In his critically acclaimed biography of John Adams, author David McCullough quotes one of Abigail Adams' favorite sayings about integrity. The second woman to serve as First Lady in the United States believed that fame without honor would be "like a faint meteor gliding through the sky, shedding only transient light."
Unfortunately, that transient light can seem awfully appealing to many people.
In recent days, the world has watched as the heads of huge corporations men previously valued and placed in positions of enormous trust have been led away in handcuffs to be fingerprinted and jailed under charges of embezzlement and fraud. Their alleged crimes have robbed thousands of people and shaken the confidence of many more.
The world has watched as well-known athletes have been arrested and charged with spousal abuse, drug abuse and other violent crimes. The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, so inspiring in its message of unity and the worldwide longing for peace and cooperation, has been marred by accusations that judges were bought off and that athletes used illegal substances to enhance their performances.
The guilty ones will come to see that the transient light they longed for has forever been overshadowed by the darkness of a reputation ruined and of trusts that were broken. Ill-gotten fame and riches never can buy back the priceless things that are lost.
These high-profile examples of dishonesty ought to give every Latter-day Saint the opportunity to look inward. We may not be guilty of crimes that could be prosecuted in a court of law, but are we less than honorable in any of our dealings?
President Spencer W. Kimball once outlined some of the questions we ought to ask ourselves. "Do you bear a good reputation among saints and nonmembers for paying obligations? Do you live within your means? Do you only borrow what you have reasonable chance to repay? Do you oppress the employee? Do you give an honest day's work for your wages? Do you keep your word?" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Bookcraft, p. 194.)
Too often, people find ways to rationalize dishonest behavior. The corporate CEO might see cheating as the only way out of a difficult situation; the only way to cover a problem so big it would cause panic or cost him his reputation if anyone knew. The employee might feel he or she is entitled to a little more because the company's wages are too low, or because long hours and years of loyalty have gone unnoticed. An athlete might reason that everyone else is cheating, so the only way to compete successfully is to use performance-enhancing drugs to "level the playing field."
Temptations such as these are not new. They were not discovered by this generation. They have been a part of the mortal experience from the beginning, and the way people handle them is a big part of the test that will determine their standing in the worlds to come.
Fortunately, the prophets and the scriptures give us plenty of help to overcome these temptations. Always, the key is to trust in the Savior and to obey His commandments. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi told his rebellious brothers that "whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction." (1 Nephi 15:24.)
The prophet Helaman told his sons to "remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." (Helaman 5:12.)
We might not always see the lure of fame or the day-to-day decisions we make in the workplace as the "mighty storm" that Satan is pounding upon us. We might not recognize each temptation as a fiery dart. But if our lives are built on the foundation of the Son of God, our responses will always be of the kind that lead to everlasting, not transient, light.