Wednesday with Walt: Integrity

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I am sure almost all of us have been asked this familiar question when playing some type of ice-breaker game: “If you had to choose one word that defined you and your life, what word would it be?” Sometimes it is asked in a different way such as, “What is your legacy?”  or “What do you want to be remembered for?” Have you ever given that much thought?

If I had to think of a one-word description for Walt Disney, I would be flooded with visions of block lettering zooming on a superhighway in my mind.  Chief among them would be genius, diligence, compassion, tolerance and integrity. The definition of integrity is a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values. You might think that I am referring to Walt’s artistic side, but I am referring to his character.

To me, Walt was of exceptional character. I grew up believing that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I am not one to speak up for myself, but when it comes to standing up for someone else I have no problem, especially when it is clear that someone is being unfairly judged or accused of something.

Walt Disney was a strong man. There was a common misconception that he was a sentimental softy. He was sentimental, that is true, but when the situation called for it he was tough. In “The Fantastic Walt Disney” published in 1964, Bill Davidson described a situation that happened once in the Disney Studios. He said:

“Not long ago a well-known executive came over from another film company to work as an associate on a Walt Disney production. The first day on the job the executive was annoyed by the sound of a lawn mower outside his window, and he shouted at the gardener to desist. An hour later the executive received a call from Disney’s secretary, informing him that Disney wanted to see him. The executive rushed over and Disney said, “You spoke harshly to that man. He’s been with me for twenty years. I don’t want it to happen again.” The executive mumbled a contrite, “Yes, sir.” Disney continued, “And there’s another thing I want you to remember. There’s only one s.o.b. at this studio – and that’s me.”

To some people that might seem like Walt was a cruel man. To me, it says that Walt had integrity. I am sure that if someone had done the same thing to the new executive after he had been in Walt’s employ for a while, Walt would have done the same for him. In fact, I have read many different articles, books, and excerpts from people who worked for Walt. When talking about him as a boss, many of them said time and time again that few workers who became established at Disney Studios ever left, voluntary or otherwise, and many were on the Disney payroll for their entire working lives.

It seems to me that there is not enough of this type of integrity today. I am not saying that we shouldn’t be tolerant, but people should stand up for what they believe in. All too often, the loudest voices are the ones who don’t have this kind of integrity. Grace is the gift we extend to those who wrong us, but integrity is what drives the heart to refuse to compromise on matters of principle.

Generations before us held onto it like it was gold. Maybe that’s what the seven dwarfs were mining for all along!


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