Say What You Mean: Character, Integrity and Independent Agents

By | April 2, 2009

“I meant what I said, and said what I meant…”

Although that quote was written in 1954 by Dr. Seuss in his book “Horton Hears a Who,” it is a powerful reminder today to act with character and integrity.

“Horton Hears a Who” tells the story of Horton the Elephant, who hears a small speck of dust talking to him. It turns out the speck is a tiny planet, home to a city called Whoville that is inhabited by microscopic-sized people known as Whos. The Whos ask Horton (who cannot see them but can hear them) to protect them from harm, which Horton promises to do — despite opposition from the other jungle animals who believe Horton has lost his mind. As it becomes more difficult to protect the Whos, Horton is encouraged to leave the Whos to fend for themselves. Yet Horton stands behind his promise, declaring, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant is faithful 100 percent.”

Horton’s motto is a good reminder for all of us. There is little debate on where we find our country economically. The auto industry is in crisis; financial markets are a mess; the unemployment rate is growing daily; banks are closing; foreclosures are at an all-time high; and bad economic news continues.

Despite the constant diet of bad news and stark economic realities we are left to deal with, if you look at the situation through the clear lens of truth, you’d find that what led us here was not a crisis of cash, but a crisis of character.

Decades of dishonesty, greed and the notion that character doesn’t matter have caught up to us. As business leaders, politicians and others in positions of trust have relied upon the crazy notion that competency is everything and personal integrity is expendable, we find ourselves reaping the fruits of that ideology — and it’s not good.

Integrity and trust are fundamental principles of leadership and power,
and are the foundation of a strong economy. Our unique economic system is tied to freedom, and freedom is tied to responsible and ethical behavior. When we allow in ourselves and in our leaders a pattern of irresponsible behavior, we give up our freedoms in an effort to repair the damage. And as our freedoms erode, so does our unique economy.

You have chosen to work in the insurance industry. While others seek to minimize risk you embrace it. You study it, you calculate it, you even profit from it. You are now, and have been for hundreds of years, our economy’s last line of defense. You make it possible for businesses to open and grow, for loans to be made, for new inventions to come to market, and for young people to buy their first car or their first home.

Without you and your industry, the way of life to which we have grown accustomed would slow to a grinding halt.

Inside the insurance industry, there is tremendous potential for growth, both personal and financial. The industry is one of the most lucrative professions in the world.

But with that opportunity comes a responsibility: to act with integrity and with character in how you do business. Our economy cannot afford to lose confidence in our industry.

To close a sale, there may be temptation to not fully explain a policy’s new conditions or exclusions. There may be temptation to suggest coverage exists that really doesn’t, and then to blame someone else for the error when the claim is denied. Our industry must resist temptations to deceive.

It starts with a personal decision in each of us to do the right thing: to value our character, reputation and the important role our industry plays in the health of our economy more than money. To say in our quiet moments, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.”

There is astonishing power when a single person makes a single, honest decision. It can be contagious. As dishonesty breeds mistrust, honesty gives rise to trust, and trust provides the foundation for more honesty. It starts with one, each one of us doing the right thing for the right reason.

A government “stimulus” package will not save us. A bailout of AIG or GM will not solve the underlying problem. Instead, the quiet personal resolve to act with character and integrity in everything we do, and to demand the same behavior in our leaders, will lead to long-lasting, positive change. There is still something noble in the American spirit. I believe in us. I believe in our character as Americans to dig deep and to dig out of any problem, to do the right thing, and to do the extraordinary.

Mitch Dunford is CEO for Insurance Journal’s parent company, Wells Publishing Inc. E-mail him comments at

About Mitch Dunford

Mitch Dunford is CEO of Wells Media Group, Inc., publisher and operator of Insurance Journal magazine,,,,, and Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance. Wells Publishing is the world's leading B2B media company serving the U.S. property / casualty insurance industry and has gained a reputation for successfully building and employing new technology tools to deliver content to their customers. Mitch and his wife Cathy are the parents of six children. More from Mitch Dunford

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