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Honesty is the best policy -- is that practical?

Since childhood we are taught to be honest in all our dealings. The word “truth” is extolled in all great books and forms the core teaching of every religion. Some great scriptures go the extent of equating truth with God. My faith in truthfulness was rock solid until I heard an argument one day. The conversation was between a businessman and a wise sage. The businessman’s argument was that if you are truthful in business, you can never make money. You will land up losing business instead of gaining. The sage, in contrast, argued in favor of truthfulness. His belief was: “Follow dharma (righteousness) and dharma will protect you.”

I was still a student when I heard this argument. The sage’s advice left an indelible impression on my young mind. While the businessman’s argument sounded more profitable, the sage’s advice made more sense. “A powerful force like dharma protecting me would be the best ally in the battle of life,” I thought to myself. I decided to practice what I had learnt that day. Practicing truthfulness came easy as I was still a student. Within 2 years I graduated with an MBA and was put to test in the laboratory of life. I was now facing “real” life. Would I still be able to practice truthfulness? Time was to answer that question.

With God’s grace, within 6 months, I was blessed with the opportunity to start my own business. I was naïve and had no real-world experience. How was I to survive cut-throat competition and maintain honesty when all my rivals were generously resorting to deceptive business practices? The real challenge was now, and so was the temptation. While I was never greedy, I did want to be able to fulfill my responsibilities. With no investment, experience, or a mentor, I was left with only the best of assets: character. As time passed, I realized advertising was expensive and clients were not convinced to buy my services. “The old man must be stupid,” I thought.

The temptation to lie to my very next customer was very strong, but God’s grace held me in check. Prayers were a great help; I was not to become weak. Events took a sudden turn; my customers were strongly attracted to my honest disposition. They felt safe in trusting me, as I was in a profession where clients had to trust me, not only with their money, but also with their future. My prices were fair and reflected the nature of work being demanded. What was initially an illusory hurdle was now my strongest selling point. Every customer wanted to work with me because they felt they could trust me. I now started adding the potions of love and care to the recipe of truth. The result of following good business practices, though slow in producing results, generated a lot of referrals and a steady stream of customers via word of mouth publicity. I was not flaunting ethics to gain sales; truth had just become a way of life for me and my customers easily recognized that. My sales increased to a point where I could safely cut down advertising.

The sage was right; dharma had protected me. I was feeling as if God was running my business. What a wonderful business (divine) manager to have on my side.

Think about it: why do you shop at a particular place or buy a particular brand or visit a certain doctor? It is because you trust these people; you know they won’t cheat you (or they are fair). The same applies to practicing truth in our daily lives. Most individuals have heard of the name Issac Tigrett, ex-owner of Hard Rock Café. The man created a multi-million dollar business empire by practicing simple teachings of Sai Baba: “Truth” and “Love All, Serve All.” These teachings made a deep impact on not only his employees and customers, but also on his competitors. His competitors, though rivals, admired his truthful business practices. That is the power of truth.

From my own personal experience I can now proudly say that honesty is indeed the best policy.

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