Restoring public trust

Originally published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

In recent weeks, there have been troubling allegations of a breach of trust by traders on the New York Stock Exchange and by the mutual-fund industry. As the Monitor reported, the scandals have included "insider trading, sweetheart deals for special clients, and accounting 'irregularities'" (Nov. 4).

The Securities and Exchange Commission has concluded that investors were shortchanged some $155 million dollars over the last three years. Public outcry has been great. Several CEOs have resigned in the wake of the allegations, and multiple investigations are underway.

Yet even as steps are being taken to prosecute those who may be found guilty of malfeasance, the question remains: How can public trust be restored after such a large breach of trust? Still more important: What forms the basis of trust?

In his book, "On Becoming a Leader," author Warren Bennis declares, "Integrity is the basis of trust, which is not as much an ingredient of leadership as it is a product." Leaders in the business world should be known for their integrity. Honest thought and honest actions are building blocks for success in business - and they form a sound basis for public trust.

But sometimes it's said that everyone has a price. The suggestion is that at a certain level of personal gain, the temptation to compromise becomes too great to resist. Such thinking tends to justify personal gain, whether or not others share in that progress, and sometimes at the expense of others.

When wrongdoing is excused in one instance, the door is open for more evil and eventually leads to uncertainty about the distinction between right and wrong. In the Bible, St. Paul sums up his self-awareness of this moral confusion by saying, "The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19).

Still, throughout history there have been great men and women who have become aware that there is a better way - and who have turned their lives around as a result. Paul himself, though initially persecuting Christians, went on to become a great spiritual leader and healer.

A quality of thought that is often linked with integrity is incorruptibility. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has this entry: "Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility to a degree that one is incapable of being false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge." Incapable of being false.

The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, was known for her integrity, both in the publishing business she established, and in her Church. She understood that our genuine nature, as God's likeness, is spiritual. And she wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," her primary work on living in accordance with spiritual laws: "Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help" (page 453).

Honesty aligns us with divinity - with divine power. As beings created by God, we're not just trying to be good. We're good and honest because God made us that way.

Throughout her business career, Mrs. Eddy's treatment of others was not only honest, but also firmly grounded on the Golden Rule. As Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31). Imagine if the CEO of every business adopted this Christly basis for behavior as a key business practice. Along those lines, when Mrs. Eddy founded the Monitor, she gave as its working purpose, "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 353.)

As efforts go forward to correct violations of public trust, there is a great need to reestablish solid models at the top - women and men of unquestionable integrity. People whose idea of success includes doing what's right - all the time. Models of uprightness, fairness, and candor - focused less on their own wants and selfish motives and more on the interests of humanity.

Integrity in business, with a motive to bless humanity, is still the best basis for making progress in the 21st century.

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me;
for I wait on thee.
Psalms 25:21

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