Sunday, December 27 , 1998
By Taru Bahl
MOST of us agree that honesty is the fountainhead from which flow qualities like integrity, uprightness, truth and the ability to stand by ones convictions. An honest person is like a lighthouse to many others who try and lock on to the guide-beam while navigating the choppy waters of life. An honest person leads by example, never succumbing to offers or threats even in moments of distress. Money, power, love and fame do not sway him from the centre, which is the core of his values and, therefore, his existence. We also know that to be truly honest, we must be honest in thought,word, deed and action. But can such a person can exist in the 21st century? And if he does, can he aspire to be a successful and happy achiever?
There are no two opinions on whether you should be honest or not. What can and does change with each generation is the manner in which you choose to pass on the message of honesty to those around you. If you are honest , there is no need to declare it from the rooftops and then hope that you are treated in a "fair and just manner." Today, if you are honest and ethical, you must also be smart and savvy in your approach. A martyred, idealistic, holier-than-thou image is likely to meet with disdain and hostility. The idea is not be behave like a saint and to be worshipped as one. Without looking for acclaim and recognition, we should strive towards living an honest life, not for others but for our own selves. There is no need to show off incorruptibility. Instead, we must use our intelligence, wisdom, tact and humour to deal with dishonest people and the unfair situations created by them.
There is a parable about a poor but clever little boy who excitedly hailed a vendor to buy some gooseberries. The vendor tried to distract his attention, so that he could tamper with the weights. Not one to be fooled easily, the boy demanded an explanation for the under-weighment. The vendor cunningly said, "Less will be easier for you to carry, my child". The boy nodded and handed him some change. Finding the amount to be short, the enraged vendor shouted at the boy, "Do you think I am a fool who does not know how to count?" Unruffled, the boy replied, "Sir, I was only doing what I learnt from you a moment ago. I handed over less money to you so that you have no difficulty in counting it". The vendor got the message alright.
In other words, the boy knew that he lived in an unequal world. He had the choice of resorting to cheating, lying, or hoodwinking the vendor. But he used his sharp wit to get the better of an unfair situation without resorting to dishonesty. The boy, perhaps, knew intuitively that the world has its quota of dishonest persons and the choice before him was to either follow their example or to meet life on his own honest terms.
There should be no confusion in our minds as to what honesty is, although we may choose to ignore, belittle or betray the norms which go into making an honest man or woman out of us. When we fill in fake travel vouchers in the office or botch up our personal accounts to gain a few hundred rupees from dad, we may justify our actions by making a hundred excuses. But there is no way we can prove that our actions are honest.
If we want to be honest, the first thing we have to do is to learn to be brutal with ourselves, with the way we think and act. We have to firmly decide whether short-term gains are worth compromising on lifelong values. This is something we have to resolve within ourselves and abide by under all circumstances. Honesty is never relative. One can never be less honest or more honest. One can only we either honest or dishonest. There arent any shades of grey. This column is only a facilitator, a guide, an inner voice which can prompt you. The action ultimately has to be taken by you. You have to be convinced that even if there are no immediate and/or tangible gains, it still makes sense to stick to ones ideals.
We believe that honesty always pays. This may not appear to be entirely true, especially if one is looking for physical/tangible gains. If we resolve not to cheat in our examinations, it automatically doesnt mean that we will land up with a distinction. Or if we own up and confess to a friend that we have betrayed her confidence, we should not expect to be forgiven immediately. This honesty may in fact make us lose that friend and may make one the only one in class with the lowest grade. But you are still a winner because you had the moral courage to do what you thought was correct. This realisation makes one stronger and more authentic.
There is a story about a woodcutter whose axe falls into the river. The woodcutters livelihood is threatened because he is not in a position to buy a new axe. Mercury, the messenger of gods, sees the unhappy man and decides to help him.
He dives into the river and brings out a golden axe. The woodcutter unhesitatingly tells him that it doesnt belong to him. Mercury dives once again and this time brings out a silver axe. The woodcutter looks even more crestfallen, and says that it is not his. Mercury dives one more time and brings out a crude iron axe. The woodcutter jumps up in joy, takes it and moves towards the forest. Mercury calls out to him and gifts him all the three axes.
The woodcutter could have lied and taken the golden axe. He could have freed himself from the bondage of hard labour.But the thought of taking what was not his, did not even occur to him. For him, honesty was not a ploy which would fetch him a reward at the end. He did not resort to honesty because he thought it was the done thing. By being honest, he was only being true to himself.
An honest person should be able to hold his head high and allow his honesty to inspire others, not by virtue of his noble intentions alone but by proving to the world that his honesty works wonderfully for him.
The Pied Pipers story is well known. He used his magic flute to free the people of Hamlin from the menace of rats. He kept his side of the promise but the greedy, selfish decision-makers of the town did a volte-face. Their logic was: the rats have gone, this maverick Piper cannot harm us and we can be richer by not giving him the ridiculous amount of cash we had promised to him in our desperation.
The Piper now played a different tune on his flute and this time it is the children who follow him into the cave of no return. The Piper used his skill in punishing the dishonest.
At the end of the story we
sympathise with the Piper and not the wise men of the
town. For, everything else being equal, all of us like to
deal with people who are honest. Honesty is, therefore,
the best policy to live by.
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