We Believe in Being Honest

By Elder Marvin J. Ashton

Of the Quorum of the Twelve

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    As we look to the future I think that our greatest challenge and opportunity is to accept the responsibility to promote, by our actions and our teachings, the concept that we must know the truth and live the truth. The scriptures tell us,

    “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

    “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).

    This applies just as much to us today as it did when it was written. To achieve this goal, we must be honest in our own lives and then teach others to be honest. I think it is significant that the 13th article of faith begins with “We believe in being honest.”

    Many times I have pondered the tremendous message given in a statement of the Savior indicating why he loved Hyrum Smith: “And again, verily I say unto you, blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart.” Then he adds, “and because he loveth that which is right before me, saith the Lord” (D&C 124:15).

    What would each of us, individually, do to have our Savior, Jesus Christ, say that of us? How do we best teach and share that which is right before him? I would like to suggest that we can do this by teaching total honesty. Let me break this down into a few categories to explain more fully what I mean.

    First of all, we need to be honest in our personal lives. How great it is to resolve that we are going to be totally honest with ourselves, that we will have real integrity. Don’t allow yourself to act in an inferior manner. Be proud of yourself, truly proud. Develop self-respect, poise, personality, and especially honesty in your total personal conduct. You don’t know how many people are looking at you and copying you. It is necessary for each of us to be honest in our personal lives so others can follow someone who is sincere, who teaches well through his actions. Others are counting on you to have personal pride, patience, and performance. Others are watching you—often unannounced—and they don’t want you to let them down. They’re counting on you and your example so they in turn can go forward and have an influence on other people. To do this, you must be honest with yourself.

    How great it is to have others see our performance, our conduct, and be lifted and led by the pattern we set.

    I once spoke in a sacrament meeting that I will long remember. The conducting officer, a member of the bishopric who introduced me as the speaker that evening, gave an unusual, rather lengthy introduction that went something like this:

    “Brothers and sisters, Elder Ashton will undoubtedly be disappointed when he hears what I am going to say about him and about myself. I heard him say to a group of prisoners once, ‘When you fellows leave this prison and go back into a regular environment, don’t apologize or boast about being ex-convicts. Just go on from where you are.’ Well, many of you in the congregation don’t know it, but I am an ex-convict of the Utah State Prison. About six years ago, when I met Elder Ashton, he was in charge of the Church prison program under the Social Services Department. A few weeks later when I became better acquainted with him, I told him I was a long-distance runner. I asked him if there was any chance for me to run in the annual Salt Lake City 24th of July marathon race. Elder Ashton encouraged me and said he would talk to the prison warden about my getting out for the day to participate in the race. He told me later that the warden agreed if Elder Ashton would take the responsibility for me. Elder Ashton assumed that responsibility and later told me he trusted me and expected me to do well in the contest.

    “I’ll never forget that marathon race in July 1971. It was hot, the course was challenging, and I wasn’t in the best physical condition. My only preparation had been running around the prison grounds when I had free time. Halfway through the race I felt completely exhausted; my legs were sore, and blisters covered the bottoms of both my feet. I wanted to quit. I felt I couldn’t continue. Just as I was about to drop out, the thought flashed through my mind, ‘You can’t let Elder Ashton down. He’s counting on you.’ I made it into the final section of the marathon route, and I had the urge to stop. Again the thought came to me: ‘You can’t quit. You want Elder Ashton to be proud of you, don’t you?’

    “Well, I finished the race. Not among the first 25, but I finished. I went right back to the prison after the race, according to my agreement. Elder Ashton told me he was proud of me for finishing the race and proud to have me for his friend. I don’t mind telling you that I was a little pleased with myself for one of the first times in my whole life.

    “It wasn’t too long after the marathon race that I was released from prison. About a year later I met a lovely young lady; we had a good courtship, and some months after that Elder Ashton accompanied us to the temple and performed our marriage and sealed us for time and all eternity. Tonight, six years later, I am proud to be serving in your bishopric.”

    I hope that each of us, in our personal lives, will have people in front of us, beside us, and behind us, whom we will not let down.

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time as a visitor at the Utah State Prison. Some of the best friends I have ever made were made there. I like to go there because every time I go, I learn something. I learn about personal pride. I learn something about performance. I learn something about people.

    One day, when I was talking with the warden at the prison, I asked, “How many prisoners do you have here in the prison who might be classified as ‘impossible’?” I knew that the prison was over-crowded—over 800 prisoners in buildings large enough for only 600, and I knew also that there were a lot of prisoners who presented problems for the prison officials. I remember one day being in the prison yard with some of them and seeing a tattoo across the chest of one man that said “A Born Loser,” and he was out to prove it. So I was impressed when the warden said that, of all the prisoners at the Utah State Prison, there was only one whom he would classify as being really impossible or unreformable.

