something just because it’s popular. You don’t base everything on where the world is. You decide who and what you are. Then people either accept you or reject you on that basis. That goes back to the friendship discussion. If they reject you, you don’t need to reject them. But you do not let your conduct be determined by the world.

Helps for Home Evening

  1. 1.

    After reviewing the pilot story, invite family members to suggest some “emergency procedures” for keeping gospel standards. Have them find and discuss Elder Hales’s suggestions for maintaining integrity.

  2. 2.

    Take turns asking and answering the questions Elder Hales answered. Use his ideas as you discuss each question. Make a family plan for living gospel standards.

[photos] Photography by Christina Smith