Is honesty really the best policy?

04 Mar 2012
Posted by Kiran

Back in 1991, on my 9th grade school trip, we had an incentive to look forward to. We were all going to be allowed access to some money to buy stuff of our choice from the shops during one of our breaks. For a 14 year old who did not normally get access to cash, this was a big deal. That opportunity - to handle cash, bargain with shopkeepers and buy stuff of our choice - was something that each one of the about 100 students in my batch looked forward to.

As it so happened, some of the boys in our group decided to step out of line and as a method of disciplining them, the teachers accompanying us decided to withhold that shopping privilege from them. Not to be out-done, they soon got in touch with their friends with requests to buy stuff on their behalf. I too got one such request from one such defaulter. Hoping to be of some help to my friend, I agreed.

The teachers however got the whole group together and demanded to know who among us had received such requests from the "banned" students. Wanting to be honest, I stepped up and admitted to having received such a request. Many of us did. Much to our horror, our shopping privileges were also revoked! I spent the rest of the trip kicking myself for being so honest!

Had I not been naïve enough to step up and admit to being one of the pupils who had agreed to shop on behalf of my friend, there was no way the teachers could have known of our little secret. I had to face the consequences of my honesty.

More recently, as an adult, I was at a library where I was audience to a different perspective to life.

A child was browsing through some of the books on the shelf and accidentally pushed one of the books too far into the shelf; as a result of his mistake quite a few of the books on the other side of the shelf fell out of their place. Realizing his mistake, he quickly ran across to the other side and started rearranging the books back on the shelf. A librarian too rushed there and demanded to know what had happened.

That is when the child's father arrived. He brusquely stated to the librarian that whatever had happened was not his son's fault and instructed his son to leave the books on the floor and walk out with him. The son obeyed.

Though I was a mute spectator, this whole episode was very interesting for me. My initial reaction was one of disbelief: how could a father teach his own son to be so dishonest? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all that the father was doing was teaching his son to face the society - the Indian society.

The truth is that every man has to fend for himself and if you are too honest, you are easily seen as being too naive! This is especially true in India. If you demand professionalism here, people look at you with disbelief; if you stand in line, you will end up waiting for eternity. To survive here you have to know when to be decent and when not to. You cannot go with a thumb-rule that simply states: "Honesty is the best policy". It is not.