“The weakest of all weak things is virtue that has not been tested in the fire.” – Mark Twain
“Ethicist Michael Josephson says ethics is all about how we meet the challenge of doing the right thing when that act will cost us more than we want to pay.” – John M. Huntsman, Sr.
Christopher passed away on the last day of 2016. When I heard about his death it reminded me of a story I read in the book Craddock Stories about an episode of M*A*S*H that featured Father Mulcahy.
The episode was written by Jim Strain. In the episode Father Mulcahy becomes attracted to one of the nurses in the unit. The feeling is mutual and Father Mulcahy is sorely tempted to break his vow of chastity. The episode is about the struggle within Father Mulcahy to decide what to do. In the end he keeps his religious vows and stays true to his promise to God.
Strain had a difficult time selling this episode. The creators of the show loved the drama created by Father Mulcahy’s internal struggle, but they hated the ending. They asked him to change it to “make it more realistic.”
He asked them what would make it more realistic, and they responded, “He goes for the nurse! He disavows the priesthood! Don’t you understand what people want?”
Strain refused to change the script and the show finally relented and purchased it as it was written.
If you watch popular entertainment, listen to music, or watch the news you will likely come to the conclusion that Strain’s trouble selling a story about someone staying true to their values in spite of temptation is not an isolated incident. Popular culture and the news often seem intent on only showing us the negative side of human nature.
However, those of us living in the real world know that not everyone lies, cheats, and steals. People from all walks of life have their integrity tested every day and most of them make the difficult but correct choices.
The problem is not that these examples don’t exist, but that we so rarely hear about them. So, in an admittedly feeble attempt to balance the scales, here are five of my favorite stories about people who were tested, but who valued their integrity more than money.
Monty Roberts grew up around horses in California. His father was a horse trainer and Monty was riding before he learned to walk. This was during the heyday of Western Movies and as a child Monty rode horses in movies, often as a stunt double for child actors. He later got into rodeos and horse shows and earned a reputation as a great horseman.
Roberts always dreamed of being a horse trainer himself, and with a wife and a couple of kids to support he figured it was time to get serious, so he went into the business. In spite of his reputation as a great rider, Roberts was an inexperienced trainer, and had trouble getting clients. He had only 4 horses to train which wasn’t bringing in nearly enough money to support his family.
Roberts wasn’t sure what he was going to do when an opportunity was presented to work as an apprentice with Don Dodge, one of the most well-known and well-respected trainers in the area. He was told to bring two of his horses with him.
After 10 weeks the apprenticeship ended and Roberts met with Dodge. One of the horses he had brought with him was named Panama Buck. Dodge told Roberts that when he got home he should call up the horse’s owner, Lawson Williams, and tell him that he was wasting his money having Roberts train the horse because the horse was never going to amount to anything.
Roberts was understandably reluctant to do this, as that would eliminate a quarter of his already meager income. When he asked Dodge why he should do this, Dodge responded that the most important thing he could do was always tell owners the truth about their horses, and if he did this he would soon get more than enough business to replace the loss.
Roberts went home and did as instructed but Williams didn’t take the news well. He responded by berating Roberts, screaming “You useless son of a gun, you wouldn’t know a good horse if it leapt up between your legs. That’s the last horse you’ll ever get from me!”
Several days later Roberts’ phone rang. A voice on the other end said, “Hello, Mr. Gray here, Joe Gray.” He went on, “I was having lunch with Mr. Williams yesterday. He was complaining about you, but from what I heard you must be about the only honest trainer I ever heard of. Well, I know that Panama Buck horse of his wasn’t any good, and I just want to take a flyer on you. I have this horse I want to send to you; it’s called My Blue Heaven.”
From that point on things started to turn around for Roberts. He gained a reputation as not only a great trainer, but an honest one, and soon he had more than enough horses to train. Eventually he would even have the opportunity to train horses for the Queen of England. And it all started with following some wise advice from a mentor to always be honest, even when the price is high.
