As we navigate across different life situations and different responsibilities, how do we know what is appropriate to do in a given situation?
How much is too much and how much is too little? What is the golden mean that seems elusive?
We look for wisdom towards the Bhagavad Gita.
Bhagavan Krishna teaches us that Karma becomes Karma Yoga when we see and do three things clearly –
We have a choice only with respect to our karma. Once the karma is set in motion we have no choice regarding the results. This is not advice but teaching of the reality at a functional level.
We modify our karma into kushala karma, effective karma based on Dharma which is offered to Ishvara, karmaadhyaksha, the one presiding over all laws of karma.
We modify our reactions to the results of our karma into samatvam, a gracious acceptance, prasada from Ishvara, the karmaphala daata.
In today’s episode I want to dwell on kaushalam, effectiveness in our actions aligned with Dharma, the universal framework of values and particularly satyam.
We know how lousy and horrible it feels when others lie to us, cheat us or humiliate us. We too are not happy when we have lied, cheated or humiliated someone.
We want to align with Dharma because the principle of reciprocity feels natural to us.
The value of Dharma is valuable to us.
Relative truth is the gateway to the absolute truth.
Let’s consider an important value of Dharma, satyam, truthfulness – truth seeking and truth telling.
Satyam, truthfulness is valued in all relationships. The truthful person is seen as authentic, honest, trustworthy and dependable. Satyam is often the glue that cements and seals relationships.
A person who values the truth has the courage to be disliked.
He/she/they seek and speak the truth consistently across all domains of life.
Truth seeking and truth telling means one takes greater responsibility for one’s actions.
Satyam, Truthfulness shows up best in situations where the decision must be made between the easy thing to do and the right thing to do.
And yet if it is underused, we are quick to blame others and protect ourselves from painful feelings.
M, a 37 year single mother had been in an extra marital relationship with a married man for more than five years. They would often fight as he was not ready to leave his wife of 20 years and two kids. Since they were extremely dependent on each other, the affair continued without the wife who was also a close friend of M knowing about their affair. M would often cry to me,’ Why can he not tell the truth to his wife? Does n’t he love me’? She would demand to know how intimate he had been with his wife and details about their vacations. He would be selective about what he shared because he would rightly say ‘The truth will hurt you’.
In a misunderstanding of Karma Yoga, she would tell me that she was trying to have samatvam, a gracious acceptance of her situation. At those times, I would tell her that the focus needs to be on kaushalam, aligning karma with dharma of truthfulness. She could not bear to face the fact that he would never leave his family. She would try to cover up her betrayal of a close friend by saying that anyway the wife and lover were not happy in the marriage. She would demand to know the truth from him but lie to herself and her friend. Over a few years she was able to gather the courage to face her fears with truthfulness and slowly distance herself.
If I as her teacher had overused satyam, truthfulness, her already fragile self esteem would have taken a beating. She would often ask me’ I hope you don’t look down on me’ I would say, ‘ You are taller than me..so that ‘s not possible..’ in any case I see you as a loving person who also needs to build the courage to face the truth. Seek grace from Bhagavan as you continue to practise Dharma to the extent that you can.
It is difficult to consistently stick to your value of truth especially when one considers all of one’s roles – friend, parent, partner, colleague etc.
How much is too much satyam and how much is too little satyam ? It is difficult to answer because situations are dynamic.
There are many social situations in which it is far easier to under use satyam, about the situation move forward, or to protect the other person’s feelings.
Some questions for us to consider –
How well do we honor our commitments and agreements in personal and professional relationships?
Do we say what we mean and mean what we say?
When we make a mistake, do we take responsibility for it or try to minimise/rationalise the truth?
How do we give feedback to others? Is it constructive, direct or diminishing?
Do we avoid giving feedback even when people are not treating us kindly?
When we don’t feel comfortable telling the truth, are we protecting the other person or protecting oneself?
Am I willing to listen to the truth from the other person’s point of view as much as blurting the truth from my point of view?.
It is not easy to find the right balance. We may tend to underuse or overuse satyam and so we pray for the optimal use of satyam in our lives. A few things to consider –
Be honest with oneself. The truth is friendly and not the ‘bitter truth’ as we have been socialised to believe.
THINK is a good acronym for speech that is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind. Truth is not opposed to kindess and often they can walk hand in hand.
In instances where we see no choice but to lie, we do it with a clear understanding knowing that all actions have consequences.
White lies are different from telling half-truths, or even maintaining one’s right to privacy. Speaking white lies can become a habit especially when one is surrounded with people who want to control you and cannot accept you.
In the movie, ‘A few good men’, Jack Nicholson rightly ‘You want the truth but you can’t handle the truth’. Many times people are not ready for the full truth and hence we can consider if they are ready for a part of it.
There is sometimes an unwritten agreement among people to be secretive in their communication. At other times, people have shared things in confidence with you and so sharing their truth might be a violation of trust.