Archive for March, 2010


Who Has Integrity,The Indispensable Element

March 30th, 2010
Jim Thomas

A great many people.  Forces at work in modern life may threaten the First Great Virtue, but they have not defeated it.  Irrespective of everyday accounts of greed, scandal, ethical fiascoes, and moral indifference, this country is full of upright people.

W ho are they?  Quietly, often unknown outside close circles, they practice the ancient, sovereign virtue of integrity—in their personal lives, professions, enterprises, and organizations.  .  They stand up and are counted in the face of opposing views.  They hold fast to the right kind of principles, standards, and in public view.  Sports Illustrated once gave an account of yacht builder Robert Derecktor.  In his boat works at Mamaroneck, New York all that is slipshod is eliminated.  Only the best of workmanship and material are tolerated.  No vessel is released to its owner until Derecktor himself is satisfied it measures up to his ideas of what a “first-class craft should be.”ideas.  They place a high premium on self-respect, and they embody the better elements of our nature.

Stuart Chase described businessman Jolyn Forsyste, as one “who ransacked the world for quality tea products, sold only the finest, took a good round profit on the deal, apologized to no one, had no animistic corporate god to serve, and called his soul his own.”

n January 31 of this year, the National Football League established the Don Shula Award.  In announcing its creation, Commissioner Goodell stated the award would go to football coaches who display the integrity and positive impact demonstrated by former Miami Dolphins coach, Don Shula.

And then we have Brooksley Born.  A brilliant lawyer who graduated at the top of her class at Stanford Law School, and an expert in commodities and futures trading, she became Chair of a lesser known federal agency, the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission.  She and her staff began studying the rapidly expanding, unregulated, largely undocumented, over-the-counter derivatives market.

The evidence convinced her the situation posed great risk to the entire financial system.  She concluded certain regulations were mandatory and urged their adoption.  She repeatedly appealed to the highest authorities in the administration and in testimony before congressional committees.  Her proposals were rejected.  The financial collapse of 2008 ensued, with derivatives one of the chief culprits.

Born  resigned.  Today, financial reforms are likely to contain her proposals.  She herself demonstrated unimpeachable integrity in standing fast on the right ideas, even when met with opposition.

Integrity, Artistic Endeavor, and Constantin Brancusi

March 16th, 2010
Jim Thomas

The Bishop of Nice carefully observed Michelangelo’s painting of the murals in the Matisse Chapel in Venice. He concluded the artist was a “…man of genius, who, all his life, worked, searched, strained…in a long struggle…to draw near the truth and the light.”

The world produces few geniuses. It produces many artistic people—painters, sculptors, writers, photographers, for instance—who are willing to forego profits and material comforts in the struggle to express their own vision of ‘the truth and the light.’ Rather than give in to the market place of commercial buyers, countless numbers labor on to make their own creative statement. Only a limited number will achieve a livelihood exclusively from these creations.

Uncompromising artists exemplify the first great virtue—individual integrity. They have the capacity to hold to a standard of upright conduct when it is inconvenient or unprofitable to do so. For in its bedrock essence, integrity is the ability to form and stand by an idea. Unintimidated by a need for affection, a craving for security, or the pleasures of conformity, the creators hold fast. It follows; they can call their sacred souls their own.

Constantin Brancusi was a model of artistic integrity. As a young Romanian Sculptor, he walked penniless to Paris to develop his craft. By the time of his death in 1957 at age 81, he was widely acclaimed one of the finest sculptors of the twentieth century. In responding to a critic of his soaring forms and master reductions, he declared, “The idea is the essence of things.”

Brancusi’s life was as pure and untainted as his work. He shunned publicity, even when his exhibits drew thousands. He lived quietly in Paris and worked determinedly in a small studio tucked away in a blind alley, while making no effort to market his works. Some he refused to sell and bequeathed to the People of France.

His death was as discreet as his life. The body was placed on a makeshift bier, and only the closest friends knew of his passing.

Integrity, Scientific Endeavor, and Radium

March 3rd, 2010
Jim Thomas

Integrity is the indispensable virtue.  We desire it among our friends.  We expect it from professional people.  Business seeks it in commercial transactions, and we admire it in our public officials. Commonly cited but rarely defined—ask for a definition and you receive a dozen—we know it when we see it, and it wins our everlasting respect.

An unforgettable incident of it occurred in Paris more than a century ago.  It involved an acclaimed scientist, Marie Sklodovska Curie, and her husband, Pierre, also a gifted chemist.

“Madam Curie,” as the world would come to know her, emerged from obscurity in Poland to appear as a student of chemistry and physics at the University of Paris in the latter part of the 19th century.  She would go on to win Nobel prizes in both disciplines.

While researching various aspects of magnetic properties, she detected powerful radioactive rays coming from a source of unknown origin.  She and Pierre theorized the rays were coming from a new element, later named and identified as radium.  They set out to isolate it

The Curies labored in an unheated shed for four years. With little compensation, inadequate laboratory equipment, and little support from the University, both worked to the point of physical and mental exhaustion.  Nevertheless, they persisted.  In 1902, after forty-five months, Marie succeeded in isolating from pitchblende a single decigram of pure radium.  It was one of the century’s greatest scientific discoveries.

It was obvious radium would precipitate a vast new medical technology and wealth for its producers and suppliers, including the Curies.  They were faced with a choice: they could restrict and patent their processes and join the exploitation of radium—an American firm was already contacting them; or, they could publish their data in the public domain and lose their proprietary rights.

She refused the commercial alternative, knowing it would mean what she and Pierre had never known—financial security.  Said she, “It is impossible.  It would be contrary to the scientific spirit.”  She added, “Radium is not to enrich anyone.  It is a chemical element.  It belongs to the people.”  Thus, in the scientific journals of the day, the fruits of their labors were made public.  While a new industry emerged, making millionaires in the process, the Curies continued to labor in poverty with their scientific endeavors.

Wrote Walter Lippmann in A Preface To Morals, “One has virtue that can hold to a standard of conduct and belief when it is inconvenient or unprofitable to do so.”  Of Marie Curie, herself, Albert Einstein added, “She, of all celebrated beings, is the only one fame has not corrupted.”