Note: I read this story in Roberts’ book, The Man Who Listens to Horses.
In May of 2005 American professional tennis player Andy Roddick was playing Fernando Verdasco, of Spain, in the round of 16 at the Italia Masters tennis tournament in Rome, Italy. Roddick was the number one seed in the tournament and a heavy favorite to win the match and advance.
Roddick, one of the top players in the world, was at the top of his game. Indeed, just one month later he would make it to the finals at Wimbledon before losing to Roger Federer.
Roddick dominated as expected and had triple match point when something extremely unusual happened. Roddick couldn’t return Verdasco’s hard second serve but the linesman called the serve out and awarded Roddick the point and the match.
With the crowd cheering Verdasco ran to the net to shake Roddick’s hand and congratulate him on his victory. However, Roddick knew something that the linesman, the umpire, the cheering crowd, and Verdasco himself didn’t know. The serve had not been out, but had hit on the line, making it in.
Roddick could have kept this information to himself and accepted the victory. Indeed, honor calls are not expected in tennis. Instead he informed the umpire that the ball had been in and offered to show him the mark on the clay where the ball had hit to prove his point. The umpire reversed the call and awarded the point to Verdasco.
Having been given a second chance Verdasco made the most of it. He came back to win the game, the set, and the match giving him a highly improbable victory, especially considering not long before he had been standing at the net ready to concede.
Sportswriter Frank DeFord estimates Roddick’s honesty cost him at least “tens of thousands of dollars;” perhaps much more if he had gone on to win the tournament. Integrity was clearly more important to Roddick than either winning or money. Andy Roddick lost a tennis match that day but won something much more important, and in the process set a great example of sportsmanship for competitors everywhere.
It was early December, 2005 and 23-year-old Ian Rosenberger hung desperately to an ocean buoy off the coast of Palau in the Western Pacific Ocean. He had been there for over 12 hours.
To someone unfamiliar with the situation Ian’s condition might appear bleak, but Ian was not a castaway from a shipwreck. Instead, he was a contestant on the popular TV show Survivor, where contestants compete for a grand price of a million dollars.
Ian was one of only three contestants left out of the original 20, and this was the last immunity challenge. If he won this challenge he would be one of the final two contestants for the million dollar grand prize.
The challenge was a simple but brutal test of endurance and perseverance. Each contestant would cling to the ocean buoy as it swayed, sometimes violently, in the waves and the one that could hang on the longest would get a free pass to the final round.
The other two contestants hanging to the buoy were Katie Gallaher and Ian’s best friend on the show, Tom Westman. Katie dropped out after 5 hours leaving just Ian and Tom.
As the hours marched slowly on the challenge became increasingly difficult physically, but for Ian the bigger challenge was psychological. Alone with his thoughts he began to consider how he had played the game and how much the million dollars meant to him.
Ian could see a clear path to victory in his mind. If he won the challenge he would get to choose which of the other two contestants to eliminate. He saw his friend Tom as the bigger threat. Ian felt that if he won the challenge and eliminated Tom he would have a clear path to victory.
Ian was an Eagle Scout and as he clung to the buoy he began to repeat the words of the Scout Law: “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal….” Ian stopped. He knew he had been neither while playing the game. He later said, “I’d been backstabbing people and I was planning on doing that to my best friend in the game and realized I would lose that friend if I continued playing the game in the same way. Every time I pulled money out of the ATM account with the million dollars, it would bother me.”
Ian thought of the example he would be setting, especially for his younger sister. “I thought about Scouting, and I thought about the people who would watch me win. They wouldn’t have been proud.”
So Ian quit. Not just the challenge, but the game. He gave up and asked his friend, Tom, to eliminate him. Tom reluctantly agreed and the chance to become an instant millionaire was over for Ian. As Ian predicted, Tom went on to become the sole survivor and win the million dollars.
