During the June 1966 during the national spelling bee in Washington DC, 11 year old Rosalie Elliot was given the word ‘avowal.’ In her soft southern accent she spelled it. But the judges were unsure if she used an ‘a’ or an ‘e’ as the next to last letter. For several minutes they listened to tape recordings but still could not make a determination. Because of the whispers of the other young spellers still on stage, Rosalie soon knew she had misspelled it. Chief Judge John Lloyd finally asked Rosalie “Was the letter and ‘a’ or an ‘e’?” Without hesitating she replied that she had misspelled it. With that she walked from the stage – to a standing ovation. Rosalie may have lost the spelling bee but she had won the admiration of the audience because of her integrity.
Integrity – honesty, honor, ethics, morals, truthfulness, trustworthiness – often appears to be a forgotten or little valued principle. That’s why I think of this incident often, especially during this long political campaign season. After candidate debates, speeches and ads the media run ‘fact checks.’ Most every time we discover that candidates from both sides of the aisle have misstated their ‘facts.’ Yet this reality seldom seems to impact the next debate, speech or ad. It makes me wonder, “Is integrity no longer valued? Should it be?”
The Scriptures are very clear. God spoke to the wise King Solomon, “If you will serve me in honesty and integrity, as your father David did, and if you obey my laws and everything I have commanded you, I will keep the promise I made to your father David when I told him that Israel would always be ruled by his descendants” (1 Kings 9:4-5)[i]. Solomon valued the call for integrity and therefore wrote in his proverbs “Honest people are safe and secure, but the dishonest will be caught” (Proverbs 10:9) and “If you are good, you are guided by honesty. People who can’t be trusted are destroyed by their own dishonesty” (Proverbs 11:3). Jesus also stated it clearly. “Just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – anything else you say comes from the Evil One” (Matthew 5:37). It must be that integrity is vital to a healthy society.
I wonder: politicians – are you listening?
Even more importantly I wonder: am I listening? What would a fact check of my words show? On a scale of 1-10 where do I rank in honesty, honor, ethics, morals, truthfulness and trustworthiness?
I wonder: are you listening? What would a fact check of your words reveal?
Rosalie Elliot opted for integrity. And 50 years later we remember and still applaud. I wonder: 50 years from now will people remember me? If so, how will they respond?
(This first appeared in the South Haven Tribune 11-6-16)
[i] All Scripture quotations are from the Good News Translation of the Bible