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True Blue Through & Through

In a recent conversation with President Gordon B. Hinckley, I described a difficult decision I had made at work—one I should have made sooner. “President, I just wish I were smarter,” I confessed.

Without missing a beat, he replied, “Sheri, I wish you were smarter, too.” Then, after pausing for effect, he added, “I wish we were all smarter.”

I’d like to suggest there is more to being smart than IQ and graduate degrees. I invite you to focus on a virtue that is just plain smart, because it will have as much impact on your happiness, peace of mind, career, and ability to fulfill your life’s mission as any virtue I can think of.

It is the virtue of integrity.

What I am about to tell you is nothing new. Breaches of integrity are as old as Cain and as recent as yesterday’s news. Compromising one’s integrity seems to be a common trap—particularly for those who have strong aspirations. We tend to define integrity as honesty; and without question, it includes that. But telling the truth is just the beginning of integrity.

President Joseph F. Smith called integrity “the cornerstone of character” (4 April 1897 General Conference). He practiced what he preached. In fall 1857, the nineteen-year-old joined a wagon train in California en route home from his Hawaiian mission. One evening several outlaws rode into camp, threatening to kill every Mormon they could find. Most in the wagon train hid in the brush by a nearby creek, but young Joseph F. thought, “Why should I fear [these fellows]?” With that, he marched up to one of the intruders who, with pistol in hand, demanded, “Are you a Mormon?” Joseph F. responded, “Yes siree; dyed in the wool; true blue, through and through.” At that, the hoodlum grasped his hand and said, “Well you are the [blankety-blank] pleasantest man I ever met! Shake hands, young fellow. I am glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions.”

I love Joseph F. Smith’s words: true blue, through and through. For the purpose of our discussion today, think of integrity as being true. True blue, through and through. True to yourself, as a latter-day son or daughter of God. True to others, meaning you do what you say you will do. True to God, meaning you practice what you preach and do what you covenanted to do here in mortality.

Living with integrity isn’t always easy, but it is easier than the alternative. A case in point: I am a farm girl, and on a farm you learn to drive as soon as you can see over the steering wheel and touch the pedals—preferably at the same time. By the time I got my driver’s license at fourteen, I was a seasoned veteran behind the wheel.

That first summer after getting my license, my job during harvest was to drive a grain truck from the field to the elevators, ten miles away via a dirt country road—a straight shot except for one stop sign before a two-lane, paved highway.

Now, it takes hundreds of yards to grind down through the gears and stop a grain truck. Each time I went through that long, tedious process, I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would be if I didn’t have to completely stop. Kansas is flat; you can stand on a tuna fish can and see forever. After indulging in these thoughts for a few days, I managed to convince myself and rationalize that it would be OK if I just slowed down but didn’t completely stop.

I began to do this, and it made dealing with the stop sign much easier. Before long, not only was I not stopping, I wasn’t doing much more than glancing both ways and barreling across the highway. I did this day after day, including one afternoon when I again ran the stop sign and proceeded down the dirt road toward our farm.

Five miles later, I looked in the rear-view mirror as I slowed to turn and, to my horror, saw a car with rotating red lights. After eating my dust for five miles, the police officer was not very cheerful. He demanded to talk with my parents. With red lights still gyrating, he followed me to our farm. Let’s just say it proved to be a painful experience.

I learned three things that day: First, that with lightening speed, I went from complete observance to complete disregard of the law. Second, my demise started with a small crack in my integrity. The instant I talked myself into slightly breaking the law, I was on a slippery slide into full-scale disobedience. And third, there is actually no such thing as slightly breaking a law—whether a law of the land or a law of God—because even a slight breach of integrity opens the door for Satan. A halfhearted effort to be morally clean or to tell the truth is no effort at all.

On Mount Sinai the Lord didn’t say, “Thou shalt not steal very often” or “Thou shalt only commit adultery a time or two.” He said “Thou shalt not,” clearly delineating the line between integrity and infidelity of any kind.

Integrity is the foundational virtue upon which all other virtues depend. It is the first rung on the character ladder. For where there is integrity, other virtues follow. Where there is no integrity, other virtues have no chance of developing. You either live with integrity or you don’t.

