Thursday, June 23, 2011

Applying to study economics in the USA, Trishna Banerjee Nair was asked to write on a number of topics, including 'Is constant honesty necessary for society?' This was her unexpected answer:

Trishna Banerjee NairI still remember the first time I stole. I remember the aquamarine blue purse in which my mother used to keep her small change, lying invitingly on the coffee table. I remember stealthily grabbing it and running off to sit on a secluded couch. I remember reaching inside and grasping a handful of change. Lastly, I remember my first conscious interaction with my infamous foe, Mr Rationalisation. See, I knew stealing was wrong, but instead of placing much weight on this understanding, I made the choice to listen to the deductions of Mr Rationalisation which went along the lines of, ‘It is just 90 cents, ma won’t realise, you get a tonne of candy in school and no one gets hurt’. I may have only been nine years old, but I was definitely able to make a conscious decision with regards to my actions, albeit making the wrong one.

From this memory, I discern three check gates which I passed through before entering my personal Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole; the principle, the motivation and the rationalisation. My trepidation to steal revealed the existence of the principle of honesty; my greed for candy revealed my motivation and its conflict with the principle; and Mr Rationalisation made his choice, wholeheartedly supporting my motivation instead of my principle. I was a textbook case of St Augustine’s famous dictum, ‘the look, the thought, the fascination, and the fall’. My rationalisation successfully managed to shift my dishonest act into a more favourable light. Sure, the candy tasted real good, until of course I got busted by my older sister.

The straightening up I got from my mother after the incident is something I will always be grateful for. See, the thing is, a lie is never harmless. It is a precursor to a chain reaction of rationalisation that continuously blurs the principle of honesty. Much like a malignant cancer, such erosion will attach its tentacles onto other virtues of justice, fairness, dignity and equality, effectively destabilising them in the process. Had my sister not told on me, Mr Rationalisation and me would have become the best of pals over time, and honesty would have become purely relative to my circumstances. However, this incident taught me to be sensitive to the tensions which might torment my principles in relation to my motives.

As I grew older, and started to take up numerous positions of responsibility, I realised the importance of consciously aligning myself to the principles which ground me. Had I not learnt this lesson as a child, it would have been the beginnings of some very serious mistakes later in life. The fabric of any society is interwoven with the principles and values that its people bring to the table. Manipulation of such principles to feed personal greed will adversely affect those around us, and society as a whole. Society does require constant honesty, and the conscious decision to strive for it is a necessary struggle.