    I asked him to tell me about the man. He said that that prisoner has to remain in his cell 23 hours and 40 minutes every day. He cannot be with anyone else. He isn’t insane; he’s just hardened. “We can’t give him any freedom,” the warden told me. “His meals are served in his cell through iron bars. He has toilet facilities and a bed, and that is where he stays all but about 20 minutes of the day, when he is taken out for a shower. The last time he was allowed to be with other prisoners he put a knife through another prisoner. He would do the same again if he were allowed any freedom.”

    No personal pride. No worthy performance. No patience. The only thing he is accomplishing in his life is being number one—number one in impossibility.

    May each of us take a lesson from this and so structure our lives that we may be classified as number one in the very important virtues of pride, performance, and patience—in total honesty with ourselves and with all others.

    Second, we need to develop and practice being honest with our associates. We need to be honest in our relationships with our friends and others with whom we come in contact—not false or artificial, but honest in all our words and actions. When we give our word of honor it represents everything good about each of us.

    A great leader in the Church, Karl G. Maeser (first president of Brigham Young Academy), felt strongly that each of us at one time or another must face ourselves and choose between personal interests and that which we know to be right. In choosing the right we are honest with ourselves and with others. He was once asked what he meant by “word of honor.” This was his answer. “Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground. There is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape. But stand me on that floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No. Never. I would die first.”

    We who represent that Church need to pay particular attention to this. We musn’t deceive any of our associates. We musn’t act like something we are not. If we have personal pride and are honest with ourselves, being honest with our associates will come naturally.

    Third, we must be honest in our work. The old phrase “an honest day’s work” is never outdated. I like to come to work early because I love what I do. We all should feel this way. A bad attitude about our work can affect the quality of what we do. One bad attitude, “temporary work mentality,” has probably had an effect on all of us at one time or another. We may be thinking that we are only going to be employed for a short time during a small portion of our lives—just for the summer, for example, or while we pay our way through school, or while we wait for a better job to come along. Maybe we are just working to get out of debt or help while a missionary son is in the field. There are many reasons why a person may develop a temporary work mentality, and the reasons themselves are not bad—it is the resulting attitude that is dangerous and dishonest. It is the kind of attitude that says, “I don’t have to treat this customer with care, courtesy, and honesty because I will not be here forever.” Or the kind that says, “I really don’t need to complete this task because no one will know, and I am not going to be here all my life.” This kind of thinking is lazy. It leads to a dangerous overall way of life that can affect our possibilities for success in the future.

    In the Doctrine and Covenants 51:16–17 [D&C 51:16–17], the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation at the request of Bishop Edward Partridge. It appears that the Saints, after moving from place to place, wondered if they should build homes rather than live in tents during this temporary portion of their migration westward. To this question the Lord answered very clearly:

    “And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;

    “And the hour and the day is not given unto them wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good” (italics added).

    In any position we accept, we offer our honesty, our integrity, and our good name. We should always work, as the Lord has suggested, as if for years. It is the works that we perform that finally build what we become.

    We can teach the importance of honesty in work by our own example. The days seem long for those who do not work or who waste time in their working days. There is satisfaction in achieving and performing honestly.

    There is a story told of a dishonest character who approached a trusted employee to help him steal a considerable amount of money from the company. The employee constantly refused until finally, after being offered one million dollars, he gave in to the idea.

    After the two had successfully committed the crime, the criminal offered the employee one hundred dollars for his help. The employee was furious. In a voice filled with anger the employee said, “What do you think I am, a criminal?” The man who had planned the crime said in a voice filled with contempt, “We already know what you are; now we are just arguing over how much you get paid.”

    Fourth, we must, above all, be honest with God. We must get to know him, get to know that he lives, get to know that he will help us. Over the years I have learned that when I need answers to deal with crises, people, and issues, I must go to God. God will help us in everything we do if we stay in tune and if we will call on him. We must each plan our future with him in our homes, our families, and our relationships with others. If we make him our senior partner, our lives can be successful.

    A young boy, Joseph Smith, gave us one of the greatest examples of being honest with God, when on a spring morning in 1820 he poured out the most honest feelings of his heart to his Father in Heaven. The resulting answer “This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!” followed and ushered in the fullness of the gospel in this dispensation. The total and complete honesty of a young 14-year-old boy has made more impact on our day than any other modern occurrence.

    Honesty is a way of life. It is not an announcement, a declaration. It is a virtue that we achieve step by step, with our associates, in our work, and with God. It is not above and beyond the call of duty to be honest. Being honest is our duty.