By AFL Chief of Staff, Major/General Prince Charles Johnson, III
I’m honored to be selected amongst many persons to address this 17th commencement convocation. Indeed, we’re grateful to the President, the Faculty and staff, the graduating class, students, parents, friends, and well-wishers of the graduates. I’m proud to be an alumnus of this institution. When I was first informed about speaking at this occasion, and looking at my background, I was wondering what to speak about. I’m not a politician, neither am I a Noble Peace Laureate. I’m rather a professional infantryman, a soldier. Most of my work involves strategic planning and execution. In identifying our goals, we always look at our mission, vision, and values. Within the Liberian military, there are eight values. These are: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Self-less Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage, and Discipline (LDRSHIPD). Looking at our country today, and considering the eight values I just listed, I today want to shed some light on discipline and integrity, under the topic: CULTIVATING INTEGRITY THROUGH DISCIPLINE.
What I bring with me, is the experience from working with an institution that is highly concentrated on strong and instilled disciplines and accountability. Graduates, you are all leaders. No matter where you may find yourselves now or after your graduation, you are a leader. Some of you are already in the job market or entrepreneurs. No matter what career path you choose, you will always benefit from focusing on discipline and integrity. This can never be overstated. It is very important that we stand out as men and women of integrity and discipline. An educated undisciplined individual is far worse than an uneducated person. You can’t be a different person in public and be a completely different person in private life. What you’ve gained through your education will give you a career, however, it is your integrity and discipline that will help you persevere. I’m sure that each person here knows someone who is not disciplined, lacks integrity, but yet is very smart. Can that person be trusted? Can their smartness cover up for their character? I’m assuming that most of the answers will be no. A stained character can NEVER cover up for a smart brain. No one wants to give their case to a dishonest lawyer; no one wants do business with a rascal businessman; no one wants to give their building project to a dubious contractor; no one wants to save their money with a bank that has tellers or officials with tainted characters. I could go on and on. Such professionals could be very smart but they lack integrity. Dishonesty may provide instant gratification in the moment but it never lasts. One may think that what he or she does today won’t affect them. But do we often think about our children? The generation after us? Do we want our kids to walk around with their heads bowed of shame because of our deeds? This is a serious issue in Liberia and this topic seems to be the highlight of most discussions nowadays. But, talking shouldn’t be all to it. We need to act, and you as newly graduates have the best opportunity to do so.
The president of the University, faculty, staff, graduates, guests, ladies and gentlemen, there is no way to talk about integrity without considering discipline. The two are inseparable. A good character can never be built without integrity and discipline. There are so many definitions of integrity but I like to use this simple one by C. S. Lewis. “Integrity is simply doing the right thing when no one else is watching. To have integrity, you must be willing to stand alone”. Kim Brenneman defines discipline as “being able to force yourself to do something in spite of how you feel, over and over until it becomes a habit”. Discipline is simply respecting the rules of law. We carry with us discipline from our homes as a child. It is what we picked up from our parents/guardians. It helps us in grooming a person into becoming a responsible adult. When we master self-discipline, we learn to say no. It is when we know right from wrong that we build up strong integrity. People who apply self-discipline have themselves become the higher authority in control of their behavior. They are not ruled by fear. Once you’re self-disciplined, you do not change your behavior patterns even if the possible threat of external punishment is removed. You do not care to know whether there are repercussions or not before you do the right thing. Self-discipline helps maintain balanced professional and personal roles (important for leadership). If you’re not disciplined, anyone can influence your actions the wrong way.
In a society like ours today, where many seem to think that laws are only for the books and not to be abided by, it is easier to follow the flow. A majority of us don’t want to respect the many laws that are written in the books. Friends and relatives will rather call on their contacts who are in positions to talk them out of their unlawful behavior rather than abide by the laws. People think that it takes longer for the law to take its course so they choose to take matters into their own hands. You know you’re supposed to drive with license but decide that you won’t because everyone else around you is getting away with driving without a license. Some appointed officials will take the third lane which is illegal and creates unnecessary traffic and then expect to be respected by their surroundings. And such behaviors cut across all sectors. Some citizens and even prominent people in society themselves are breaking the laws. As such, we as officials, are not setting good examples for the ordinary citizens to follow. On the other hand, the ones who decides to be law-abiding will be called names by their colleagues. But that person is simply being self-disciplined and law-abiding. They’ve built up their integrity and won’t allow even the system to destroy it. It takes long to build your integrity but just seconds to yourself destroy it. If you’ve never placed yourself in a situation where one might be misled about you or your integrity, then your good, hard-earned reputation will never be compromised. Most of us who are serving as public servants think it’s possible to behave differently in a private life. It really is not. It is often the wrong-doings in private life that easily destroys a public servant. A good leader must be able to live in a way that his private life does not jeopardize his public life. This, again, is where self-discipline comes in. Once you’ve learned right from wrong and when to say yes or no, there’s only one way to go.
