SOME YEARS ago, Dr TR Balasubramanian (TRB), a Professor, asked my opinion of a statement of purpose (SOP) letter from a student. "A boy I know wanted a feedback, hoping you could guide him," he said. "I haven't had time to read it."
After I had read only a few paragraphs, it was apparent that the SOP had been copied from an online website. But I didn't say so. I hedged. "I don't know about this," I said. "I'll send it to my coworker who is a faculty and will get back to you."
TRB scanned the pages as I handed them back. After a minute he looked at me in surprise. "Do you mean to tell me you'd take the time and trouble to send this to your friend, and impose on a man there to read it and write you a letter, only to have to return in a week or so to tell me what you can tell me now?" he asked incredulously. My embarrassment must have been apparent, because he smiled gently. "Always remember this," he said. "Honesty is the world's greatest time saver."
I thought about his advice for some time afterward. My dad's favorite saying was always, "Truth need not be remembered."For how long, I kept asking myself, had I been engaging in deceptions that were squandering precious time and irreplaceable energies- both mine and those of others? And all under the virtuous facade of diplomacy. Gradually, I came to realize that honesty is more than just a time-saving device:it is the ultimate of economy in ALL human relations. For example:
It Saves Time.
I'm often interrupted by telephone calls from strangers offering everything from "you can make a million doing nothing" to "you need to sign up for this telephone service which will be panacea for all your issues". There was a time when I remained mute during such calls, listening to a memorized speech that took valued minutes and left me frustrated and resentful. Now, however, I interrupt my caller immediately. "It wouldn't be fair to take your time," I say, "when I already know I'm not interested." And I hang up.
A couple I know made a New Year's resolution to be completely honest in their social life. "It all began with a friend calling every Monday morning to make plans with us for the following weekend," the wife explained. "I'd say okay-whether we wanted to see them or not-because I could never come up with a quick excuse. Then my husband and I would spend all week trying to figure out a way to cancel. We finally realized that it is all right to refuse any invitation."
It is Good Manners.
Few years ago, at the international rendezvous in my Grad school, I heard an exchange student speak glowingly about his year in US. "But there's one thing I still don't understand," he added. "Americans often promise more than they deliver. 'Come to see me,' they're always saying, or 'we must get together.' Yet few follow up. Everybody seems to want to be a good guy, but I find their dishonesty unkind. Maybe it's meant to be good manners, but it turns out to be bad manners."
It Saves Needless Contriving.
A family I knew recently underwent the chores of moving. As the movers were gathering their barrels and boxes, they realized they hadn't seen a valuable vase. Carefully, the four men went through every every box of papers, while my friend and her young daughter searched closets and shelves. After an hour, on the verge of giving up, the woman's eyes caught the gleam of a pieces of crystal on the kitchen floor. The daughter looked at her mother and burst into tears. "I dropped it early this morning," she confessed. Our family friend was distressed over the loss of a treasure, naturally. But she was more distressed over the unnecessary trouble her child had caused. "You have wasted an hour for six people," she pointed out. "That's six hours-almost a day's work." The girl wiped her eyes.
"But I think I learned a lesson, Mother," she said. "If the truth hurts, putting it off only hurts worse."
It Generates Trust.
A little boy who greatly feared the sight of blood was taken to a dentist to have a tooth pulled. Both his father and the dentist assured him there would be no blood. There was, of course, and the child was outraged. Now an 40-year-old man, he said to me, "I remember it to this day. Parents shouldn't lie to children even if they think it's for their own good. Lies deteriorate relationships, can ruin them permanently."
It Brings Inner Peace.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Quiz Show . This is where Professor Mark Van Doren posed that he was lot more knowledgeable in a TV Quiz show in an effort to appear more glamorous. Actually he was given the quiz questions and answers before the show. When an attorney investigated this case, Mark admitted that, "It was a horrible existence--trying to be what you're not." The investigator wanted to expose the TV show and Mark Van Doren initially resisted it but finally admitted, he is grateful to the investigator for the rest of his life. "He forced me to admit the truth, and the truth set me free."
A final word of warning about honesty:solicited or unsolicited, it should never be confused with rude, intrusive comment."Aggressively outspoken people get satisfaction from saying that they don't like your new dress or your new chair," My uncle (LMK Athimber) told me. "Worse, there are those who say they wouldn't be your friend if they didn't tell you something ugly that was said about you. In my work, I sometimes have to tell a hard truth. But I don't do it unless I'm absolutely certain it's meant in a loving way. The rule I use-and think anyone could use-is to refuse to employ painful honesty unless the unpleasant task breaks my own heart. Thus, I'll never wound to gain feelings of self-righteousness or superiority. Or to punish someone I really don't like."
From time to time, each of us should step back and take a look at our daily lives. Are we wasting time and energy carrying out deceptions, both polite and impolite? Having stepped back myself, I have learned that being honest is not a talent, not an art, not even a skill. It is a habit. And like the forming of most habits, this one requires concentration and practice. But once formed, it rewards us with a sense of well-being and the trust of others.