In light of recent White House staff and congressional member scandals, the question has been raised about an individual’s ability to function effectively in public service if their private integrity and morality are compromised. The 24/7 news cycle has numbed our senses to the importance of integrity and morality and caused us to compartmentalize our thinking about the private actions of public servants.
In his first inaugural address in 1789, George Washington said he hoped "that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality.” He called on “free government” to exemplify the attributes that will make its citizens proud and “command the respect of the world."
The kind of public and private morality Washington called for in our nation’s leaders and public servants does not require them to be perfect. It does necessitate integrity and congruency of behavior regardless of the situation.
James Allen wrote, “Circumstances do not make the man, but reveal him.”
There have been individuals in high positions and high office who were not upright in their private lives who achieved some good results. This doesn’t, however, justify a lowering of the standard. Integrity and morality are core character traits. Such traits form the basis of personal strength and are the driving forces that enable individuals to do what is right — under pressure, or when no one is looking.
Sheri Dew, executive vice presdient of Deseret Management Corp., provided this excellent observation:
“Anything that lacks integrity is unstable, as any engineer will tell you. A bridge or skyscraper that has structural integrity simply does what it was built to do. It isn’t necessarily perfect. It could have flaws. But, under stress, pressure and repeated use, it does what it was built to do. Even in extreme circumstances it will do what it was designed to do. If, on the other hand, a structure does not have structural integrity, it will at some point fail, as was the case with the world’s first jet airliner, the British-made de Havilland Comet.
"When the Comet was introduced in 1949, the future seemed bright for jet travel and the Comet was the undisputed, front-and-center leader — until three Comets unexpectedly disintegrated in flight, killing all aboard. The planes were grounded as puzzled engineers worked feverishly to understand why they had operated flawlessly at first, only to break apart later in midair. The engineers set up a fuselage in a large pool and pumped water in and out, simulating the effects of repeated cabin pressurization. At first, the experiment revealed nothing, nothing at all. But over time the pressurized circumstances yielded a startling discovery. The repeated stress caused small, microscopic cracks to form around the rectangular windows, cracks that would eventually widen into gaping holes. The planes could not withstand repeated pressure. They lacked structural integrity and the pressurized circumstances revealed what the Comet was at its core — a bright shiny pretender that was not secure or safe.”
Public service is filled with pressure and uncomfortable circumstances. The question will be whether our elected leaders and their staff demonstrate integrity and morality in public and private moments.
Integrity is a critical key to leadership. Some say that as long as a person is competent and effective in their role, their private integrity doesn’t matter. Surely we would want our stockbroker to have integrity, our doctor to be truthful and our children’s teacher to be honest in their interaction with us.
Those who deal with or handle vital intelligence, information, reports and memos vital to America’s safety and national security cannot be compromised. High-ranking officials and staffers expect the American people to trust them. We want to believe they can trust those employed in such positions. Dishonesty and scandal cause citizens to question that trust. We cannot and must not normalize any behavior in our leaders or public servants that is immoral or lacking in integrity. The public must have trust and confidence that structural integrity of leaders and staff will remain strong regardless of the situation.
There is an inescapable trust to public servants — elected and appointed and employees in offices and agencies. As Washington observed, Americans' integrity and morality are part of what makes our country great at home and abroad.
There are no perfect public servants. In fact, all of us fall short. We all have need of repentance and mercy and understanding and forgiveness as we strive to overcome the cracks in our own structural integrity. That doesn’t mean we should lower our expectations or settle for less than our best in private and public life.
As one religious leader asked: “Is it asking too much of our public servants to not only make of this nation the greatest nation on earth politically and militarily, but also to give moral leadership to the world?”
Those minor cracks of integrity and gaping holes of private morality will destroy freedom and the structural soundness of this nation. Now, more than ever, integrity and morality must remain the sure foundation for the nation.