There will be instances where you think that it’s futile to stand up for the right things but we fail to realize that there is always someone watching you. How do we get recommended for good positions? Most times we get recommended based on what people know about us. When we build relationships in our professional sojourn, people accept us based on several attributes. Integrity and discipline are some of these attributes. Naturally, the foundation for trust is integrity. A person of good character doesn’t need to talk, it will show. The moment you meet them you immediately sense integrity in their undertaking. Every one person who trusts you will spread the word of that trust to at least a few of their associates, and word of your good character will spread like wildfire. The value of the trust others have in you is far beyond anything that can be measured.
The president of the University, faculty, staff, graduates, guests, ladies and gentlemen, before I close, I want to give some practical suggestions on how you can use discipline to cultivate integrity.
- Self-discipline is key.
- Value character over reputation- We are so busy protecting “what people will say about us” that we forget to be real to ourselves.
- Do not associate with people who are not trust-worthy. This is especially for those who are not strong-willed. If you don’t trust yourself enough to resist the temptation of doing what others are doing, it’s better to stay clear off the paths of such association. If you still end up dealing with a professional colleague who cannot be avoided, I recommend that you document any exchange with such an individual to avoid being wrongly accused or associated with that person’s wrong-doings. If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity, then surround yourself with people of integrity.
- You must be ready to stand alone. Most of us are afraid to take unpopular decisions. We always want to do what everyone will cheer for. But to be able to uphold your integrity, stand by the laws. People will avoid you because of your disposition but they will sooner or later get adjusted to the fact that your life is ruled by the laws.
- Let your words match your actions. If what you’re saying is different from what you’re doing, you’re being dishonest. You can’t be asking people to pay taxes if you yourself are not paying your taxes. You can’t be a law maker or law enforcer if you yourself are breaking the laws.
- If you can, write down your values and live by them. You need to be intentional about what you can do and what you cannot do. Constantly remind yourself that these are the values you stand for.
There is more to say, but I’ll stop here to meet up with the allotted time (thus keeping to my discipline).
I will end with an extra from Gerald Ford. “To cultivate integrity, one must first till the soil of life. There will be difficulties, but keep a steady hand on the plow, and then plant seeds of honesty and trust. Relationships and responsibilities are like water and sunshine; both in proportion are very necessary for growth. Some weeds that will choke your fledgling integrity are selfishness, fear, jealousy and resentment. Diligently watch for these and others, and dig them out by the roots. Growth happens little by little, but constantly. After this cultivation becomes habit, you’ll be astonished to see a giant Oak tree of integrity, with roots and branches benefitting you and your family and business for generations.
There are so many lessons to learn from the eagle. But there is one that is worth to share as it relates to the issue of integrity and discipline. The eagle has a very strong vision and concentration. Their pupils are so large and they use it mainly for long-distance focus and clarity. They have the ability to spot their targets and enemies from afar. They are never caught unaware. They are not myopic, they are a step ahead of their prey and a hundred miles ahead of their competitors. No matter the obstacle, the eagle will not move his focus from the prey until he grabs it. Have a vision and remain focused no matter what the obstacle and you will succeed. Never take your eyes off your vision and keep disciplined. No matter the obstacle, graduates, keep your focus on your destinations and accomplishments. Have a strategy and let your strategy bear the following three: mission, vision, and values. As you leave these walls today, your mission should be CULTIVATING INTEGRITY THROUGH DISCIPLINE.
I wish you good luck as you spread your wings like the eagle and take on your new challenges! Congratulations!