It is not possible to develop a relationship, any relationship, with someone you can’t trust. And trust is the keystone that holds every organization together—be it a marriage or a family, a business or a nation.

Ancient and modern prophets have provided patterns to emulate. Job set an example of integrity for the ages. Even after losing his wealth, his health, and his family, he declared, “Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go” (Job 27:5–6).

The Prophet Joseph’s vision of the Father and the Son consigned him to a lifelong crucible, but he never wavered: “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it” (JS-H 1:25).

President Hinckley has also been a model of integrity. After Mike Wallace interviewed him for 60 Minutes, I spoke with Mr. Wallace. Of the many things he praised President Hinckley for, he seemed most impressed that the prophet had done everything in connection with the interviews that he had promised to do. When I later offered to show Wallace how I intended to quote him in President Hinckley’s biography, he replied, “That’s not necessary. You’re a Mormon. I trust you.” Do you really think Mike Wallace believes every member of the Church is trustworthy? Of course he doesn’t. His statement was a reflection of his experience with President Hinckley.

Indeed, anyone or anything that lacks integrity is unstable, as engineers will tell you. If a bridge, skyscraper, or building has structural integrity, it does what it was built to do. It isn’t necessarily perfect, but under stress and repeated use, it does what it was built to do. If, on the other hand, a structure does not have structural integrity, it at some point fails, as was the case with the world’s first jet airliner, the British-made de Havilland Comet.

When the Comet was introduced in 1949, the future seemed bright for jet travel—until three Comets disintegrated in flight, killing all aboard. The planes were grounded as engineers worked feverishly to understand why they had operated flawlessly at first, only to break apart later in midair. The engineers set up a fuselage in a large pool and pumped water in and out, simulating the effects of repeated cabin pressurization. At first, the experiment revealed nothing, but then they learned that the repeated stress gradually caused small cracks to form around the windows, cracks that widened into gaping holes. The planes could not withstand repeated pressure.

You and I live in a world filled with pressure—pressure to succeed, pressure to get ahead, pressure to be smarter than we are, pressure to conform. None of us are perfect. We all have flaws. Under repeated pressure, how will we avoid cracks in our integrity, cracks that over time could widen into gaping holes? How can we stay true blue—to ourselves, to others, and to our Father and His Son?

May I suggest six things that will help us fortify our integrity:


Decide today, once and for all, that you will be worthy of trust—the trust of family and friends, colleagues and business associates, and most of all, the Lord. The more the Lord trusts you, the more knowledge and power He will give you.

The Holy Ghost is not able to inspire or endorse the words or actions of someone who can’t be trusted. Decide today, once and for all, that you will be a man or woman of integrity who can be trusted.


Make covenants and keep them. In other words, do what you say you will do. This means keeping the covenants you made at baptism and in the House of the Lord with precision. It also means being fair and square with others. Here is a sample checklist: Do you do what you say you will do, or do you regularly make excuses for not coming through? Do you rationalize taking advantage of someone if it is to your advantage? Do you give your best effort at work or just put in time? Is your behavior the same in the dark as it is in broad daylight? Are you true to those who have trusted you with their love and confidence? Are you living worthy of the man or woman you have married, and of the children who are and will be entrusted to your care?

Now is the time to learn to be strictly honest and commit yourself to a life of integrity. In future days you will face dilemmas far more complex than the ones I have listed, but these dilemmas can almost always be resolved if you are fair and honest and true.


Stand up for what you believe. In fact, look for every opportunity to do so. Don’t be showy or loud about it, and please don’t judge others in the process. It is not possible to denounce who you are and be happy. If you want to feel real joy, be true to who you are and what you believe. It is actually easier to stand up for what you believe than to not do so. When I was invited to speak about the family to a gathering of United Nations diplomats, I agonized over what to say. I ended up simply explaining that my parents had taught me that personal virtue was essential for a happy marriage and family, and that in my youth I had promised God to live a chaste life.

