New Delhi: For most of us, education in school and at home began with learning idioms. The most oft repeated one was about honesty being the best policy. This was the crux of our moral science curriculum and almost all other issues of public and private conduct flowed from this fundamental one. How is it then that educated people grounded, as they ought to have been in this policy, have begun to be saddened by their very own honesty. There is a noticeable tinge of regret among them, inspite of their principal policy of conduct revolving around honesty, forcing one to ask if the Rs.wow’ factor in an honest man’s life is a thing of the past.
Is there something more to this idiom of essential human behaviour, perhaps some flaw which we have failed to identify, while we were being taught? And as a result have only ended up following it blindly, without imbibing its essence in totality? Reflecting on the axiom, it makes one wonder that such a compelling and emphatic code of conduct, seems to have inbuilt caveats.
Why is it not that honesty is indeed the best? Does it have to be a ‘policy’, which implies that it is a ‘strategy’ to be used selectively or generally, given the context of its circumstance? This puts a wholly different shine on the glitter of the idiom, much like the proverbial spot on the surface of the moon. The principle being at best a policy that detracts from the splendour and compulsive compliance of a commandment and one on which rests all the ethical canons of mankind.
One wonders if mankind in this knowledge millennium has moved away from absolutes, of finite distinctions between good and evil and also between black and white. Our comfort levels are increasingly getting tinged with different shades of grey. Is this millennium then more about ‘managing’ things right as opposed to ‘doing’ things right?
‘Manage’ your career, ‘manage’ your boss,’ manage’ your life, ‘manage’ your finances, please somehow manage just about everything seems to be an overpowering credo! So much so, one is expected to even manage one’s excellence. Does this not imply that there is no choice but for us to contrive our journey through life without attaching a finer value of seeking a desired choice in our living.
Somewhere along this path, the study of business and Rs.management’ has become elevated to the status of a Rs.science’ and its practice a ‘rare and fine art’. The Rs.manage karo´ brigade with its victories and triumphs and rapid ascent on social and commercial escalators has succeeded in positioning a new paradigm for what was plain and simple honest human effort.
You need to do your work well, but you are also advised to talk about it in the Rs.right’ circles and at the ‘right’ time, so that it has the ‘right’ effect. You are told to achieve targets but you are also told to dress up your achievements. You are encouraged to make the acquaintance of people but those who can Rs.make’ you, give you ‘right’ referrals and whose name when you throw, shows that you move around in the ‘right’ circles. Looks like, plain competence and professional skill have acquired a host of annexures that need to be glorified and tom tommed about to help one qualify being in the race that will eventually determine just how successful we are and if indeed we have “made” it big.
Interestingly, what is true for individuals is even more true for nations. A whole pile of WMDS (weapons of mass destruction) was hitched to the Iraq arsenal through well-orchestrated intelligence revelations in the world media. It helped achieve the real aim of this earth’s most powerful nation that left no choice for even its own allies but to join the so-called war to make the world safer, is a telling story in itself.
Now is that really so? We know better how a piece of fiction was created to disguise an invasion to make the world safer to us. The corporate world too is markedly similar in hyping glitz and crossing new milestones of individual and collective wealth for which arithmetic counts for only supplying fresh zeroes to the lexicon of the rich. Nobody knows what reality means anymore, for every new dawn brings a fresh conquest of what was considered unethical yesterday but which looks imaginatively creative today. Enron, was a multi-billion dollar corporate empire yesterday and has gone bust today. These examples are available aplenty.
Global or local, where ever the eye is cast, it is filled with images of half-truths which are single mindedly obsessed with keeping up with the times. They are magnifying their deeds, over promising through fancy jargon and speeches, covering up and deflecting attention from the things which they ought to have done but did not do and in the end just keep glorifying their success till the world recognizes and gives them attention/ awards.
The question we need to ask is, “Are we indeed going to specialize in Rs.managing’ the world through engineered hype sprinkled with doses of reality? Yes, this seems to be the message of our times. In Nietzsche’s immortal words, “The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others”. The ramifications of this reality can then only be eerie and frightening, never mind who coined the phrase, “Honesty is the best policy”.
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Responses to the column can be sent on firstname.lastname@example.org