Roy Exum: A Mom’s Integrity Lesson

Sunday, May 9, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I am in the middle of reading Admiral William McRaven’s new book “The Hero Code” and strongly suspect that in the years to follow, there will be over a million moms who will make sure their children read it. In it are the lessons our mothers taught us – or certainly tried – as they equipped us for life as best they possibly could. “The Hero Code” is about such things as courage, compassion, perseverance and hope and Admiral McRaven, who spent 37 years leading the Navy’s SEALS, is about as expert in the 10 virtues of ‘The Code’ as you will find.

I first came across him in a commencement address he famously delivered at his alma mater in 2014, the University of Texas (link available below) and I was hooked, yes, as in “Hook ‘em, ‘Horns!” (the Texas cheer).

Well over 40 million YouTube viewers have been, too! He wrote his first book “Make your Bed,” as a result of that priceless speech, and its best-seller result triggered “Sea Stories,” which shot to the top of the N.Y. Times best-seller list. If you get a chance to read it you’ll know why because its “stories” include the capture of Saddam Hussein and demise of Osama bin Laden, among others.

What separates the now-retired Admiral McRaven’s version from other written accounts is that he was there; he planned both raids and was an eyewitness. Coupled with the fact he is an expert writer/storyteller, you can hardly put the book down.

In McRaven’s new book, there is a chapter that deals with integrity. Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity; without it no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

So, in the fourth chapter of The Hero Code, Adm. McRaven remembers a key lesson his mother taught:

* * *


(From the book, “The Hero Code,” written by Admiral William H. McRaven, USN (Ret.)

My mother, a schoolteacher from East Texas, worked hard her whole life to shape my character. She often told me stories of great acts of integrity as an example for me to emulate. Her favorite was the account of American patriot, and future president John Adams, who defended British soldiers after the Boston Massacre.

On March 5, 1770, a mob of 300 colonists surrounded and threatened a small contingent of redcoats. As tensions escalated, the soldiers fired on the mob, killing five Americans. Bostonians were furious and threatened to lynch the soldiers for murder. A trial was ordered, but no one would take the case for fear they might be lynched along with the British.

In spite of threats and in spite of the impact on his personal and professional reputation, John Adams accepted the position as defense counsel. He believed that if Americans were ever going to show they were worthy of self-rule, then the colonists must give the soldiers a fair trial. In the end, the jury found the soldiers not guilty by reason of self-defense. The willingness of Adams to put the interests of justice above his self-interests helped shape the American legal system and forged Adam’s reputation as a man of uncompromising integrity.

The lesson of John Adams was not lost on me. Over the years, I was frequently confronted by situations where my own self-interests and preservation were in conflict with doing the right thing. I hope my mother would be proud of my choices.

Being men and women of integrity – following the rules, following the law, and following what you know to be right – is hard. It is hard because you have to fight against your natural herd tendencies: the desire to go along, to get along, to be well-liked among the herd.

It is hard because unlike the comic-book heroes, you are not men and women of steel, you are not cloaked in suits of armor, and you do not have unearthly powers.

It is hard because you are human, because life often forces you into seemingly untenable positions, because good and evil are always in conflict.

It is hard – and I dare say you will fail occasionally. And when you fail to uphold your integrity, it should make you sick to your stomach. It should give you sleepless nights. You should be so tortured that you promise yourself never to do it again.

Being a hero will not be easy. And what makes real heroes are their struggles and their ability to overcome them. But no matter how mightily you might struggle, the world will believe in you, follow you, and allow themselves to be saved – if they know you to be honest, trustworthy, of good character and good faith. Never fear the path that is rocky, steep, and treacherous. There you will find men and women of integrity.

There you will find heroes.

-- written by Admiral William H. McRaven, USN (Ret.)

* * *


‘The Hero Code” is based on 10 virtues, or characteristics, that separate great people from every-day people. Admiral William McRaven, USN (Ret.) examines and explains each in the 10 chapters of his newest book:

No. 1 – I will always strive to be COURAGEOUS; to take one step forward as I confront my fears.

No. 2 – I will work to be HUMBLE; to recognize the limits of my intellect, my understanding, and my power.

No. 3 – I will learn to SACRIFICE by giving a little more of my time, my talent, and my treasure to those in need.

No. 4 – I will be a person of INTEGRITY; every decision I make and every action I take will be moral, legal, and ethical.

No. 5 – I will be kind and COMPASSIONATE to at least one person every day and expect nothing in return.

No. 6 – I will never give up on matters that are important to me, my family, my country, or my faith. I will PERSEVERE.

No. 7 – Whatever job I am given, whatever DUTY I am bound by, I will do it to the best of my ability.

No. 8 – I will use my unique talents to inspire others and give them HOPE that tomorrow will be a better day.

No. 9 – I will use HUMOR to comfort others, and never be afraid to laugh at myself.

No. 10 – No matter how great or how small the offense against me, I will try to FORGIVE. I will be the victor, not the victim.

* * *


There is no question that Navy Admiral William H. McRaven (ret.) is a hero, but he obtained instant stardom when he gave the commencement address at the University of Texas graduation exercises in 2014. Since then, over 40 million people have watched the tape on YouTube alone. Running time is about 20 minutes, so make sure you watch the tape until complete. CLICK HERE.

* * *

“Some people don’t believe in heroes … but they haven’t met my Mom” – Author unknown.


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