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Winners Never Cheat: Graciousness Is Next to Godliness

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Many would say there is no place for graciousness and the Golden Rule in business, politics, athletics, or other highly competitive settings. Only results count. Jon M. Huntsman insists that one’s capacity to be kind, decent, and thoughtful is the manifestation of godliness, a demeanor that has earned respect for men and women of all faiths and backgrounds.
This chapter is from the book

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson


Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness... Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s life.
—Mark Twain

Treat competitors, colleagues, employees, and customers with respect.

Few human traits are as critical to one’s relationship with others as graciousness. It embodies love, kindness, sensitivity, and charity—the qualities of people who have great inner faith. One’s capacity to be kind, decent, and thoughtful is the manifestation of godliness, a demeanor that has earned respect for men and women of all faiths and backgrounds.

We are taught in our youth to be kind to others as a matter of habit. The lesson doesn’t always stick around in adulthood. Decency is lacking in today’s highly competitive business world, political arenas, and sporting events. It doesn’t have to be. You can win with grace and decency. Winning with class is not a definition at odds with itself.

Perhaps some people are born with gracious genes and take to kindness more readily than others, but like golf, we can all give it a try. I use the words kind, gracious, and charitable synonymously, even though dictionaries parse their definitions. I notice that “benevolence” shows up in describing all three words. They are close enough for me because all three require a substantial degree of warmth and genuineness.

My mother could never bring herself to speak unkindly of others. She was gracious to one and all, believing there is no inner difference between white and black, Christian and Hindu, male and female, rich and poor. We were all God’s children, each to be treated with love and respect. My mother never gave a sermon on being gracious, never wrote an essay on the subject, never even discussed it in a formal sense. She simply lived kindness every day of her life—which, of course, is the most effective example of all. Francis of Assisi’s powerful line, “Preach the Gospel, and if you must, use words,” comes to mind.

Her life was a textbook model that I have tried to follow, notwithstanding obvious shortcomings. Kathleen Robison Huntsman was born and raised knowing that kindness is a priority to be followed throughout one’s life. Her father was much the same way. It pained Grandfather Robison to charge anyone for services rendered. (More on his charity in Chapter 12, “The Bottom Line.”) Obviously, he did not get rich, but everybody loved him. His heart and motives were pure. My mother learned much from her father and I from my grandfather.

I know of no truly successful person who does not demonstrate a sense of decency. There are those who appear successful on the surface, but who in reality are selfish, unhappy individuals lacking the motivation and capacity to love. It’s a shame they never experience the joy of being kind to others.

During my senior year at Palo Alto High School, I was elected student body president. My campaign platform sought to give every student attention and recognition. I had numerous opportunities to practice what I preached, but one instance stands out above the others.

Ron Chappel was a classmate. Disfigured and with an artificial leg, he looked emaciated and lonely. He always sat by himself in the corner of the cafeteria when not in class. I had noticed him, of course, but made little effort to engage him in conversation. For whatever reason, I one day got up from my table of friends and walked over to Ron’s table. I sat down and struck up a conversation.

I continued that routine for a week. Gradually, others joined us. Ron’s table became the “in” place in the cafeteria. We expanded his inclusion to social activities and athletics. He became our team manager. His senior year became the best year of his life. The following year, I was brokenhearted when his mother told me that he had passed away.

Karen and I have been blessed with nine children who, in turn, have given us, at this writing, 56 grandchildren. Our family is the crown jewel of Karen’s and my lives. Our children love one another; they are competitive yet get along famously.

Our youngest son, Mark, who was born in 1975, has severe mental limitations. The doctor told us he would never read, write, or be able to attend school, that his age would permanently be that of a four-year-old. We were devastated at the news, as most parents would be, yet over the years he has taught us much.

Mark doesn’t know one’s background or station in life. Whether one is a Democrat or a Republican, earns minimum wage or $10 million a year, or attends church on Sunday carries little standing with him. The company custodian and CEO are held in the same esteem. Mark judges only the goodness of the person’s heart. In that, he can size up individuals quickly. If their heart is good, he gives them a big hug.

He is not easily fooled in this regard. One cannot be insincere and be considered a friend by Mark. He spots phoniness immediately. Although he talks with a limited vocabulary, Mark communicates effectively. His friends are numerous. They are individuals who have the ability to signal the purity of their hearts, their graciousness, and their kindness.

