Reflections on Honesty

YinYangIt was my first day in Wipro (earlier company I worked with) and during the induction session was faced with a very difficult question. We were given a list of moral principles(general ones) and were asked to choose 10 principles that we would never dishonor. Everyone had a tough time choosing it. Suddenly a lady on the front row shouted that she would not dishonor any of them in the list (Of course she knew the expected answer already!). The instructor was very happy since it was the expected answer. As expected everyone else repeated the same answer. There was a bold reply from the behind row. He stood up and declared that during several situations in his life he had to dishonor each of them but he would always try his best to honor them. Not surprisingly he was given a strange look from the rest of the group. I was about to support him (inspired by “Thank you for Smoking” that everyone’s opinion should be heard) but had to shut-up as the instructor went wild against him and mentioned to him that if he choose to dishonor any of them then he would be sent out of Wipro.

To me he was the man with real integrity who was able to accept the fact and was suggesting how we should approach it. The real issue was not even one was ready to listen to him. We all acted as if we were the most honest person on earth and he was an exception. No one was willing to talk about it. I was searching for long the reason for this behavior of us and even doubted if I was the second person after him and everyone else is perfectly honest. It was a struggle everyday and as it was a fact that people at Wipro were so scared about integrity issues that many decisions could not be even taken.

The movie Phas Gaye Re Obama confused me more. Though it is a satire film it did show the honesty and work ethics within gangsters and politicians which could not be explained.

Recently I came across this book from Dan ArielyThe Honest Truth About Dishonesty“, I already read his book Predictably Irrational. But this one is the best.  It was like a Bible that gave most answers to our dilemmas in life. I will not explain much and let you read an enjoy the book. However below are some interesting keys points from the book.

  • All of us cheat! But cheat a little bit!
  • All of us intend to be good and feel good about ourselves
  • We feel guilty when our mistakes directly involve money but are flexible when it is in some other form like a can of coke or downloading copyrighted information from the internet (Luckily I bought this book on Amazon and did not feel bad)
  • We don’t feel we are cheating when do it together with a crowd
  • Religious beliefs keep us good (Finally a scientific method to prove religion actually helped us keep good)
  • White lies are sometimes good
  • We feel good about cheating when we do it for altruistic reasons (Robinhood Effect?). The same is shown in lot of Indian movies as well. Hero is someone who is against the government and his unethical methods are always justified
  • We find out reasons to rationalize our unethical behavior. The more creative we are the more easier to rationalize
  • We justify our actions as a revenge against someone (like governments!)
  • The Best of all – Heavy punishment does not prevent someone from committing a crime.

All of these research is done under ‘Behavioral Economics’ which I feel is an irrational name for this subject.It is very interesting however as we could relate it to most of it that happens around us.

I would like to see more of Dan’s research on heinous crimes and impact of alcohol and drug abuse on committing crime. All of Dan’s concepts presented in his book are not just ideas but scientifically experimented and published.

Apart from these I still can’t understand why vast of the original thinkers of our times are mostly from Israel.

More Links

Dan’s Ted Talks

Dan’s Website

Coursera Course on Irrational Behavior

A Documentary about (Dis)Honesty – Kickstarter Campaign – You can contribute as well!

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