This I Believe

Littleton, Martin W. (Martin Wilson)


  • Martin Littleton describes an experience in which he flunked a college exam rather than give in to the temptation to cheat, and how that lesson in integrity provided the framework for living a life of personal, inner satisfaction.
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And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Martin W. Littleton is a man who changed his life by asking himself two questions: "Where am I going?" and "Who wants to be a hero to a crook?" He was known as a successful criminal lawyer, having earned this reputation from 1929 to 1941 as a District Attorney of Nassau County in New York, and in private practice as well. Then he says he woke up, and without further ado, moved his whole family--lock, stock, and barrel--to a small ranch high up in the thorny bosom of the Rockies. Here is Martin Littleton.
More years ago than I now like to remember, when I was a young fellow in college, I was taking my final examinations of the year. They were important examinations and failure could mean the end of college for me. I had not been a good student. I had not applied myself as I should have, and I was hoping that the last minute cram sessions would provide me with enough knowledge to pass.
I had taken three of the exams and felt fairly hopeful for the results. But the fourth exam seemed hopeless. The questions called for answers I did not know. We had the honor system. There was no supervision during the examinations, and students were free to come and go as they pleased. In the middle of this examination, I thought I would go to my room to see if I'd
received a letter I was anxiously expecting-—a girl, of course.
There was no letter at my room. But in looking over my desk, I saw several books which held the answers to the exam on which I was so completely stumped. I stood and looked at those books and my mind spun with the thought that in just a few minutes I could look up the answers—or at least enough to ensure success. Nobody in the world would know. I could go back to my examination paper, which I had left at my seat, and score a passing mark. It was so simple and such a complete solution to the crisis with which I was faced.
I stood looking at those books, but I never touched them. Something I did not bother to analyze at the time held me back. I
was too young then to be concerned with self-analysis or soul searching. I returned to the examination room, wrote down a few wild guesses on my paper, and turned it in. It was a miserable failure, a failure which cost me a year of college. I regretted the failure and the lack of diligence and application which brought it about. I flunked that exam, but I did pass another and even more severe test which only I knew about and for which no grades were given at that time. But it has been since graded every day throughout my life.
I have gained more from that flunked exam than all the others I successfully passed. Its lesson brought to me the dramatic knowledge of the great power, the vital force, and the full sense of mental security that can come only from intellectual
integrity and honesty. It opened the inner door to myself and gave me a glimpse of a treasure which no material thing could ever produce. I learned more and became richer from that one failure than from all the many examinations I ever passed. Without intellectual integrity, a man is indeed bankrupt. A person’s greatest success, oftentimes, masquerades in the disguise of failure. Mine did. This is the first time I have ever told this little story, but it has always been in my mental treasure chest of personal riches.
That was Martin W. Littleton, a former criminal lawyer of New York, who has taken root on a ranch in Cody, Wyoming, where he says, "Living is still an art and not merely necessity."