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Integrity: Taking the High RoadJuly 27, 2014
We have just had an election here in the Cook Islands, and many of the results are being contested, in court. There are accusations back and forth of corruption and bribery. There is one virtue for which people are crying out, especially around election time. It is bound up in hope and leads to trust – the virtue of integrity. It's about keeping one's word and abiding by our personal covenant. It is caring more about what's right than who's right. We are willing to sacrifice personal advantage and the opinions of others to stand up for our highest values. In this small beloved country of sea and islands, that means caring for and serving the people, putting their needs above personal ambition and individual gain. A person of integrity is willing to give up the love of power for the power of love.
I have seen a number of examples of integrity in this community. A misplaced camera turned in and returned. A friend who sold his car warning the new owner it could require work at times, given its age. On the way to deliver the car, his wife noticed one of the brake lights was out. He stopped at a shop to replace it before delivering it. An honest person answered a question I asked with, "I don't know. You might try asking so and so." That is a meaningful stand for integrity in a place where it is typical to get an answer of any kind even if the person really has no idea what the answer is.
Proverbs 2:6-8 tells us, "For the Lord …stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity…" This is a promise that when we act with integrity, we will be guided and protected. Baha'u'llah, Prophet Founder of the Baha'i Faith says, "Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive." He also says, "One righteous act…hath the power to restore the force that hath spent itself and vanished." What a powerful thought.
So, how do we know if we are putting the world right by acting with integrity? The guiding principle is, who will benefit? Can I look back on this moment and feel good about it in my heart? Is this decision, this action, this choice going to benefit our family, the people of our community, the people in our world? Integrity presents a grand opportunity for a small community because virtues are contagious. True transformation is possible if there is sufficient unity behind it, especially amongst our leaders, when they value community interests above personal advantage.
A former governor in the Marianas Islands told us of a time during World War II when his family took refuge in a cave and were near starvation. During a cease fire searched the beach for food, and he spotted a bill half buried in the sand. As he ran to grab it, his mother called out, "Don't touch that money!" "But, mother, we could buy food with it!" he said. "No, because if everyone is honest, only the person who lost the money will find it." With tears in his eyes, he added, "I can honestly say during my years in office, I have been offered much, but I have never taken anything that did not rightfully belong to me."
We need not wait for anyone else to start a new wave of integrity. We can practice it ourselves. When we have a choice before us, we can take the high road, doing what we know is right. When we walk in integrity, we are truly on holy ground.