Archive for April, 2010


Incident of Integrity on the PGA

April 28th, 2010
Jim Thomas

Ask for a definition of integrity.  You will receive a dozen.  Indeed, in the abstract, this indispensable trait of character is sometimes vague, elusive, and hard to get a handle on.  When we see it, however, we know it, and it wins our everlasting admiration and respect.

 An incident two weeks ago on the professional golf tour provides an outstanding example. Brian Davis was locked in a playoff with Jim Furyk for the championship of the Verizon Heritage tournament.  His golf ball trickled off the green on his approach shot and settled among grass and small twigs.  In taking his club back to strike the ball his club slightly tickled a small slender reed.  The movement was barely visible, but Davis thought he saw it from the corner of his eye. A violation of rule 13.4 prohibits disturbing a loose impediment around the ball.

 Davis reported what he saw to a tournament official.  A replay confirmed it.  He called a two-stroke penalty and conceded the championship to Furyk.The episode cost Davis a chance at his first victory on the PGA.  The violation would have gone unnoticed had the golfer not shown capacity to stand firmly by the rules of the game.

 Davis may have lost the tournament but he maintained his greatest single asset—his self-respect.  This is what the tournament official had in mind when he said of Davis, “This will come back to him in spades, tenfold.”

 Self –respect is the most powerful of all motivations, in the lifelong quest for individual integrity.  It is the one thing no one can afford to lose.  

Musician Pablo Casals’s Rescue of Humanity’s Honor

April 19th, 2010
Jim Thomas

In physical appearance, he was an unlikely virtuoso, an equally unlikely candidate for holding fast against evil forces.  Short, bald, portly, with rimless gold spectacles and owlish eyes, his appearance was more like a warehouse clerk than a musician.  Looks, however, can be misleading

Pablo Casals, native of Spain, was an outstanding figure in the world of classical music.  Some say he was the greatest cellist of all time.  He was also rigidly conscientious, both in his music and as a believer in world peace and democratic order.  By those beliefs, he stood firm—with steel-hard integrity.

When the Spanish Civil War erupted and the Franco regime came to power, Casals fled Spain, vowing never to return as a citizen until freedom was restored.  It was a vow he kept.  He and his family fled to France, where they took up exile in a dilapidated house on the outskirt of Prades.  There he spent the war years in virtual exile.

They had a bad time of it.  For months on end, they were short of food, existing on a fare of boiled turnips and green beans.  Milk and meat were unavailable.  They had no coal and little wood, and the cold weather became a serious threat.  The maestro severely suffered from arthritis and malnutrition.

In the depths of their ordeal, the German invaders issued an invitation and an appeal.  On a cold rainy morning in the winter of 1944, a German staff car arrived at the Casals’ villa with three Wehrmacht officers.  Their proposal: would he play for the German people in Berlin?  In consideration, they offered food, coal, hospitable living conditions.  All he had to do was play his cello for their countrymen.

He refused the offer, knowing it could bring to end their physical misery.  Said he, refused to play in Germany—that birthplace of Beethoven and Bach that had been so dear to me,–because I had the same attitude about going to Germany that I did about going to Franco’s Spain.”

Thomas Mann, the great German writer, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, was asked his “opinion” of Pablo Casals.  In so many words, he responded that he had no ‘opinion’ “… only profound respect for a musician, who in a demented period of European history came to the rescue of humanity’s honor.”

Sweet Potatoes and Firm Resolutions

April 13th, 2010
Jim Thomas

 When it comes to upholding resolutions, an incident from my early childhood left an impression.  It involved sweet potatoes, a dear uncle, and his iron-willed grandfather.

 Uncle Lindsay, whom I admired no end, was reared in the household of his grandfather, Christopher Grace, on a farm in Wayne County, Georgia.

 Grandfather Grace was straight down the line.  Rules were rules, and were there to be obeyed.

 They grew sweet potatoes on the Grace farm.  Uncle Lindsay loved to eat sweet potatoes, then a staple of the Georgia table,   especially during the winter months.  However, sweet potatoes had to be dug from under ground.  It was hard dirty work and Uncle Lindsay came to hate it…  He complained in his grandfather’s presence more than once.

 On a winter afternoon, sometime before World War I, Uncle Lindsay, then about twelve, was digging potatoes and complaining all the while, when Captain Grace came on the scene.  Said he, “If you’re going to eat sweet potatoes at my table, you’re going to help dig them.”  Uncle Lindsay rose from his knees and replied, “Then I will not eat another sweet potato.”  “Very well,” said Captain Grace, “you will not be required to dig them.”

 Uncle Lindsay did not consume another sweet potato until after the death of his Grandfather, twenty years later.

 My elders told this story on numerous occasions.  As I grew up and became a man, I came to appreciate the underlying principle more and more.  They were describing an episode of integrity, though no one ever labeled it as such.


April 8th, 2010
Jim Thomas

 Integrity, The First Great Virtue, represents a triumph of character.  The triumph, develops advantages ranging from trustworthiness and reputation to enforcement of purpose, strengthening of standards, defeat of ill-advised compromise, and adherence to values and ideals. Its rewards include   loyal friendships and clients, devoted customers and vendors, confident investors, and enlargement of the name and brand.

 Efforts to implement and practice it are neither easy nor ending.  The pathways are strewn with obstacles.  Among them are blind group loyalty, impregnable custom, and unquestioned conformity.  Add a bent for avoiding the issue, straddling the question, side stepping it, or splitting the difference.  All negate independent thought and clamp the exercise of will intrinsic in shaping sound standards.

 The vices of highest rank are the big three: hypocrisy, expediency, and the lie.  Expediency consists of placing self-interest first.  The just and right are relegated.  Neglected are considerations best for the long term.  Expediency places overwhelming emphasis on the immediate, the pressing, the crisis, with little thought for future consequences.  Says the expedient, “I will pursue a course that gives me immediate gratification.  If in the process basic beliefs are smothered, so be it.”

 Hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another, has numberless variations.  In their confines are insincerity, deception, and superficiality.  The hypocrite is constantly pulling off layers of personality hidden from him and the world.  He assumes a superficial semblance to the real thing, if you will—a counterfeit display.  The effect deprives one of principal instruments for action—trust and belief.

 Today, hypocritical specimens abound.  Officials gain and hold positions they are incompetent to fill.  Public figures and sports celebrities promote products they do no use.  Lawyers advertise as advocates who never enter a courtroom.  White coated hucksters hawk medical products.  The list is long.  Twentieth-century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, is reported to have declared, “I can excuse ignorance.  On occasion I can overlook stupidity. Hypocrisy—never.”

 Last of the well-marked adversaries is the lie.  Truth is a supreme value, and though universally practiced, the lie is universally condemned.  Gissela Bok gives a good definitions. She defines a lie “…as any intentionally deceptive stated message.”  Cases in point include lying under oath—any oath; distorting accolades in recommendation letters, false promises of public office seekers; expedient falsehoods in everyday life; lack of disclosure in financial statements.  Fabrication, in matters small and large, those that negate good faith, truth, reliability, and commitment shatter the virtue of integrity to its very core.