When one chooses virtue, a high standard of decency, and courteous and civil behavior as a way of life, one becomes a moral person. Morality is the key to a good, strong society and a sustained civilization. History bears the sad story of empires, dynasties, and kingdoms being destroyed through immorality and wickedness. Even though morality should be principle-based and held absolute by society, collective choices by society have brought changes in our moral values. The fundamental principles of goodness and morality are unchanging, but how such principles are accepted and applied by individuals and cultures can, unfortunately, evolve and degrade over time through the misguided decisions of individuals and society as a collective body.
A good example is the watershed movie, “Gone with the Wind” in the early 1940s. From Clark Gable’s “Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a d—m,” which sent the audience into a state of shock, to the anything-goes-standards of “R” rated movies in our day, our morality and code of ethics have deteriorated over the years. We as a society must change for the better: one person at a time. We must stand for and defend virtue. William Penn wrote: “Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” Stephen L. Richards counseled: “There is no spiritual progress or excellence without moral purity.” We therefore need to realize that our children will suffer if we allow permissiveness and apathy regarding moral values, attitudes, and conduct to creep into our lives. Our standard is the teachings of Jesus Christ. Let us uphold it and teach it to our children with devotion and love.
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). The standard of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being chaste, decent, good, honest, and in all things seeking the righteousness of a Christ-like life. We cannot be carnally minded, for it is death. A moral and chaste person is in all things true to Christian standards.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Morality is the virtue that represents our standards of cleanliness and purity. It represents all that is good and of God. It separates itself from the world. To be a moral person is really to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
“God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and his covenants and doctrines are immutable; and when the sun grows cold and the stars no longer shine, the law of chastity will still be basic in God’s world and in the Lord’s church. . . . It will always be the rule. . . . The world may countenance premarital sex experiences, but the Lord and his church condemn in no uncertain terms any and every sex relationship outside of marriage” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 265).
The following ideas can help each of us to be a moral person and contribute to the building up of a moral society:
1. Morality begins within.
- Morality begins with our thoughts, takes root in our character, flows outwardly through our deeds, and crystallizes in our patterns of life. How carefully, therefore, should we guard our very thoughts, for they are the crucible of our destiny.
- Align your vision and conduct with enduring principles that do not change. There is much talk today of “relative values”—suggesting that there is no absolute compass of decency. But there are indeed principles of life that do not change. For example: If you want to be trusted, then you must be trustworthy. There is no getting around that. Another example: Service and love bring more internal harmony and satisfaction than selfish allegiance to momentary pleasures. Every life experience will confirm that over time. Thus you can find an absolute basis for leading a moral life.
- Follow your conscience. Recognize that there is an internal moral standard of attitudes and behavior. Your conscience knows right from wrong. Don’t compromise. Be true to yourself.
2. Morality pays high dividends.
- Living a virtuous and moral life has within it innate rewards: good personal health, a clear conscience, a good example to children, and lasting feelings of well-being and vitality.
- Preserve your freedoms. Respect and honor the laws of the land, for they are designed to secure to all citizens their inalienable rights. Good citizenship is good morality. As a citizen, it is your privilege and duty to help maintain order and civility and to encourage and uphold honorable, honest, and decent individuals who seek, or are willing to serve in, positions of leadership.
- Attract lasting friendships. Our language is a mirror to our inner values. Sarcasm, snide remarks about others, ethnic slurs, off-color stories: all these are clear symptoms of a value-system in need of reexamination and improvement. Such behavior repels all principled minds. On the other hand, honesty and virtue in discourse and social interaction attract lasting friendships and earn the respect of all principled minds.
- Sow the seeds of harmony and peace. Moral and civil behavior foster harmony and unity. Immorality, selfishness, greed, and envy foster divisiveness, acrimony, anger, and distrust.
3. You can be a moral leader.
- Go the second mile. Morality dictates helping others in distress. The manner can vary as much as the circumstance, but there are endless opportunities for service based on enduring moral values.
- Respect every person: never take advantage of another. Morality is anchored in honoring the dignity of every soul, regardless of current circumstances. Morality sees potential more than conditions.
- The leader in moral decency does not simply draw a line in the sand, but provides options and alternatives that are better and more worthy of practicing. “Let’s do this instead” is a powerful antidote to the plethora of debasing options being touted as “cool” in today’s relativistic society.
- The leader always honors one’s freedom to choose. Coercion and preemptory heavy-handedness are in themselves immoral. Remember, with morality, everyone has God-given rights that no one else has the right to take away.
- Cultivate a civil society. Courteous behavior is moral behavior. The leader is courteous and respectful.
- The home is the principal school of morality. Morality is best taught in the home. How great is the responsibility placed on parents and older children to model behavior that teaches growing children correct choices based on true principles. If there ever was a front where morality needs to take a stand, it is with the family. Every father and every mother need to place the well-being of the family and the children uppermost.
“If Only I Had Known Five Minutes Before”
We will never forget that sweet young girl of sixteen who came to live with us one summer for the remaining months of her unwed pregnancy. My husband is an attorney and was handling the adoption of her baby. She hadn’t wanted to marry the boy who was the father of her unborn child. She had been beguiled and had partaken of the bitter fruit.
In September she gave birth to a beautiful little boy, and the day she was to leave the hospital, Dean and I had to go to Salt Lake City. We stopped at the hospital long enough to meet the couple who were adopting the baby. Under hospital rules, this young mother, sixteen years old, had to take her beautiful nine-pound boy from the arms of the nurse and hand him over to my husband, who then stepped outside the room and gave the baby to the adopting parents. It tore me apart to watch her and to see that young couple leave with her baby.
She said to me, “Sister Payne, he lied to me when he said nobody would get hurt, and that because we loved each other, anything we did was alright. He didn’t really love me. That is why I didn’t marry him, because he wasn’t worthy to be the father of my little boy. It’s all a great big lie, and I don’t want to live a lie!
“Oh, if only I had known five minutes before I was immoral how I would feel five minutes after I gave my baby away!”
For this girl not to have thought ahead about the consequences of her actions and not to have realized that lust is the mere image of love is indeed heartbreaking. It is so important to keep in tune, keep in touch, to receive the Spirit each and every day. We never know what is going to happen; and if we make the commitment in our private rooms, by the side of our beds, to our Father in heaven, of what we want to be in life—what we will do and what we won’t do—and then ask for his help in keeping our commitments, he will help us in public and private.
(“Beauty For Keeps,” p. 8; Leon R. Hartshorn, comp., Remarkable Stories from the Lives of Latter-day Saint Women, 2 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973], 2: 204.)
The blessings of morality are long lasting. Immorality may give “moments of pleasure” that are fleeting—but enduring joy and happiness cannot be drawn from this well. “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Integrity is required to maintain a state of morality—individually and collectively. There are universal moral laws that all should conform to. In society as a whole, one can be courageous in fighting for that which is morally right. When the majority have no concern for morality, all suffer. Standards are not upheld. Wickedness is the result—all because of the lack of society’s integrity in upholding high moral standards. “We whittle away our heritage unless we conform to the moral laws,” is how one anonymous source put it, and correctly so. By embracing and sustaining a moral lifestyle, you can make a difference: for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your city and state, and even the nation.
This article has been adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.