The dilemma of truths & half-truths

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The dilemma of truths & half-truths

Friday, 19 May 2023 | Vinayshil Gautam

The dilemma of truths & half-truths

Life works in apparent contradictions, but the reality and the desired goals are always crystal clear

There is a Sanskrit statement (one of the several pithy truths handed down through the centuries) that reads "Ati Sarvtra Varjeyat," which broadly seeks to convey “excess is to be eschewed everywhere.”

It has it echoes in other languages, for example, in Bengali, where there is a statement "Ato Bhalo Bhalo Noy." Translated, it means that “So much good is not good.” Other examples can be given.

Put simply, it means the excess of anything is bad. It also applies to being good. There is a counterpoint in actual life where, for gold to be modelled, 24 carrots (which is the purest form of gold) would not work. It has to be reduced to 22 carrots, and a 2 carrot alloy has to be added to it, and then only that gold can be fabricated.

Actual life is a testimony to the fact that 100% consistent truth is the only truth, and truth under all circumstances breaches its own empathy, and disaster can very often roll. People’s capacity to see full truth is limited and to accept it, is even less. In the sophisticated language of so-called civil society, the ability to gain acceptability through the proper packaging of truth is termed "tact." It is, as indicated, a socially accepted word for camouflaged truth put across in an acceptable manner. Being tactful is considered a social grace and is advocated by many. The question that raises itself is the value of total integrity, total truthfulness, total consistency, and total reliability. Impeccable evidence is evidence to show that, in its totality, very few people go around proclaiming somebody’s biggest assets as "total truthfulness." Few testimonies say that somebody’s integrity is so impeccable that he would rather destroy himself than have a whiff of half-truth.

These are difficult propositions and cannot be exhaustively discussed and elaborated in the time or space available in this text. Perhaps in life, there are few elusive qualities that can be found in a 100 per cent form. In a few cases, a 100% accurate proposition can be raised. Being truthful, as explained, is one such example. Be that as it may, these ideals, often, remain desiderata.

It is rare to find a parent who teaches the child anything other than the virtue of being truthful. No parent teaches a child, "Telling a lie is not a problem. It’s acceptable. You can be truthful when you can." The ideal like telling the truth remains an ideal. It is like a bull’s eye. When shooting or doing target practice, the bull’s eye remains the desired goal. It is the perfect spot to seek. Even when one misses it, its approximation remains the ideal.

This raises the obvious question of "judgements" towards the approximation of the ideal. How far can one go? How far can one push? How hard can one push? When can one stop pushing? Obviously, there are no simple answers, and "judgement" is the only teacher. Unfortunately, "judgement" cannot be taught.

Learning through the interpretation of internalised experiences is a way forward. Experience can be an answer when all else fails. It can be much-personalised phenomena. Life is full of examples of this variable. Interestingly one can always get an example or an illustration of what was set out to prove. So one can even indicate an example to prove anything one wants.

Notwithstanding the very delicate and important concerns raised above, all societies have an apparent and common conception of “the ideal.” In no part of the world is lying considered a virtue. In no part of the world is it eulogised? Indeed, social networks are held together by deals and constructs of an aspired state of existence. The concept of “Ram-rajya” is a good illustration. Further examples can be given. Societies have been held together by the simple truth like, "Thou shalt not kill." (from the Ten commandments). This does not mean that you shall allow someone to actually hurt you. If that were so, absolute self-defence would be impossible.

If hurting anyone was totally ruled out, any self-defence would be impossible. Given no choice, killing the aggressor in self-defence has been upheld by all societies. Thus it is that life works in apparent contradictions, but the reality and the desired goals are always etched in the glass. Truthfulness remains the ideal, just as ‘Thou shalt not kill’ remains a commandment. Exceptions are built in by experiences. The ebb and flow of life is the act of living, and sound judgements make it worthwhile.

(The writer is an internationally acclaimed management consultant. The views expressed are personal)

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