Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
I have been called a hypocrite by a friend, simply because I was not honest and outspoken enough to speak the truth in her presence. You see, the daughter of a lady, whom I know very well, often comes to see me. Though she is very young and I am an aged person, I am lucky that she is so close to me. She confides in me regarding all her problems and asks my advice about so many things. Her mother does not object to her friendship with me. Rather she told me that she was glad that her daughter had so much faith on me, since she was sure that I would give her only good advice. Whether her faith on me was reasonable or not, I could not say. But one thing was sure that I would never misguide her or give her wrong advice.
She is a sweet girl in her teens — a bit plump perhaps — which is only too natural in her age. But the poor thing is so sensitive about her overweight that she has become a bore to live with, as her mother remarked ruefully. All the time she harps on her overweight, looking at the mirror every now and then, till her family feel like screaming in annoyance. She has been practicing dieting since some weeks to reduce her weight. But her dieting process is erratic. The problem is that she has a sweet tooth and simply cannot lay off chocolates, pastries, and other sweet things, as she herself admitted in despair. So nobody takes her dieting seriously, least of all her family.
She came to see me last Sunday, while one of my friends and myself were relaxing over a cup of tea. The girl came in her Sunday best with a big smile. I asked her in a light manner if she had won a lottery to look so smug and happy. She replied happily, “It is better than that, Aunty. My weighing machine has recorded a decrease of 5 kilograms in my weight. Isn’t that wonderful? Don’t I look slim? I am so happy”.
I looked at her, a very sweet and charming girl. But whatever her weighing machine might have indicated she did not seem to have reduced. I was wondering how to tell her the truth tactfully without hurting her. But even before I could open my mouth, my friend, an outspoken and honest lady by any standard, said firmly, “No, you do not look at all slim. But keep up your dieting. It might do you some good some day”.
The girl flushed to the root of her hair and she immediately fled with a murmured apology. I felt very sad and told my friend apologetically that perhaps she should not have said that, since the girl was dreadfully hurt. But the lady was not at all repentant. She snorted and said scornfully, “You are a hypocrite. I am not afraid of speaking the truth”.
After she left I pondered over her remark. Was I really a hypocrite? If covering up a harsh truth with a coating of sugar is hypocrisy, then perhaps I am a hypocrite. But for me tact is more important than the bare cruel truth. I am of course not supporting those vicious lies which are harmful. But I believe that truthfulness does not imply a licence for rudeness. Some persons, who claim to be truthful, do not mind whom they hurt with their acid tongue. I think that it is permissible to speak a white lie, since it does not harm anybody. If a lady, with her newest hairstyle, asks for my opinion regarding her looks, should I say that she looked hideous, even if it happened to be the truth?
If a truth is said with bad intention it can be worse than all the lies one can invent. Many people are proud to claim that they always speak the truth, and never tell lies even to save somebody from pains. They think themselves to be strictly honest. Now in our young days I remember our teacher drumming into our heads the adage that “honesty is the best policy”. May be that is true. But now in my advanced age I have realized that sometimes honesty may lead to disastrous consequences. As a wise person remarked, “The statement that ‘honesty is the best policy’ makes good rhyme, but bad logic.” That is a fact. Sometimes too much honesty may result in a very unpleasant situation. But there are some people who do not care whom they hurt with their egoistic pride of being exceptionally honest and truthful.
If a harmless white lie can bring joy and happiness to somebody, then why should we stick to unpleasant truth, which does nothing but bring sorrow to somebody? I know that truth is commendable and truthful and honest persons deserve our respect and praise, though such persons have become scarce in the present era. I suppose that it is good in a way. An abundance of such honest and tactless persons would surely cause havoc in society. May be, ethics or moral science will not support my conviction that if a lie can bring joy to people without hurting or harming anybody, then we may adhere to lies. I do not endorse a truth which is painful to somebody and such a kind of unpleasant truth may bring disaster to some people.