The story of the famous Greek philosopher Diogenes is well-known. It is said, he went round the city of Athens, holding a lantern in his hand, searching for an honest man. I do not know if he found one. Probably he did not! He was a very strict and demanding person, and I suppose that it would be hard for anyone to meet the standards of an “honest man”, in the eyes of Diogenes.
We are reminded of the beautiful dialogue between God and Abraham, when the latter pleaded with God on behalf of the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Beginning with the eventuality of finding 50 righteous men in the city of Sodom, Abraham went down in his bargaining with God to the eventuality of finding 10 righteous men, because of whom God, in His mercy, would forgive the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, and spare them from the punishment He was about to inflict on them. But finally, leave aside 50, not even 10 righteous men were found in the two cities. And they ended up being destroyed in the fire and brimstone the Lord rained on them and their inhabitants.
Only Abraham and Lot and their families were spared, as they moved out of the devastated cities into their new places of settlement. Thus the Bible tells us that Lot dwelt in the hills with his two daughters, his better half having been turned into a pillar of salt for having looked back while they were fleeing from Sodom (Genesis 19 : 24 ff). Abraham and his family journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, the Bible tells us (Genesis 20 : 1).
Abraham had the courage to go down to ten righteous men, in his bargain with God. I wonder if there would have been some righteous men, if Abraham were to go below the number ten. Because of the mercy of God, there might have been one or two righteous men because of whom Sodom and Gomorrah might have been saved from the terrible catastrophe that struck the 2 cities and their inhabitants. But that was not to happen.
I have often wished there were more people with the wisdom of Diogenes, in our times, to go about looking for honest people. And I also wish they really had a sure way of knowing them to be honest. These days, with the election fever going up in many places, leaders of various parties are telling us that they will give tickets only to honest people. But very often what happens to these honest people, one does not know. Sometimes they prove themselves to be dishonest, real wolves in sheep’s clothing. At other times, they abandon their “ship” and jump into another one, forgetting their label of honesty in favour of personal benefits and power. Perfect turn-coats!
Honesty, the Best Policy
We read in John 18 : 37-38 that Jesus told Pilate that “he had been born, and had come into the world to bear witness to the truth”. And he went on to say that “everyone who is of the truth, hears my voice”. Pilate’s response to Jesus was a very dry and cynical: “What is truth?” He was not interested in knowing what is truth. He had already made up his mind to act in an untruthful and dishonest way, and hand Jesus over to the Jews. And so, soon after he came out with his “What is truth?” query, he went out and told the Jews that he found no crime in Jesus. And he went on to put Jesus on par with Barabbas, a well-known robber, offering to release one of the two – Jesus who was totally innocent, as Pilate himself said, and Barabbas who was a well-known and hated criminal. And the crowd of Jews, blinded by their untruthful and dishonest way of living, chose to pray for the release of Barabbas, forgetting everything good Jesus had done for the masses.
It is not difficult for us to understand why Diogenes was going about the city of Athens, trying to find an honest man. There must have been a real dearth of honest people in his days. And I guess that, had the philosopher lived in our days, he would probably be going about with two lanterns to find an honest man! And he would not find any. When we think of the cheating and lying going on in the world and in our country today, we will have to sing, “It’s worse now than then”, like we do when we sing: in the song “One day at a time”.
Very often I get confused, not knowing whom to believe. For example, our media reported that the Prime Minister was given a rousing welcome in Washington D.C. and New York, at the time of his recent visit there. On the other hand, we have some different “crumbs” falling from the tables of other media abroad. I did not even feel like believing what I saw, leave aside talking about the way some people treated our Prime Minister.
Why should our media report half-truths to us? Why should they not be what they are called to be, namely, the Fourth Pillar of Democracy? Why should the media not operate with independence, and give us, citizens, the full truths? Depriving the Media of their independence and then having ourselves being fed with the “crumbs” that fall from other tables, causes us a lot of harm. Very often this happens because there is something wrong with the other three Pillars of Democracy, which also function, perhaps, without independence. If that is so, then we should rather begin to think that we are not really a democracy anymore.
Take another example: The national media tries to paint a rosy picture of the economy when well-known experts tell us a different story. The reality is that the state of the Indian economy is lower than that of Bangladesh! Again, very recently Global Hunger Index has reported that India has slipped to the 101st position among 116 countries, even behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. And very often, when such reports appear in the media, those in-charge of national affairs are quick in their efforts to deny them. Incidentally the report of Global Hunger Index is prepared jointly by the Irish Aid Agency “Concern Worldwide” and the German Organisation “Welt Hunger Hilfe”. They have termed the levels of hunger in India as “alarming”.
It is also reported that over 15 lakhs jobs were lost in the month of August alone. When one reads all these, one wonders how India can become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. About some other countries we read sometimes that they have generated lakhs of jobs, whereas we read that we are losing jobs in lakhs!
The damage done to our country and to its people by the disastrous decision to demonetise our currency, and to hurriedly, and without proper planning, introduce GST are other 2 cases in point. No amount of covering up of those blunders, no amount of “changing of goal posts” has worked. Not all are fools to be taken for a ride. Unfortunately, however, the leaders sometimes give the impression that they think that we all are!
When will we go back to the value of honesty, taught to us as children in school, when we were told that HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY. When will our leaders dare to come before the lantern of Diogenes, and be able to face him? Or do we want to be in line with Sodom and Gomorrah.