Integrity is who you are when no one is looking,
and what you will stand up for even if you’re standing alone.
Rather than ramble on about what integrity is, I’ll tell a story. It’s a remarkable true story that won’t be easily forgotten.
You probably aren’t familiar with the name of Hugh Thompson. He was the lone bright spot in one of America’s saddest days of the Vietnam War.
On March 16, 1969, Thompson was circling his Army helicopter over the village of My Lai, providing cover for the American troops on patrol.
From his vantage point above the palm trees and rice paddies, he watched a terrible sight: The soldiers were shooting unarmed civilians.
Observing a group of women being chased by soldiers, Hugh Thompson made a decision.
He landed his helicopter between the fleeing villagers and fellow American soldiers. Climbing out of his helicopter, Thompson instructed his machine gunner to train his weapon on the soldiers and shoot if they continued firing.
Then, Hugh Thompson angrily confronted the soldiers.
They threatened to shoot him, but he didn’t budge. Finally the troops dispersed, and Thompson gave aid to several wounded young women.
His brave action saved dozens of lives that day.
But that’s not the end of the story. His actions that day at what came to be called the My Lai Massacre didn’t earn Thompson a medal or accolades. He was persecuted for the remainder of his military career. All for doing what he knew was the right thing.
Thirty years later, Hugh Thompson returned to My Lai with a crew from CBS’ 60 Minutes. He was reunited with several of the villagers he’d saved. When asked on camera why he’d made his heroic decision that day, he shrugged, “I knew it was the right thing to do, and I’d been taught to always do the right thing.”
That describes integrity. It’s doing the right thing. Whether it’s unpopular or not. Whether it is recognized as right or not. Whether it’s rewarded or scorned. That’s integrity.
Doing the right thing regardless of what it may cost you.
Integrity remembers that what’s popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular.
Like Hugh Thompson, it’s a willingness to stand for what’s right in the middle of chaos.
It’s a moral inner compass that ignores the winds of exterior pressure and performs rightly.
Integrity is doing the right thing regardless of the situation or consequences.
You don’t develop integrity overnight. It is the product of a series of small lifelong decisions of doing the right thing and holding firm to your beliefs.
Grandsons, become men of integrity. Always do the right thing regardless of the circumstances.
Integrity is in precious short supply these days.
- What are the two parts of John Maxwell’s definition of integrity? How do each of these play out in your life?
- Why was Hugh Thompson’s heroic action so despised by the military?
- What does the delayed recognition of Thompson’s act of valor say about integrity?