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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Honesty is ? policy

Four incidents in a month. Some are small, others not, but they definitely made an impression. Sometimes life throws you a hint. Should you take it, learn, change yourself and move on? Or should you stick by your principles?

When I was waiting to join my current firm, I started teaching high school students in Mayo College in Ajmer. I was appointed to be a all-purpose-teacher who could teach students Mathematics, Science an English and also guide them in career counselling, personality development, resume writing, group discussions, interview skills, and public speaking. Principal thought that my MBA background and eclectic career could be useful in ways mentioned above. It was fine for first two weeks, then things started going out of control. To be honest, I am not very good teacher to reluctant students, which is what bunch of teenagers in their 10th and 12th grades are. I do have a passion for teaching and can be extremely useful for those who genuinely want to learn, as I found out in another teaching opportunity I had. So, while personality development and public speaking are extremely essential for success in personal and corporate life, these are things no one appreciates least of all at the age when girls are the number one topic in mind and gay jokes are the most funniest ones (in this particular school). My notion of being friendly to students, to mentor them like a friend and elder brother rather than hardcore disciplinarian was also shattered when soon students started taking advantage of me. So what did I do? I tried to create interest among students but when it didn’t happen I talked to Principal and declared that my usefulness was now very marginal with this group and I should do few other things that I had proposed. Honest thing to do, right? Right, so he said, why don’t you stop coming from tomorrow. Who got fired? It wasn’t bad money either. I could’ve just wasted time in class and none would’ve been wiser.

After I was let go, to use an condescending euphemism, Vice-Principal provided me lead to Principal of sister school, Mayoor, which was also quite good school in the area. I wasn’t even spoken to properly and just thrown out, let alone hired, when other Principal learnt that, surprise of surprise, my views on coaching classes didn’t match his own. Having claimed that I wasted my IIT degree by doing an MBA later, he goes on to state that he wouldn’t let anyone who held views such as mine near ‘his’ children. Now, I agree that views don’t have to match, but is it too much to expect patient hearing or open mind, specially from a person of his class and education? If I had known he only wanted yes-man in his staff, I’d have behaved otherwise. Speaking honestly didn’t help me, even when it was on topic much irrelevant to primary discussion. Perhaps part blame lies with me, not because of speaking my mind, but because of wrong timing. It appears to me that not trying to differ from others is a good way to make relationship work, even if it is not honest.

When I started teaching students for CAT examination for a coaching class, I received another opportunity at other institution. Since I was merely spending two hours at the first, I thought I had time to work on second too. Apparently, they don’t hire you if you are working with competitor. Fair enough, I guess, from their point of view. They would’ve given me if I had not mentioned that and they couldn’t have found out anyway. Self-infliction once again?

The biggest and most remarkable story remains to be told. Before I had offer for my current job, I had offer for another job. First job was to start in April and second was to start four months later in August. Overall, I wanted to second one from long term career point of view. I could have, either, joined first in April and quit in July and joined second later, or, refused first and waited for four months and then joined second. First option seemed unfair to me. To join a job knowing you’ll quit after three months was deceitful. Yes, their was substantial money on the way, but it felt wrong. So I did the right thing and chose second option. I also requested them to convert my full time position into internship for three months. Not only was I refused offer of internship but I was also not even thanked for it, even though I had made it explicit in the rejection letter. Apparently, they could afford me for the same role at full pay but not at nominal one. Was I right or not. I am not so sure. When companies fire their employees without compunctions, and they have right to do so, without bothering about their families or career, is it worth trying to save some money and time to big corporation by taking personal loss by choosing the right path?

Is there thing called too much honesty? Do you think I made wrong decision in any of above incidents? Do you think I should stop doing so at personal cost? Do you think I am over reacting and perhaps seeking sympathy with this post?


Partha Pratim said...

