Should You Ever Cut Corners with the Truth?
The following article is from Swami Kriyananda’s novel, A Pilgrimage to Guadalupe, scheduled to be released in early 2013. The main character, following the death of his wife, has a vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who instructs him to undergo purification by making a pilgrimage to her shrine in Mexico. She instructs him to travel by foot, to solicit no rides; but if rides were offered, he could accept. On the way to Guadalupe, he meets many people, including the lawyer described in the following excerpt.
I spent that night quite comfortably in an open field. The next morning I washed in a crystal-clear brook, and breakfasted adequately on a few berries.
I then set off down the road again. I had proceeded some distance when a very expensive-looking car stopped beside me. Again came the question: “Would you like a ride?” It was a well-dressed man this time, efficient looking and speaking somewhat loudly.
“Thank you,” I replied, and got in the front.
“What’s your name?” the man asked.
“I’m trying to forget it,” I answered. “You may just call me Friend.”
“In trouble, eh? I wonder if I could help you? I’m a lawyer. Name’s Williams.”
“A lawyer, are you? What kind of law do you practice?”
“All kinds. In these economic times, it’s better not to specialize.”
“Well, let me begin by saying, No, I’m not in any trouble. I’m not on the lam, and I don’t need a lawyer. I’m on a spiritual quest for understanding, and I want to put self-definitions behind me.”
“I, on the other hand, deal in definitions of all kinds, including self-definitions. I must consider questions like, ‘Are you guilty or not guilty? Can you afford to pay me? Where were you at eight o’clock on the night of the eighteenth of September?’ I have to pin people down, and get them to tell as many specifics about themselves as possible. We couldn’t be in more diverse professions, if you’d call what you do that!”
“That difference may give us a chance to understand even ourselves—our ‘professions,’ as you say—in new ways,” was my comment.
“Intriguing answer,” he said. “Tell me, have you ever been to court?”
“Only on the tennis court. I lost, but I’m trying to forget that, too!”
“Well, believe it or not as you will, but most Americans are unbelievably litigious. They’ll sue you if you so much as step onto their property; spill coffee on their clothes; or call them unpleasant names—even if they deserve to be called much worse!
“You seem to be thriving, financially.”
“Well, I can’t complain. But there’s plenty of competition. No country on earth has anything like the number of lawyers we have in America.”
“Tell me something. I’ve often wondered: Is your concern more with the truth? or is it with winning?”
“Well, I’m hired to win, am I not?”
“So, then, if you happen to know a truth that would be prejudicial to your client’s case, do you hide it?”
“Well, naturally! I let my opponent find it, if he sniffs the possibility and decides to ferret it out.”
“Do you color the truth in a client’s favor? For instance, if he or she is obviously guilty, do you try to make him seem innocent?”
“Well, that’s my job. Actual guilt or innocence is for the judge to decide.”
“And do you try to make an opposing client look bad, even if you know he’s not bad at all?”
“Well, that too is my job.”
“I see. So you’re willing to bend the truth, when necessary?”
“Well, I don’t think of it that way, but of course I must tip things in my client’s favor when I can.”
“Look, we’ve been discussing your self-definition as a lawyer. But what about you as a man? Doesn’t this tendency to bend the truth affect you in your personal life as well?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“No? Would you never lie to your wife?”
“Well, sometimes what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. If I put money on a horse, for instance, and it loses, why should I tell her about it?”
“And what if you came home late because you visited friends she doesn’t like, would you tell her you’d had to stay late at the office?”
“Well, a little white lie like that wouldn’t hurt her. Otherwise, well, I can imagine the storm!”
“What if you met an old girl friend. Would you hide that fact from your wife?”
“Just a minute! You’re questioning me like a lawyer, yourself!”
“But I’m trying to ascertain, for your sake, the depth of your commitment to the truth. It seems to me it’s a bit shallow.”
“What do you mean, for my sake?”
“Well, when we are truthful, we have support from reality itself—from the universe, if you will. And with that support, everything will always come out for the best. But without it, things cannot but fall apart, sooner or later. People cease to trust us. People cheat us, as we’ve cheated them. Things we counted on let us down at crucial moments. We lose friends, and find ourselves with none to support us but those for whom we ourselves have no respect. Nothing works when we don’t tell the truth. And when we are truthful, everything we do in life flourishes.”
“That sounds like a pleasant fairy tale.
“But imagine a lawyer who is strictly truthful with his clients; who won’t accept a case if he doesn’t believe in it; who tries honestly to see both sides, and offers his services on the strength of his knowledge of the law, but who doesn’t try to find ways of bending the law in his client’s favor. Such a man will gain a reputation for complete integrity. In time, judges themselves will be biased in favor of any case he represents. Such a lawyer, surely, will be more successful, even if it takes him time to become so.”
“Well, I know of no lawyers like that, so I can’t comment. As far as I’m concerned, the truth is relative. A lawyer might as well be realistic. Anyway, how can one ever be sure in his own mind whether the case he accepts is valid or not? We lawyers leave it to the courts to decide that issue. As I said, truth is for the judges to decide. As for us, meanwhile, we are like hired guns.”
“Sort of intellectual goons, in other words?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it that strongly.”
“Still, integrity is less important to you than winning. Forgive me. I do seem to be in a very different profession from yours. My own is a quest for self-understanding. I have to say that if I were threatened even with bankruptcy, I would never sacrifice my self-respect. That is how strongly I believe that lasting success of any kind depends on right action. Were I to tell lies, someday I’d reach the point where I didn’t even know what was or was not right action.”
