Here in Wisconsin, three-legged milking stools aren’t as plentiful as they once were. But I remember watching, years ago, as my great-aunt and great-uncle sat on them, on their rough-plank barn floor, milking their dairy cows. A three-legged stool won’t wobble or tip, no matter where it’s placed.
It’s an image that, to me, suggests another kind of “three-legged stool” that can serve as a strong, sturdy support for us in today’s often rough, uneven world: the footing of integrity, ethics, and honesty.
In my first job as a city hall reporter for a local suburban newspaper, I had an experience that taught me the value and necessity of keeping this trio of qualities close at hand. City officials were about to propose a plan requiring local police officers to live inside the city limits. They offered me an exclusive on this story, before it went to the major metro paper. I interviewed several city officials at length, wrote the story, and was quite pleased when it was printed on the first page. I saw it as a sort of feather in my cap, a front-page scoop that ultimately would look very good on my résumé!
But after the paper hit the newsstands, my phone began ringing. A lot. Rank-and-file police officers were furious that I hadn’t presented the issue fully or fairly. There were many reasons this plan would potentially hit them negatively, none of which my article had addressed.
I knew what had happened. I’d let personal ambition override the honest and ethical requirement to present a complete story. I’d wanted the higher-ups to approve my story, so I’d only told their side.
I developed a follow-up article, sharing the police officers’ perspectives. When the next issue was printed, however, the city officials I’d interviewed earlier became upset – and the paper and I were now caught between two sides of a very contentious political argument.
I’d seen from experience that even if the roughness and unevenness of human experience causes us to stumble or fall, we can lean on the power of God. We can anchor our thoughts and actions on the solid platform of an abiding love for God and His law, and trust in God’s care. God, divine Truth itself, has created us in the very image of the Divine, made to express integrity, rightness, and truthfulness.
What makes this “three-legged stool” of qualities strong and enduring is its wholly spiritual foundation, its basis in the unshakable God. When we let this underlie what we think and do, it steadies our consideration for others, puts truth and love in our words and deeds, and brings more thoughtfulness to our decisions. It enables us to challenge the persistent notion that material circumstance defines our experience and instead see more clearly that His divine laws of integrity, justice, and truthfulness actually do prevail.
So on the night when that second report in our newspaper caused such a stir, I went home and prayed. I recalled what the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote about taking sides: “I am asked, ‘What are your politics?’ I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 276). It occurred to me that what I needed to do next was to support fair and ethical city government by writing in an honest and balanced way about whatever came next.
Not long afterward, I was reporting on fresh meetings taking place between representatives of both sides. Ultimately, compromises and flexibility followed that satisfied everyone’s concerns.
This experience stands for me today as a clear example of what’s possible when we start and stay with God’s truth and love, striving to think and speak honestly, live our God-given integrity, and act ethically. Leaning on this steady platform benefits not just us, but the world around us, too.