Hi Ashish,

Congratulations for this post! A very good one. I don't think in any of the cases you did any wrong. Neither are you in a sympathy seeking trial. Being honest is too costly, especially with people who want and are accustomed to politically correct replies. I have figured out by now that if you want a successful career you have to strike a careful balance between being honest and diplomatic. I on my part try to strike a balance at times, but end up with a restless and depressed mind when i feel that i haven't been just to myself. I often find it surprising and bizarre, as to how the educated people cannot respect and appreciate honest opinions which are certainly obvious, deep in our conscience. Only when uttered, the opinions bear the repercussions.

Ashutosh said...

appreciate the choice of the option on the jobs front ...

praveen said...


I appreciate this thought provoking post. I would think that probably there were instances where honesty paid you dividends which you thought were not worth enough to remember or share or took it for granted.

The outcome of a particular incident is not only dependent on being honest. It might also be the tone, words chosen, body language, and the perception of 'who is doing favor to whom' etc. It might also be the cheap behavior (witnessed especially in India among govt servants) of 'i am the authority. let me show you who i am' thingie.

Honesty - very subjective. I think it is not 'always telling the truth' but 'not telling lies'. Even with the popular definition of honesty, it is definitely not a norm in our society. Is that why we expect honesty to be rewarded?

Let me provide two scenarios
1. Your closest friend of 10 years, sitting near you, has copied in the exam. The teacher comes and asks you whether he copied. If you say yes, chances are that he would be thrown out of the institute. What would be your answer?

2. You are working in a public sector company which provides you subsidized accommodation of 3BHK house in a happening part of Mumbai. You are supposed to stay there and you cannot rent it out to somebody. You are bachelor and the house is too big for you. Couple of your bachelor friends are saying that they are finding it difficult to get a house, they can occupy one room each in your house and can pay good rent for that to you. Your company has no way to find that out. What would you do?

Life situations can be more difficult. I would say that there is a thing called 'too much honesty'. Your 3rd incident is an example for that. What did you expect? that he would say - "Oh, you are being very honest. So, let me make an exception and allow you to teach also with our competitor" ? :)

I would finish it by saying - Honesty is a 'good' policy. It is always the circumstance that decides whether there are better policies.


Ashish Gupta said...

@Praveen: Your comment has few interesting POVs (point of views).

First: "I think it is not 'always telling the truth' but 'not telling lies'."

I guess unless circumstances are serious that error of omission is big, your point is worth remembering.

Second: "Is that why we expect honesty to be rewarded?"

For noble folks, mere being clear of conscience is reward enough. For me, not sure yet. Specially, it is not matter of additional reward but direct harm.

Your examples provide areas where I will have to think, and I probably will not act honestly. But then, difference is in being honest for honest sake, or being honest when dishonesty hurts other party. It doesn't hurt academic institute of PSU in your examples.

It wouldn't have hurt other party in my first 3 examples but it would have in 4th. Your point (3rd example) is valid and I too acknowledge that they did right thing from their PoV but ended up hurting me. We can conclude that I ended up acting little too uptightly in first cases. Of course, my biggest loss was in 4th but...

Anonymous said...

========= from Facebook ========
Vivek Jaiswal:

G Sir, first of all good of job of writing down all your thoughts. I read your notes often and most of them are thought provoking.

Now coming to the question posed in this note - well, I think honesty is the best policy. You may think that you may have suffered or incurred loses because you were honest. However, you should also realize that because you were honest, you were saved from forming long term relationship with people who in any case wouldn't have valued you.

Amit said...

Whenever issues of honesty and truth come up, I'm reminded of the story of one astrologer who was punished by the king and another astrologer who was rewarded. Both gave the same information and both were honest, but worded it differently.

I think one needs to be a bit careful of instances when one is making a fetish of honesty/truth.

Nand Sharma said...

Well Ashish,

Each and every story has right actions underlying them. I would have done the same in similar situation and circumstances. Yet I suppose communication is not what you say but how it is received. And again as leaders we can change thoughts of people involved by application of genuine understanding of their perspective.

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