Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Its just a risk to be honest

We grow up listening to popular sayings such as ‘Honesty is the best policy’, and often use these cliches in conversations. If a continuum were to be drawn placing honesty at one end and dishonesty at the other, most of us would want to be bunched around honesty. This is quite natural and it probably feels good to have nice opinions about oneself. However, if truth and honesty lent themselves to such simplistic interpretations, then there would have been little need of useful tools such as tact and diplomacy.

So, the question arises as to how honest we really are in our everyday lives? When we encounter a situation or a person, there is an immediate first instinct about it; we may say, form a favourable or unfavourable opinion. But we try not to rush out our unprocessed thoughts bluntly. We judiciously weigh in the likely impact of words before allowing others the opportunity to hear from us. If our initial, honest thoughts have to be trussed up in a garb of propriety, then in a way we may be shearing them of some of their purity. We may carry this process so far that what we eventually verbalize could only be nominally representative of our true feelings. Opposing theorists to this enterprising human ability would jump to explain away dressing up of words with labels such as tact, diplomacy, discretion, etc. Whatever euphemism they may wish to employ, it boils down to the fact that we often prefer not being unconditionally honest.

Imagine a situation in which you are an esteemed guest at a wedding function. You are expected to admire the remarkable job that the beauty parlour has performed on the bride. Words such as ‘Her natural beauty has been brought out’ would suit the occasion superbly. You might be a bit suspicious of the type of natural beauty that requires such an unnaturally large amount of money to become visible. Despite your inner doubts, you will find yourself giving a generous comment such as: “Oh, it seems as if a heavenly being has descended from the Heavens to sit on an earthly stage.” And if you are really good, your facial expressions will also back your ‘heart-felt’ praise.

Sometimes, one happens to see a foreign dignitary from a developed economy being interviewed on television. The host interviewer inquires hopefully: “Do you feel that in the coming decades this country could achieve what yours has accomplished?” Even if deep down the dignitary holds the view that in many ways the interviewer’s country first needs to graduate from the 16th century to perhaps start thinking of making it big in the 21st century, what do you expect his reply would be?

“Most certainly. I have seen tremendous potential in the report of some kind. In due course he furnishes a report that is fine enough to make the exasperated boss burst into tears. The boss may think: “Is this shoddy work supposed to be the best that this chap can come up with! Oh boy, wouldn’t I just love to give him a piece of my mind, if not for the fact that he’s the Director’s nephew!”

Needless to say when the Director inquires about his young protege’s progress, the boss exclaims with gusto that he is one of the most promising employees to have joined the company in many years.

Then there are certain career tracks that have acquired a significant notoriety in common vocabulary. Politics and politicians generally find it hard to be mentioned in a good light in our drawing-room discussions. We know their promises carry as much weight as a feather caught in a vicious tornado. Yet, we insist on putting the ‘poor’ politicians through the torture of taking oaths of honesty, selfless service, etc, before assuming their august offices. One wonders what those luminaries are actually thinking at the time of their swearing-in ceremony.

After considering these scenarios, one can safely conclude that the misguided gentleman who first came up with the golden yet precarious ‘Honesty is the best policy’ must never have managed to make any friends and must have lived on a remote, uncharted island for most of his incredibly idealistic life.

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