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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, left, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Bob Woodward, Washington Post reporter who broke the Watergate story in 1973 and current associate editor at the Post, meet one another before speaking at "Integrity and Trust: Lessons from Watergate and Today" at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

America faces a crisis of trust and integrity.

That was the message projected loud and clear from a Washington, D.C., event this week on moral character in government, convened by the Deseret News.

Pew Research Center president Michael Dimock, part of the panel discussion, noted that Americans hold diminishing views of both the government and the electorate, while both Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and legendary journalist Bob Woodward shared lessons from the Watergate scandal.

The takeaway: As integrity crumbles, trust vanishes. As trust vanishes, integrity crumbles. The two principles are inextricably linked, and the more they dissolve, the more the country disintegrates.

Americans need that lesson, especially my generation.

Aaron Thorup

Why my cohort? Well, so-called millennials are supposedly less trusting and even less honest than any other age group.

At least, that’s what the data say. In a 2016 poll, my generation showed a pitiful amount of trust in standard American institutions. Apart from the military and colleges, no organization came close to garnering a majority vote of confidence.

Not government. Not banks. Not the news or the justice system or religion. And millennials definitely don’t trust corporate America.

As trust erodes, the world shrinks, and with it wanes integrity. Don’t agree with an offensive opinion in the news? Just carve it out. The business of paring down networks of trust continues until few are left.

That’s dangerous.

Without anyone or anything to depend on, some may (incorrectly) believe that individual action operates in a vacuum. What’s the point of telling the truth if the other person can’t be trusted to do the right thing? Why bother with a shared sense of integrity if the “truth” one chooses to believe is the only truth worth caring about?

Perhaps that’s what undergirds our migration away from honesty. The fact is we are the generation most likely to say it’s sometimes or often OK to fib during compromising scenarios, according to the annual Deseret News Ten Today survey. Mostly it’s the small things that trip up my peers — calling in sick without being ill, inflating a resume to get a job or exaggerating facts to make a story more interesting.

Some may find it patronizing to fuss over such small distortions of the truth. But, remarked Elder Christofferson, “When it seems ‘it doesn’t matter’ ... I don’t think you can make an exception. It puts you on the slippery slope.”

The good news is trends have no aptitude for capturing real people or their lived behavior. I have many close friends who buck generational stereotypes by valuing the development of moral character in their daily lives.

I’ve been the recipient of their honest friendship. I’ve lived, worked and worshipped with them, and I’ve seen how they face adversity when it comes knocking. Surely, thousands of others in my age group can say the same.

The good character of others forms the foundation for trustworthy institutions. Thus, personal integrity is worth the struggle it takes to develop because it rejuvenates our sense of accountability — to ourselves and to others.

All is not lost. Millennials can show immense capacity for trust and integrity. After all, they’re an animating force in the so-called sharing economy — with innovative accommodations like Airbnb and Uber — in which individual trust and integrity is an essential component to doing business with strangers on such an intimate level. Meanwhile, millennials are drawn toward diversity and tolerance of racial and other differences. Another sign of the capacity to trust.

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Millennials are eager to make a positive difference — to disrupt the status quo — and that starts with us living our ideals. Said Elder Christofferson on the fallout after Watergate, “People who had integrity defended the institutions and the processes and our society, and I feel like we’re obligated in our time to be the same kind of people ... to be the kind of people that we’re asking the rest of the world to be.”

It’s going to take work. But for a generation that delights in disruption, the most millennial thing millennials could do is challenge the depressing trends of today and fight for renewed trust and integrity.