“It hasn’t always been easy to stay morally clean,” I admitted. “But it has been easier than the alternative. I have never spent one second worrying about an unwanted pregnancy or disease. I have never had cause to contemplate an abortion. I have never had the anguish of a man using and then discarding me. And when I do marry, I will do so without regret. So you see,” I concluded, “I believe a moral life is actually an easier and a happier life.”

I worried about how such a sophisticated, diverse audience would respond, but to my surprise they leaped to their feet in applause—not because of me, but because the Spirit had borne witness of the truth of that simple but profound message. The happiest and most successful people I know are those who have the integrity to stand up for what they believe.


Expect your integrity to be challenged. Metaphorically speaking, be on the lookout for Potiphar’s wife. Be ready, as was Joseph who was sold into Egypt, to leave your cloak in her hand and flee again and again, because Satan won’t tempt you just once. Moses had to tell Satan to beat it four times before he finally left (Moses 1:16–22).

Satan will try to find small cracks in your integrity that he can exploit and expand. Count on the fact that your integrity will be tested in large and small ways. This is actually a blessing, for you don’t really know what you believe until your beliefs are tested. For example, you don’t know if you can be trusted—with someone’s feelings, money, influence, or power—until your trust is tested. In every test comes a moment of truth when you must decide what you stand for. Every time you choose to be true, your integrity will be fortified.


Don’t give up. Developing integrity is a lifelong process. I am fifty years old, and I have to work at this every day. The more determined I am to keep the commandments with exactness, the more aware I am of how far I have to go, and the more often I find myself repenting and trying again. Repentance and obedience are crucial to developing integrity—that is the pattern of life. When you do something that introduces a crack into your integrity, the Spirit will let you know so that you can repair it before it expands.

Recently a woman approached me in an airport and asked if I was the president of Deseret Book. When I nodded yes, she handed me a check and with emotion said, “Years ago I had a financial setback and could not pay a bill I owed your company. I have felt guilty ever since. Please take this so that my conscience can be clear again.”

No one except the Savior will live a perfect life, and no one is perfected in a day. It takes time, work, and endurance to develop and refine our integrity. Learn to keep the commandments with exactness. Learn to delight in repenting and obeying. Don’t give up.


Covenant—or perhaps I should say, renew your covenants—with our Father and His Son to do what you came here to do. Doing what we agreed to do premortally is the ultimate expression of our integrity.

As in all things, the Savior is the supreme example of perfectly fulfilling His foreordained mission. He didn’t do it for Himself; He was already a God. He did it for you and me.

Perhaps even the Savior didn’t comprehend the depths to which He would be required to go, for there came that moment of unspeakable anguish when He pleaded, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” But then, in the midst of that sheer agony, He added: “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

The Son of God was required to do what He was sent here to do. But at that moment of sublime submission, “there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). Even the Savior of the World wasn’t required to complete His mission alone, and neither are we.

We too made premortal commitments. You were sent now because you have everything it takes to deal with the world now. You have it in you to not only withstand the pressures of the last days but to triumph over them—but only if you are true to who you are and what you know, only if you can keep cracks from forming in your integrity.

Inventory your integrity. Look for cracks that may have started to form. Be honest with yourself about your past dishonesties. For the next thirty days take time every night to assess how you did that day. Were you true to yourself, to others, and to God in every situation? See if such an intense focus makes a difference in your decisions, your repentance, and even the way you feel about your life.

Turn your whole souls over to our Father and His Son. Express your deep desire to live with integrity and then plead for help. The Savior has the power to help you change. He will help you turn weakness into strength. He will make you better than you have ever been if you will let Him.

I have felt His enabling power again and again. May we come to be more true than we have ever been before—true to ourselves, true to others, and most of all true to God, with whom we have made sacred and eternal covenants. May we be true blue, through and through.


About the Speaker

Sheri L. Dew was named president and CEO of Deseret Book Company in March 2002. She earned her BA from Brigham Young University in 1977 and is a member of the Marriott School’s National Advisory Council. This text is adapted from Dew’s address at the Marriott School’s convocation 13 August 2004.

Speech by sheri l. dew
Illustration by tim zeltner

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