Jeffrey R. Holland gave a speech at West Point to the Military Academy recently and talked about integrity. Students at West Point have a code that says, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Elder Holland told a story he’d been told as a child about a boy who learned the value of integrity.
He told of a boy named Ling who, along with the other children in the kingdom, was invited to hear the emperer speak. In this meeting the emperer said he was getting old and wanted to choose a new emperer. To help him choose, he was going to give each child a seed. They were to take their seeds home, care for them, and then, in one year, return to show what they’d grown.
Ling was really excited by this project. He carefully planted his seed and worked hard to take care of it in its little pot. After about three weeks all the other children were starting to talk about the great plants growing in their pots, but Ling’s pot was growing nothing at all. He was worried, but he kept taking care of the plant the best he could. All year he listened to the other children talking about their tall plants and even trees, but his pot stayed empty.
When the year ended, Ling was embarrassed and didn’t want to show his empty flower pot to the emperer. His mother told him he needed to go and to be honest. She advised him to tell the truth–that he worked hard to care for his plant but that nothing had grown. Ling knew his mother was right. He needed to tell the truth–to have integrity. He nervously took his flowerpot to the meeting. Everyone was instructed to place his or her flowerpot in one area. All around the room were beautiful flowers, plants, and trees. Ling placed his empty pot on the floor in the back of the room, hoping no one would notice it. He stood beside it, waiting.
Soon the emperer showed up. The emperer walked around, looking at all the plants, flowers, and trees. Then he saw Ling and his empty pot. He asked the guards to bring Ling and his flowerpot to the front of the room. Frightened, Ling approached the emperer. To his great surprise, the emperer proclaimed him the new emperer.
The room fell silent as everyone tried to figure out why the only child who hadn’t managed to grow something was going to be the emperer. The emperer explained that the seeds each child had been given had been boiled. It would be impossible for them to grow. He had known most children would, when they saw their seed wasn’t growing, would replace it with a good seed and then lie about it. When he saw Ling’s empty pot, he knew he had found a boy with integrity–someone who would follow the rules and tell the truth. That was the sort of person he wanted to run his country and that was why only Ling qualified to become the new emperer.
Ling had integrity. Even though he thought it would cost him the chance to become the emperer, even though he was embarrassed, he refused to cheat at the contest and when the time came to be judged, he told the truth. He was willing to pay for his integrity with the cost of a kingdom. What are you willing to pay for your own integrity?
Some time ago I was putting my groceries into the trunk of my car after shopping. I had only a few things and had kept them in the child seat, but as I unloaded the groceries, I saw a small item, worth about 87 cents, in the main basket. I checked my receipt and saw that I hadn’t paid for it, so I quickly returned to the store and went to the customer service desk to pay for it. The cashier commented on my honesty in returning to pay for something so inexpensive. However, I felt my integrity was worth more than 87 cents. Had I simply left without paying, the store might not have lost much, but I would have lost a lot. I’d have lost God’s respect and I’d have lost respect for myself.
My integrity was worth a lot more than 87 cents and I wasn’t willing to sell it for so little. How much is your integrity worth?