The New York Times Test


Virtue makes us aim at the right mark, and practical wisdom makes us take the right means. -Aristotle 

As a Naval Academy graduate, it kills me to have to give credit to our rival school, West Point, for anything. However, I like West Point's very simple and understandable Honor Code: "A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do." I wish every person in America, and even the world, lived like this. Think about all the heartache, broken relationships, prison sentences and financial failures that could be avoided.

While we have little control over others, we can choose to live this way ourselves. When confronted with the temptation to lie about a situation, cheat on expense reports or taxes, or steal from companies or partners, the simple statement "I will not lie, cheat or steal" should come to mind.

Sometimes we may believe there is a "gray zone" and are unsure about what is acceptable. In such cases, I use the New York Times test. The New York Times test asks:

"If this action was on the cover of The New York Times, would I be ok with it?"

I have deleted many e-mails that I wrote, often in anger, that failed the NYTT. With the speed and ease of electronic communication, you have to assume that anything you write can be quickly shared to a broad audience. Thus, you need to be clear and honest, and consider how an outside reader would respond to your words. And, put it on the cover of The New York Times, to decide if it would make you and your family proud or embarrassed.

Preventing even the potential appearance of impropriety ensures that your honor is protected. Billy Graham would not be alone with a woman that was not his wife, even in a car or elevator - a third person would join them. His precaution is still wise today, given the intense scrutiny and almost immediate sentencing by the media of anyone accused of improper behavior. Billy Graham’s "rule of three," offices with glass panels, and keeping your calendar updated so you can recall your whereabouts on a particular day are all good safeguards for potential false accusations.


Action Points
Adopt the dictum that you "will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do."
Before you say, write or do something, consider whether you want it to be on the cover of The New York Times.
Delay before hitting "send" on an e-mail, and re-read your message to make sure it is appropriate and could not be misconstrued.
Protect yourself from even the appearance of impropriety and false accusations.

A sterling reputation and much heartache prevented.


Excerpted from Chapter 11, The New York Times Test, of The Surpassing Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence,

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