Many would say there is no place for graciousness and the Golden Rule in business, politics, athletics, or other highly competitive settings. Only results count. I would join Mark in saying hogwash! How we treat others will be our epitaphs.

Having spoken at hundreds of funerals in my lifetime, I have discovered that final remarks relate a great deal about the deceased. It would be a fascinating experience to hear, in advance, what will be said in our eulogy. Few words are wasted over one’s academic achievements, professional career, or wealth. Families receive major play, but the most spotlighted characteristic is how the dearly departed treated others.

It would do us each well to think about what might be said at our eulogies. Would it be similar to how we see ourselves? And what will be mentioned in those informal “eulogies” delivered in the neighborhood, the workplace, and whispered in the pews following your demise?

Every day, our eulogies are being written. When they finally are presented, we obviously will be in no physical shape to offer a rebuttal. Today—right now—begin working toward a reputation for graciousness. Only you can shape the content of your forthcoming eulogy.

Businesses, too, have reputations. Many companies are known for their values, customer and employee relations, innovative spirit, and philanthropic endeavors. The recent downfalls of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and other such notables have reminded us that deception, greed, and sundry indecencies also are present in the misty corporate world.

I once had the pleasure to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama. He made a meaningful observation: “Accumulation of wealth for the sake of wealth alone is self-defeating. Only in seeing one’s work as a calling, a means to serve a higher purpose, can we find true fulfillment.”

On another occasion, he said: “Relate to others with warmth, human affection, honesty, and compassion.” Thoughtful advice.

Most companies and individuals seek success and respect. To reach these goals requires a sense of compassion for others and a desire to make others happy. Happiness is so meaningful to our lives. It often comes to us when we try to make others happy. Graciousness is catching.

In his book, There Is No Such Thing as Business Ethics, John Maxwell maintains that in today’s marketplace, 70 percent of the people who leave their jobs do so because they do not feel valued. That’s an indictment of how shabbily many executives and directors treat employees. Everyone wants to be valued, to know that they count. People need to be appreciated, trusted, and respected in every segment of their lives.

Maxwell holds that only one rule is necessary in governing ethical decision making: the Golden Rule. Treating competitors, the community, employees, and fellow humans with the same courtesies we would like shown to us works for me.

There is a practical side to decent behavior, too. Customers, employers, and suppliers are people who understand and appreciate civility and graciousness. They normally react in kind, and that can be good for profits. Bottom lines would be better served if we put this philosophy into practice.

How would I like to be treated in this situation? That’s all you need to ask yourself in most instances.

The Golden Rule is a guideline of life in every culture I know. Many people are familiar with the “do unto others” admonition of the New Testament. It may surprise you to know how similarly the world’s religions view this concept.

Confucianism states: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.” Zoroastrians are advised that “if you do not wish to be mistreated by others, do not mistreat anyone yourself.” Muslims are taught no one is a true believer “until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” Hinduism warns never to behave “towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.” The Torah says: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”

There are other ways to look at the Golden Rule. My late oil-baron friend, Armand Hammer, was a controversial world figure for most of the 20th century because of his close relationship with the Soviet Union. He believed we could more effectively deal with Communist nations through trade rather than by rattling sabers.

He and I traveled together to the old Soviet Union several times. His stories are legendary—some even true. Nevertheless, during our initial meeting in his Beverly Hills headquarters, I noticed the sign on the wall behind his desk: “The Golden Rule: He who controls the gold, makes the rules.”

That is not my approach.

We all know people who we love to be around. They provide us with inspiration and joy. My friend Mark Rose is one of those people. I have never heard him say a negative word about another person. Forever smiling and positive, he never talks about himself. Others are the center of his focus. As a result, he is at peace with himself.

Gracious people make a real difference in our lives. Unfortunately, so do people who embody self-pity, arrogance, and self-importance. They don’t listen. Most are talking so rapidly about themselves, they seldom learn anything new.

I have discovered in my dealings with the U.S. Congress that good listeners are rare. Elected officials live in a Beltway bubble where they are caught up in their own sense of importance. They communicate in babble-speak. It is that kind of atmosphere that has led to the contentious and bitter relations between Republicans and Democrats.