Thinking back Ian stated, “I realized it’s not just winning the million. It’s how you win it. That is what I learned in Scouts. It’s not just accomplishing something; how you accomplish it becomes important.” He added, “I decided to bow out. That was because of the Scout Law….and because of my sister.”
For Ian Rosenberger living according to the values he learned in scouting was worth more than a million dollars. Does he have any regrets?
“I can’t say that the cash wouldn’t come in handy right now, but I’m completely happy with the decision I made. I don’t regret it at all. It’s only a million bucks. I left with pride and a story I could be proud of…although if I stayed, I wouldn’t be eating ramen noodles every day as I am now!”
Note: I read the story of Ian Rosenberger in the book, Spirit of Adventure: Eagle Scouts and the Making of America’s Future, by Alvin Townley
James Doty is a man of many talents, among them neurosurgeon, entrepreneur, and university professor. Early in his career he was heavily involved in developing the technology and bringing to market the Cyberknife. In the process he became wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
Doty is also very generous. With a net worth of $75 million he pledged stock worth $30 million to charity.
Not long after the pledge his investments were hit hard by the dot.com crash of 2000-2001. Doty lost almost everything. The only thing left was the pledged stock.
His lawyers advised Doty that he could get out of the pledge. They told him people would understand that his circumstances had changed, and that they wouldn’t expect him to follow through.
Doty considered his options. He later said, “One of the persistent myths in our society is that money will make you happy. Growing up poor, I thought that money would give me everything I did not have: control, power, love. When I finally had all the money I had ever dreamed of, I discovered that it did not make me happy.”
Doty decided to follow through with his pledge and give away the last of his fortune. And how did he feel after the gift was given? Doty stated, “At that moment I realized that the only way that money can bring happiness is to give it away.”
You can add one more item to Doty’s list of talents: integrity. With the price much higher than he initially thought it would be Doty followed through on his commitment of giving. The irony is that only after the gift was given did James Doty find the happiness he had been searching for.
Note: James Doty is the founder and director of The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. I read his story in The Book of Joy, by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams.
Jon M. Huntsman, Sr.
After lengthy negotiations Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., founder and CEO of Huntsman Chemical Corporation, had come to an agreement with Emerson Kampen, Chairman and CEO of Great Lakes Chemical Company. Great Lakes would buy 40 percent of Huntsman for $54 million. As Huntsman liked to do, the agreement was sealed with a handshake.
Although it was a fairly simple transaction by the time the corporate attorneys finalized the paperwork seven months had passed since the handshake between the CEOs. During this time the price of raw materials had plummeted and Huntsman’s profits had soared.
One day Huntsman received a phone call from Emerson Kampen. Kampen informed Huntsman that, according to his bankers, 40 percent of Huntsman’s company was now worth $250 million. Kampen felt, given the circumstances, that the $54 million dollar price they had agreed to seven months prior was no longer fair.
Kampen said, “I can’t commit Great Lakes to making up the full estimated value, but how about splitting the difference?” Kampen was offering to pay Huntsman almost $100 million dollars more than they had agreed.
Huntsman replied, “We agreed to a price of fifty-four million and that is the price I expect you to pay.”
Kampen countered, “But that’s not fair to you.”
Huntsman ended the conversation, stating, “You negotiate for your company, Emerson, and I’ll negotiate for mine.” The sale went through at $54 million.
Huntsman operated on the principle that his word, and a handshake, were his bond. He was not willing to compromise that principle, even for a $100 million dollars. Huntsman’s integrity was worth more to him than any amount of money.
Note: I read this story in Huntsman’s book, Barefoot to Billionaire.
How severely has your integrity been tested? When was the last time you were asked to make a choice where doing the right thing would cost you more than you wanted to pay?
Remember, not everyone lies, cheats, and steals and doing the right thing is just as “realistic” as taking the easy way out. These stories prove that and can give us the strength and courage we need to make the right choices when our tests come.
Do you have a favorite story about someone who valued their integrity more than money? If so, I would love to hear it.