There is no right way to do something wrong

About the time of Christ, the Panchatantra was used in India to teach worldly wisdom. In it, it is written, “The people of the world having once been deceived, suspect deceit in truth itself.” So, since ancient times, the problems caused by deception have been recognized. It was understood that deceit severs the bonds of trust. Yet, since then, how much progress have we made in eliminating deception and restoring honesty?

The erosion of honesty in our society is shameful. Muffler shops offer ‘free inspections’ planning to “find dangerously worn shocks that need immediate replacement.” They report this news with a straight face and take your money without remorse. In fact, dishonest practices, bold-faced lies, and scams are so pervasive in the auto repair business that dealers and repair shop owners no longer consider themselves dishonest! After all, if everyone else is doing it, its normal, isnt it?

It may be normal. It may be the standard practice. But it isnt right. Its criminal. Its exploitation. Yet, if the public remains gullible and willingly turns over their cash, who can blame these thieves for taking it? Its our duty to do our homework and find honest businesspeople, and after finding them, reward them with our business.

Its time to become upset about deliberately misleading advertisements, corruption, miscarriages of justice, tax evasion, unnecessary medical procedures, harassment of whistle-blowers, and all other forms of dishonesty. When airline passengers were diverted to Canada because of the recent New York World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvanian disasters, how were these foreign guests greeted? By hotels raising their rates and gouging those stranded in our country (Canada)!

Friends, the threat to democracy, the threat to a free economy, is not that of attacks on our country by religious zealots, but of the terrorism carried out daily by a den of thieves. The enemy is within. It is dishonesty. Deception is corrosive. Left unchecked, it will destroy society. If honesty is to prevail, we need to be vigilant, and we need to begin with ourselves.

We are often guilty of lying to ourselves. Doing so is like cheating at solitaire. How can we improve if we insist on lying or cheating? If we make a mistake, we have to stop trying to cover it up. We have to stop assigning blame for our own mistakes. The choice is ours: we can admit its our fault and in doing so become better than we were yesterday, or we can deny responsibility and become worse than yesterday.

Something is wrong when liars, cheats, and con artists have best-selling books and are adulated on TV talk shows. Im referring to self-proclaimed psychics and “spiritually aware” individuals who communicate with the dead. Are we so desperate to believe in something greater than ourselves that we abandon reason and common sense? Is reassurance so important that we are willing to delude ourselves? I would rather live in doubt with my reason intact than live in comfort with a lie as my companion.

Can you imagine a tragedy greater than that of the New York City World Trade Center? Where were the “psychics?” How come they didn’t know it was about to happen? Its for the same reason they don’t win the lottery; mainly, they’re phonies. To guard your identity, banks and credit card companies ask for personal information, such as your mothers maiden name. Want to prove that “spiritually astute” individual isn’t communicating with your dead grandmother? Easy, tell him or her to ask grandma for her maiden name. Guess what? You wont receive an answer. I wonder why. Perhaps too much static?

Another way we lie to ourselves and others is by wearing a mask. That is, we pretend to be what we are not. This practice originates in childhood. We discover that when we reveal our true feelings, we are often shamed, ridiculed, or scolded. Since we are dependent on others and afraid of being abandoned, we protect ourselves by pretending to be what we are not. As we grow, the mask becomes so tight it is almost impossible to remove. It becomes part of us. We become fragmented. Part lie, part truth.

For example, an insecure father insists that his son be brave. Although hating to do so, the son participates in hockey at an early age and later becomes a member of the football team. Over time, not only his father, but his peers begin to believe the lie. Everyone thinks he is a hero, but the son feels like a coward. And he is. Why? Because he is doing what he hates and he is afraid to stand up to his father and say so.

But the moment he removes the mask, the moment he confesses that he is not a jock, at that moment he will become what he says he is not. That is, at that moment he will become courageous. The relief he will experience on removing the mask will be greater than the praise he received as a “jock.” When we remove our mask, we liberate ourselves, for the truth will set us free. In this regard, Leo Buscaglia offers some sage advice, “The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.”

Did you ever notice that people who are brutally honest get more satisfaction from being brutal than from being honest? Don’t be like them. When dealing with others, temper your honesty with compassion. For, as Khalil Gibran writes, “If indeed you must be candid, be candid beautifully.” That is, if you must speak honestly about your friends, speak honestly about their good points. Use words to uplift, not to tear down. Also, be sure to avoid rumors, for they are acts of betrayal.

When my wife, who just turned 60, asked me if she looked any heavier, I didnt say yes. Instead I replied, “Not in my eyes, honey. You look just as beautiful as the day we met. The only difference is, I love you more than ever.” Was that a white lie or a fib? Was that dishonest? Not at all. It was merely an understanding that sometimes we ask questions not for information, but for validation. Besides, I was never more truthful to her. Fill your truth with love and it will never hurt others.

Lets rid the world of dishonesty, one person at a time, beginning with ourselves. The importance of taking action was stressed by the Dalai Lama in his March 16, 2001 World Day Message, “Many of the world’s problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a human family. We tend to forget that despite the diversity of race, religion, ideology, and so forth, people are equal in their basic wish for peace and happiness. However, this will be achieved neither by merely talking or thinking about it, nor by waiting for someone else to do something about it. We each have to take responsibility as best we can within our own sphere of activity.”