I hold in high esteem those peacemakers and statesmen who maintain a sense of humility, kindness, and graciousness. A number of such noble souls still reside on Capitol Hill, but I fear they are becoming an endangered species. Thankfully, there are signs that some alarmed politicians are realizing this and are attempting to forge a new, more civilized and respectful political atmosphere that would better serve our nation’s interest.

In 2003, Parents magazine conducted a survey on the qualities that parents most wanted to instill in their offspring. The resounding winners were good manners and religious faith. And by manners, these parents reported they meant behavior involving other people, respecting others, and being considerate.

It is not much of a surprise that, of all vocations, the most decent and gracious people are found in religious settings. The now deceased heads of two religions—LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and Pope John Paul II—immediately stand out for me.

In the early 1990s, I met the late John Paul II at the Vatican in a meeting arranged by Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles. (At the time, I, a tithe-paying, devout Mormon, was the second biggest donor to the Catholic charities in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.) The pope took my hand and thanked me for my help to the needy. “I have never met a Mormon before,” he said. “I want to compliment you on all you do to help others.”

I found myself momentarily speechless, not to mention a bit teary, but I managed to respond: “I have never met Your Holiness before, either, and wish to convey my love to you in the same manner.” He knows so well what kindness to others brings. He is one of my heroes.

My own church leader, President Gordon Hinckley, who was a close friend for more than three decades, too, was a wise leader with a remarkable sense of graciousness. He began nearly every personal conversation with a compliment. I can understand why he, too, is so beloved. He has been my role model, as has his successor, Thomas S. Monson, another close friend, who was sustained as president and prophet in 2008.

While I learned a basic value system from those closest to me as a child, my church has provided me with a continuous source of renewal of those principles. When attempting to play life’s games by the rules, it helps not to compartmentalize family, faith, and career.


No one lives or dies unto himself. In his day, Andrew Carnegie made 38 other men millionaires. That sort of financial fallout has continued down to the present day with the successes of large businesses, including my own, enriching others. Conversely, when businesses go broke, they tend to drag down others with them. Employees lose jobs, suppliers lose business, and creditors lose money.

Each of us has a stake in the accomplishments and failures of those around us; each of us holds an interest in the deeds of others. When one person beautifies a neighborhood, the entire community is enhanced. When a CEO trips, stakeholders stumble. Like the tide that raises all ships, no one can lift others without first being made better himself.

I have always treasured the handwritten notes and personal calls that have come during times of emotional or physical stress. Somehow, such expressions seem more personal and meaningful than an e-mail.

Captains of industry, successful CEOs and managers, political leaders of depth, religious hierarchy, and effective parents take advantage of personal communication when expressing support or appreciation—and they usually don’t wait for a crisis situation.

Our company has more than a hundred manufacturing, distribution, and sales offices around the globe. I love to visit our facilities, even though I don’t know how to operate the equipment and don’t understand the chemical formulas for our products (although I am still a pretty good salesperson). I leave that to the experts. What I embrace are the people.

Employee relations are at the center of successful businesses. Labor develops a bad attitude toward management when executives spend more time at the country club than in the manufacturing plants. Top officials of companies big and small must find opportunities to go from employee to employee, thanking each one and acknowledging individual contributions.

Research suggests a link between the lack of civility and violence. Nearly two million acts of violence on some level occur in the American workplace annually, primarily by people who believe management or colleagues slighted them.

Leaders must instill in others a sense of entitlement, appreciation, and loyalty. If one does this successfully, others are lifted to greater achievements. Let me assure you, watching dreams unfold is one of the great joys of leadership.

I identify with the words of Thomas Jefferson when, in the Declaration of Independence, he wrote: “In the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” It was clear to Jefferson that every man and woman shared in the successes of others. For Jefferson, mutual support was essential.

On many occasions, I have recited from John Donne’s poem, “No Man Is an Island.” It brings hope and joy into my life. Indulge me two verses:

No man is an island,
No man stands alone;
Each man’s joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.

We need one another,
So I will defend
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.

If we could but express these remarkable words to one another in our homes, in our places of worship, in our businesses, and in our associations, peace would abide in our souls, and the world would indeed be a better place.

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