NOTE: Seasons Greetings and a very warm Durga Puja wishes to all my readers. Recently, I recieved an interesting read from one of my students, Parth Kanungo. Parth has recently completed his B.Tech in Computer Science and is a team member of the ‘Creatineers’. He wrote this story as a guest post for ‘Iris’. This post, its opinions, its authorship, and writing solely belongs to Parth.
This is my story of he search of the veracity of “truth”. Since my childhood, like all other children, I have been taught to speak the truth. In schools, we used to have a moral science class. At homes, we had parents who imparted the moral education. And, there were anecdotes in books like Nandan, Champak and Chandamama, which also inspired similar thoughts. And, I followed the principle quite proudly.
However, the situation somehow changed when I grew up. Truthfulness no longer remained a simple rule to follow. People welcomed me and greeted by saying – “this is the real world. To survive here, you have to take help of lies.” I was not convinced. In fact, I did not want to be convinced, because at times the deep-rooted intuition tells you how to differ from right to wrong; and in those circumstances you go by your intuition.
But, if all are saying the same thing – “lying is good” or as someone else once put it – “MBAs are paid to tell lies,” I guessed that there must be some truth in what these people said. These were people far more experienced than me. I thought – maybe, the principle of truthfulness had some inherent flaws. Maybe it was wrong. I did not know. We had learnt many things in our childhood only to unlearn them later on. Possibly, it was a similar principle. The truth about truth was lying hidden somewhere. Thus, I decided to find it.
So, the search began in one of the discussions on a Thursday night at ‘Sankalp’ (a social service group at the LNMIIT where students gather each Thursday for a discussion on life and its various aspects). I raised the question and got differing opinions. The overall conclusion I remember was not something new and hence the curiosity was not satisfied. Then, some days later in another session of the Thursday night discussions, we invited a person who had come from IIT-K and was working for the preservation of what he called “lok-gyan” (That’s what I remember). But, more importantly, he had studied ethics. I realized that this could be my chance to get to know the truth (considering that he was one among the Wise).
I put up a question in front of him. I do not remember where I had heard this question for the first time. However, it is unwittingly quoted by many as an argument that speaking truth is not always the right thing to do. So, I asked the same question – “Assume that a hunter is going through the forest chasing a deer. The deer runs fast through the narrow patch of space in the bushes, and vanishes somewhere near an ashram. The hunter, unsure of which way the deer went, asks the sage sitting nearby – ‘Where did the deer go?’ What should the sage say?”
Wait for a moment and think about your answer and then continue reading.
Our guest answered, “of course, he should tell the truth.”
“Because first of all, you cannot assume there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two events, i.e., telling the truth and killing of deer. How can you be sure that if the sage tells the truth, the deer would be killed for sure?”
“But, there is high probability,” I said.
“No, there is not. Tell me, why does the story mention a sage, and not a normal person?”
“I don’t know. He could have been anyone, not necessarily a sage.”
A smile came up on his face, and he said, “But, you see that the story talks about a sage. Does it not? And, that is my second point. Actually, you forgot to notice that the sage has a power, the power that he gains through his ‘saadhana’. And, through that power he will make sure that nothing happens to the deer, despite his telling the truth.”
The answer was far from satisfactory. It did not appeal to common-sense and thus did not convince me.
Two years later another person came to the campus, and I raised the same question in front of him. Interestingly, he too had studied ethics. His answer was – “he should tell a lie.” Two contradictory opinions emerging from people with similar intellectual backgrounds!
I asked if telling a lie was the right thing to do. I even quoted Gandhiji’s statement – “Means and Ends both must be justified.” To elucidate this, I presented an example – “If there are two factions with obvious differences, the ruler may decide to kill all the people belonging to one particular faction. The end-result would be peace and harmony. But, are the means used to achieve the noble goal justifiable? Thus, to save the life of the deer (the end I seek), if I tell a lie (the mean I use), it would be wrong.”
He defended his position by saying that the two situations were not comparable.
At that moment I had a query in mind and it was something I had asked two years ago also, but had received an unconvincing answer. I asked it again, “what if the sage says – ‘I know the way, but I don’t want to tell you.’ Wouldn’t that be a good way?”
And, that was an instant eureka moment. He said that it was an interesting thought and cited some philosophical term which was close to the concept I was trying to convey. He completely agreed with me, and added that “the sage can even continue to be silent and not speak at all.” If the sage does not want to talk, the hunter cannot force him.
Thus, the philosophical theoretical question was resolved. And, I was happy, because my intuition was proved right.
** ** ** ** ** ** **
This is just one side of the story. There is another side to the story, which altered my belief, failed my intuition and once again left me in a dilemma.
“Can I speak truth my entire life?” I asked my sixth-class history teacher whom I visited recently. She is a Buddhist and told me – “We live in a practical world, not an ideal world.” She added that she would like to speak truth all the time, however that is not possible. I asked her why, to which she replied – “The other day I had guests from out of town. And, they had come without informing me beforehand. So, I mentioned the reason in the school office to get a leave from the school. The administration told me that ‘this was no reason to be granted a leave’, even after the fact that I was allowed 7 (or whatever number of) casual leaves in a year.”
I could relate with that experience of hers. And, that is when it dawned on me that merely answering a hypothetical question to know what is right is equivalent to trying to finding out the effect of gravity on an object in vacuum. In vacuum, the effect can be accurately described; but in the presence of air, that is impossible. In terms of what I dub as ‘intellectual-blabbering”, the sage argument is valid to make. But, in real-life the situation is a lot different.
Interestingly, in the Jewish tradition, lying is not completely forbidden, if it is used to achieve a noble goal. The point is depicted beautifully in the movie “Life Is Beautiful”. If Joshua the kid had known the truth about his existence in the Concentration Camp, he would not have survived. It was the witty lies of his father that brought him out alive from that terrible place.
So, is telling a lie a good thing?
There are situations when people ask – “how was my performance on stage?”, “how was my speech?”, “did I do well?” In such situations, sometimes, a lie is what makes the questioner happy.
So, is telling a lie a good thing?
Some people suggest, “As long as your lie benefits you and does not hurt or cause harm to someone else, there is nothing wrong.”
So, is telling a lie a good thing?
Do you want to build up trust? There is only a single way – be honest and truthful.
So, is telling a lie not a good thing?
Sometimes I feel as if all of us are like the seven blinds; and like them we are trying to understand the truth. Were they able to understand the truth about the elephant? Someone needs to operate upon them and give them eyes to see and understand the real elephant. Similarly, someone needs to give us ‘eyes of wisdom’ to enable us to see the truth about truth. Will that ever happen?
While I wait for a miracle to happen; while I wait for my ‘eyes of wisdom’; while I wait for the true answer, I consider it prudent to believe in the words of a professor of mine. Here is what he had to say…
“In life there are a lot of questions, that simply do not have an answer in black or white. Many-a-times life is about that grey region. You cannot stick to one side strictly. The question you ask is one among the many whose answer you seek throughout your life. My personal opinion is that the context is very important. And, depending on that you should make a choice – a wise choice.”