A Foolproof Formula for Success
Arthur Gordon

When I was asked to give the commencement address at a nearby college, a friend said to me, "It's easy.  All you have to do is give 'em a foolproof formula for success!"

It was said jokingly, but the remark stuck in my mind.  And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there is a foolproof formula for success, available to anyone wise enough to recognize it and put it to work.

In American industry the competition for promising personnel is terrific.  Year after year businesspeople study college records, screen applicants, and offer special inducements to proven people.  What are they after, really? brains? energy? know-how?  These things are desirable, sure.  But they will carry a person only so far.  If one is to move to the top and be entrusted with command decisions, there must be a plus factor, something that takes mere ability and doubles or trebles its effectiveness.  To describe this magic characteristic there's only one word:  integrity.

Basically, the word means wholeness.  In mathematics, an integer is a number that isn't divided into fractions.

Just so, a person of integrity isn't divided against him or herself.  They don't think one thing and say another--so it's virtually impossible for the person to lie.  They don't believe in one thing and do another--so one is not in conflict with one's own principles.  It's the absence of inner warfare, I'm convinced, that gives a person the extra energy and clarity of thought that make achievement inevitable.

Integrity really means having a certain built-in set of attitudes.  Let me give you examples.

Integrity means living up to the best in yourself.  Years ago, a writer who had lost a fortune in bad investments went into bankruptcy.  His intention was to pay off every cent he owed, and three years later he was still working at it. To help him, a newspaper organized a fund.  Important people contributed heavily to it.  It was a temptation--accepting would have meant the end of a wearing burden.  But Mark Twain refused, and returned the money to the contributors.  Seven months later, with his new book a hit, he paid the last of his debts in full.

Integrity means having a highly developed sense of honor.  Not just honesty, mind you, honor.  The great Frank Lloyd Wright once spoke of this to the American Institute of Architects.  "What," he asked, "might this sense of honor be?  Well, what is the honor of a brick; what would be an honorable brick?  A brick brick, wouldn't it?  What would be the honor of a board?  It would be a good board, wouldn't it?  What is the honor of a person?  To be a true individual."  And that's exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright was:  an individual true to his own standards and hence to himself.

Integrity means having a conscience and listening to it.  "It is neither safe nor prudent," said Martin Luther, facing his enemies in the city where his death had been decreed, "to do aught against conscience.  Here I stand; God help me, I cannot do otherwise."

Integrity means having the courage of your convictions.  This includes the capacity to cling to what you think is right, to go it alone when necessary, and to speak out against what you know is wrong.  In the operating room of a great hospital a young nurse had her first day of full responsibility.  "You've removed eleven sponges, doctor," she said to the surgeon.  "We used twelve."
  "I've removed them all," the doctor declared.  "We'll close the incision now."
  "No," the nurse objected.  "We used twelve."
  "I'll take the responsibility," the surgeon said grimly.  "Suture!"
  "You can't do that!" blazed the nurse.  "Think of the paitent."
  The doctor smiled, lifted his foot, showed the nurse the twelfth sponge.  "You'll do," he said.  He had been testing her for integrity--and she had it.

Integrity means obedience to the unenforceable.  In a way, this is the heart of it.  No one can force you to live up to the best in yourself.  No one can compel you to get involved.  No one can make you obey your conscience.  A person of integrity does these things anyway.

During World War II, when our armies were slashing across France, an American colonel and his jeep driver took a wrong turn and ran into an oncoming German armored column.  Both men jumped out and took cover, the sergeant in some roadside bushes, the colonel in a culvert under the road.  The Germans spotted the sergeant and advanced on him, firing.  The colonel could easily have remained undetected.  He chose, instead, to come out fighting--one pistol against tanks and machine guns.  He was killed.  The sergeant, taken prisoner, told the story later.  Why did the colonel do it?  Because his concept of duty, though unenforceable, was stronger than his regard for his own safety.

Difficult?  Yes.  That is why true integrity is rare, and admired.  But in terms of ultimate reward it's worth all the effort.  Just consider a few of the dividends that integrity pays:

Boldness.  Integrity gives a person the strength to take chances, welcome challenge, reject the unsatisfactory-but-safe for the unknown-with-chance-for- improvement.  A person of integrity has confidence and can believe in him- or herself--because that person has no reason to distrust him- or herself.
Persistence.  Integrity often shows up as an unshakable single-mindedness of purpose, a tenacity that refuses to give up.  "Never give in!" said Winston Churchill.  "Never, never, never, never.  In nothing great or small, large or petty--never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."  And he never did.
Serenity.  People of integrity, I've noticed, are shock-resistant.  They seem to have a kind of built-in equanimity that enables them to accept setbacks, or even injustices.  Harry Emerson Fosdick tells how Abraham Lincoln was warned by his friends not to make a certain speech while campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 1858.  Lincoln replied, "If it is decreed that I should go down because of this speech, then let me go down linked to the truth."  He was serene.  He did go down, but two years later he became president.

There are many other benefits that integrity brings a person:  friendship, trust, admiration, respect.  One of the hopeful things about the human race is that people seem to recognize integrity almost instinctively--and are irresistibly attracted to it.

How does one acquire it?  I'm sure there's no pat answer.  I think perhaps the first step is schooling yourself to practice total honesty in little things:  not telling the small lie when it's inconvenient to tell the truth; not repeating that juicy bit of gossip that is quite possibly untrue; not charging that personal phone call to the office.

Such discipline may sound small, but when you really seek integrity and begin to find it, it develops its own power that sweeps you along.  Finally you begin to see that almost anything worth having has an integrity of its own that must not be violated.

A foolproof formula for success?  Yes.  It's foolproof because--regardless of fame, money, power, or any of the conventional yardsticks--if you seek and find integrity, you are a success.



In these warm, life-affirming essays, the author celebrates the beauty hidden in things which usually don't merit a second glance:  wedding vows spoken against the background of wind and waves. . . a small boy's first glimpse of shooting stars. . . and a legacy of love found in the dusty faded letters of an ancestor.  These are just a few of the "endless free gifts that life offers," if we learn to receive them.


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