Sunday, March 26, 2006

Honesty is the best policy

They taught this to us when we were kids-our parents, our teachers and all the adults who came in the close radius of being guardians, matrons & wardens. The lesson was often proved wrong with practical examples and contradicted with alarming frequency. “Tell uncle I’m not home” is probably a universal lie transmitted by adults onto their young ones. No, this is not an indiction of my parents or my friends’ parents-just that its something probably everyone would have experienced now or then. The objective of this blog is simply to explore the nature of honesty and better define it-having done that, maybe also to figure out whether it is indeed the best policy (I actually don’t like the word policy-it has something potently negative about the way it sounds-inflexible, unimaginative, laid down by someone else, something you just have to follow without applying your brain). But again, I use it more due to the familiarity of the phrase-maybe I’ll think about replacing policy with something better along the way. Ready to explore honesty?

a) Is honesty a conscious choice- Since I truly believe that an evolved individual must have a more developed internal locus of control, as a subset of that belief I also believe that we choose when to be honest, who to be honest with and conversely, when not to be honest and who not to be honest with. There are those who say circumstances were such that I couldn’t possibly have told her the truth. What is being achieved by such delayed honesty? - You simply fall back on the known tenet that blows soften with the passage of time. By the same logic would you wait to reveal a piece of news that you think would make the other person happy? Nope. Not a chance….so essentially honesty is a choice determined by your judgement of the impact it will have on others or on yourself.

b) Are there degrees to honesty-Okay, so being honest is a choice, but is the degree to which you are honest also a choice? Is being honest an absolute? Or are you judged honest depending upon how honest are those around you or perhaps, the probability of you being honest, determined in a historical context. Is being 50% honest about something better than being 100% dishonest? It is a tricky question-but the conclusion that I have arrived at is that honesty is absolute-it is being true to facts, thoughts, judgements, opinions, everything tangible and intangible. Of course, there are those who may argue that since our sphere of knowledge is limited to the past and the present, by default, what we believe to be true now may be disproved later. (case in point-people believed the earth is flat) Sure, our perceptions of reality change-but as long as we state (doesn’t matter if it is a vocal statement or not) what we perceive to be true with no malafide intention, we are being honest.

c) What’s more important-being honest to others or to yourself-I think in terms of hierarchy, being honest to one’s own self comes first. Think of it this way, if you were dying, what would matter to you, other’s judgement or your own? This is not to say that you should care zilch about what others say or think about you-that’s secondary-you have to live under your own skin-if you aren’t comfortable with that, don’t think Prada or Versace could act saviors. What this simply means is that, if you committed a crime, say robbed a bank-you would be honest to others if you confessed in front of significant others that you did what you did, but you would be honest to your own self if you realized what you did was wrong. Its critical to acknowledge one’s own thoughts-don’t have to be positive or saintly all the time-but self awareness is the first step to being honest.

d) Do smugglers/other supposedly dishonest people sleep well at night-One common belief is that when you do something wrong, your guilt wont let you be at peace. When we publicly categorize someone as dishonest, more often than not, the person is someone who indulges in immoral/illegal activities on a fairly consistent basis. When we do this, we are probably judging only one dimension of their life which is visible to us as dishonest. Its possible that a smuggler evades law on one hand, but is extremely fair in distributing the spoils between his gang. My gut is that dishonest people do sleep well at night-because in the calculation of their conscience, these seemingly dishonest activities don’t carry any weights-its like pulling the plug on a corpse or muting your perception so that it doesn’t interfere in other aspects of your life.

e) Is it good to be honest? “Mummy, stop eating so much or you’ll look as fat as Auntie”. My bet is that the kid who said this would be reprimanded for both speaking out of turn and for saying aloud what adults were thinking to themselves. Tact and diplomacy are sophisticated ways of being dishonest in varying degrees. Sure, societal norms dictate a lot of how and what we say/do things and to be fair, we choose how closely our spoken/written words match our thoughts based on a variety of factors. But nothing stops us from being honest to ourselves-everyday, every single second of that day. Its critical to be true to your own self-it’s the only legacy that you can really carry with yourself and leave behind too.

So essentially honesty is an dependent variable for those who in being honest to others make that choice corresponding to a situation/person. And it is an independent variable when you think of being honest as being honest to your own self. So go ahead….be selfish-do yourself and others a favor-be honest to yourself.
Honesty is really the best promise you can make to yourself and aspire to keep for all you are worth.