By ROLI S
“ Honesty is the Best Policy” – most teachers teaching middle school ask their students to write essays on this topic. Even I remember having done so. As we grow up and begin to understand the ways of the world, we are often told by our elders, teachers and well- wishers to be honest, always tell the truth. It is a sign of good character and morality. Today, after I have lived a good part of my life following or, on occasions, not following ‘Honesty as a policy’, I think I have earned the right to express my understanding of the subject when it comes to family, friends and colleagues. All around the world there are many famous people who have said so many things about honesty in their own inimitable way. In my search for the truth about honesty and its usefulness in our lives, I have followed the advice of many such famous people. So, when Maya Angelou advises her daughter to be honest by saying, “Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.” I have only one problem with this advice, what if people do not leave me alone? What if they smother me with tons of advice, sympathy, proposition and advocacy that I do not need at that time! What if just to avoid those overdoses of sympathy I always decide to say, ’good’ to every ‘How are you?’ We know the norm is that the truth shouldn’t be told only when it’s convenient, but at all times. Honesty must be a way of life. Honesty means that you care deeply about trust, cherish your relationships, and value the importance of a solid reputation. Honesty means that you try to do your best and are willing to accept the consequences of your actions. But in my opinion and experience, it is the consequence of being honest that keeps people from being honest, most of the time! Isn’t it? As a spouse, as a parent, as a worker and a career person I have forgotten how many times I have held myself back from being honest for the benefit of all just because I knew the consequences were not going to be good! On many occasions I believe it is my integrity that is egging me not to be ‘honest’ and not tell the truth to other people. My integrity is telling myself the truth and my honesty is telling the truth to other people. I believe that telling of the truth without love is harshness; it gives someone information, but in a way that he or she cannot really hear it. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms but keeps us in denial about our flaws. This turmoil and certainty have kept people uncommitted to ‘Honesty’. No wonder people are more shocked by honesty and not by deceit! True, honesty is hard. Throughout my career and in my life, I’ve faced moments where I’ve needed to take an honest look at myself and face some very uncomfortable realities. As Gandhiji has said, “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” Oh, how much I would love to live everything that I believe in, but someone like myself who belongs to the working and not the elite or powerful class, trying to survive in this competitive world, trying to keep a job, trying to keep family together, trying to keep relatives happy, trying to keep friends and acquaintances in a good mood, it is all about adjustments and compromises. Uprightness and candor do not figure in my life on many occasions! Whenever I have practiced honesty, I have either lost my job or made a friend or relative angry! So, I end up concluding for myself that probably ‘honesty’ is only an illusion to those who seek their own selfish needs. Is dishonesty simply ‘not telling the truth and lying?’ I do not think so. Lying comes from fear. It’s born from our traumas, disappointments and betrayals and is always the result of something that’s happened to us. The scenarios surrounding why we lie are endless. The fact is that our lies are born from our traumas, both big and small, but honesty is more than ‘not lying’. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving. So many times, when I have made a friend happy, or a colleague feel good about herself, or a family member satisfied in spite of not being completely honest with them, I console myself by saying that honesty is more than ‘not lying’, it is living my truth! My truth is that I want to make these people happy, so I am not being dishonest after all. As spiritual beings, we’re hard-wired for honesty. We have a natural instinct to search for answers and make sense of things. Have you ever seen a bad actor on screen? You don’t have to be an actor yourself to recognise a bad performance. Why? It’s because we’re all viscerally connected to truth on a fundamental, physical and spiritual level. It’s part of who we are and like a virus, we instinctively reject dishonesty and that is why it is not always easy to be dishonest! In fact, I can (honestly) say now, that I am just starting to get honest in my day to day dealings with people and in my work life. It took a lot of living, and the culmination of much suffering and hard lessons, in my mid-fifties, to make me start forcing my own hand. Throughout my life I believed that honesty was a way of acting or enacting. I now understand that it is something far deeper. It is giving yourself the space to actually feel your feelings and be true to them. At all cost. So, in that regard, I still have a long way to go. But the path to honesty has been one of the most beautiful, painful and interesting lessons of my life. So, on a lighter note, now onwards if I ever ask you, “Do you want me to be honest?” Say, “No”. Just to be on the safe side.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)