“Does it matter all that much, so long as you win?”
“To me it does. I firmly believe that even the willingness to indulge in a wrong act occasionally will lead, in the end, to either failure or a complete loss of self-worth. I’d say that the worst failure of all was the loss of my own integrity. Money in the bank is trivial by comparison.”
“Well, I’d call you an extremist. Everyone I know in my profession behaves as I do.”
“And are any of you happy?”
“What’s that got to do with it? But yes, I guess I could say I’m happy.”
“What you mean is, you’re not miserable, and your income keeps you afloat enough not to want to commit suicide.”
“Well, that’s a novel way of putting it! But I guess what I really mean is, no, I’m not completely happy yet, but I’m on the road to happiness.”
“Which is always receding from your grasp! I do know what you mean. You’re too numb really to think about it, for now. The underlying motive behind everything most people do is the urge for happiness. And you’re always short by just inches of finding it.”
“Are you saying my first criterion, in every decision I make, should be whether an act will lead me to increased happiness?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“So if a client comes to me because he wants to sue for divorce, I should ask myself, ‘Will it make me happy to take this case?’”
“No, you should ask yourself, ‘Will divorce be the best thing for my client? Would he and his wife be happier if they could find some way to reconcile their differences?’ You might then try to bring about that reconciliation.”
“And lose a potential client! I must say, that doesn’t sound very practical! Surely the decision as to whether they get divorced is their own.”
“But you’d be much happier in yourself if you could bring about a reconciliation between them. Moreover, you might find that you’d opened up a new career for yourself—as a mediator. And you would find yourself drawing more and more of the right sort of clients. The best publicity a lawyer can have is by word of mouth.”
“I can see some truth in what you’re saying,” conceded Mr. Williams a little reluctantly. “Still, to survive in this practical world, I think everyone has to cut corners occasionally.”
“I’ve been speaking in a sort of ‘push-me-pull-you’ manner that you might find easier to understand: If I do so-and-so to you, you’ll do the same to me. But the matter really goes much deeper. For example, if you always abide strictly by the truth, you’ll find yourself able, in time, to come up with new solutions to problems. You’ll find new and better ways of achieving your goals. You’ll understand obscure difficulties effortlessly, which, for you, won’t even seem as difficult as they once did.”
“Really! Now, that thought sounds worth pursuing.”
“Not only that,” I said. “You’ll find that you can make what you want happen in ways that, to other people, may seem miraculous. The reason for your success will be that you’ll find yourself in tune with the universe. If you want to master a subject, you’ll find yourself able to do so without effort. If you find yourself wishing something would happen, incredibly—it happens! If you wish to understand things, amazingly again, you’ll suddenly find that you do understand them. And all this will be easy to achieve, simply because you put yourself in tune with what is, instead of trying to manifest what isn’t.”
“You mean, if I play the stock market, I’ll win?” Mr. Williams suddenly seemed a little more hopeful that what I was saying might be true.
“Well, yes—you’ll win, up to a point. But greed will soon disturb your attunement with the truth. Truthfulness means much more than adhering to the facts. It means attunement with a higher reality. By selfishness, you will separate yourself from broader realities of which you are a part.”
“You mean—oh, this is a little hard to swallow! How can I be a part of everything? I’m me, Roger Williams. I’m not some sort of mist!”
“Roger Williams is really only a wave on the great ocean of reality.”
“A wave, eh? And you’re another one? How come we’re so different?”
“Our shapes are different, but the one ocean beneath us is our underlying reality. The more we recognize it, and don’t try to separate ourselves from it by trying to tower over other waves, the greater our own peace. Metaphors, however, are never adequate. What I’m saying also is, by attunement with the ocean of wisdom we ourselves become wise. And by trying to be important in ourselves we separate ourselves to a greater or lesser extent from recognition of the abiding reality of that ocean. Thereby, we lose in the end not only our clarity, but our happiness.”
“Well, I have to say you’re presenting me with an altogether new picture of reality. Maybe I’ll give thought to trying what you’ve said.”
“But I should caution you: If you follow what I say, you won’t find things always working out as you wanted. You’ll only find them working out for your best, and for your true happiness. If you try to do something that isn’t in tune with higher reality, the universe will work against you.”
“Well,” he remarked with a gesture of comic hopelessness, “it seems there’s a catch to everything!”
“It isn’t really a catch, though. It’s true that adherence to truth may actually bring you suffering—for example, the pain of loss. But that’s because strict truthfulness is an upward flow toward perfection. Anything in your nature that clings narrowly to your ego must be purged. You’ll reach the point where the process is not even painful any longer. You’ll accept it unflinchingly—and even with joy.”
“And you’ve tested these principles? You’ve found they actually work.”
“I have. And they do. But,” and here I paused, “please forgive me! I’ve been working these things out for myself. What I’ve been saying is far beyond anything I’d ask of you. Mr. Williams, if you will simply try to align your actions with truth, I know you’ll find the happiness that’s been eluding you so far.”
“I like what you’ve been saying,” he remarked with an expression of gratitude. “I’m going to give it serious thought. Wow! My wife won’t recognize me!”
Excerpted from the forthcoming novel, A Pilgrimage to Guadalupe, Crystal Clarity Publishers.
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