Honesty the best policy


By Dr ONG HEAN-TATT

ONLY honest intelligent industry can lead to productivity in the organisation.  

Those without intelligent industry would have to use coercion to rob others of their produce. These forms of coercion include use of physical power and deception.  

Those without intelligent industry would believe in the concepts of “Might is right” or “The end justifies the means”, but they are only robbing others. 

These people can only subtract from the productivity of the organisation and community, reducing what each person could have rightfully generated and obtained. 

Is there room nowadays for the honest executive or trader? Should a trader tell the truth about the cost of the things he sells to a customer? The customer may fear the trader making too much profit. However, traders who overprice their goods would find it difficult to compete with others.  

One trader said he would tell a harmless lie that the costs are higher than what he paid. He would tell the customer that he makes only a little profit margin. It is not necessary for the trader to lie about the cost of the items.  

It is difficult to cost one’s efforts, the cost which one would have pay if someone else were hired to do the work. 

The costing and even the sources of his supplies are trade secrets. They represent the value of the trader’s skill and knowledge. 

Why should you tell people these things, when some of them could be your potential competitors? The customers should respect the secrets of the trade. The dilemma can be avoided. 

The point is that much of the dishonesty can be avoided if there are sufficient skills and knowledge. Resorting to dishonesty always mean that the intelligence is not up to the mark, and is forerunner to what will go wrong. 

Many see the modern world as full of fierce competition and like an ocean infested with sharks, and that it is a case of survival of the fittest. Their slogans are: “Eat or be eaten,” “Destroy the competitor, otherwise, the competitor would destroy your organisation,” and “Trust no one except yourself.”  

They say an honest person is naive and cannot survive in such a world, where one changes friends and enemies like changing clothes and that so-called friends could stab you in the back in order to climb the corporate ladder.  

They view the world as a war arena, where competitors would be unscrupulous and ruthless in their struggles against each other. 

Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his post must learn how not to be good and use that knowledge, or to refrain from using it, as necessity requires. (Machiavelli 1469-1527 in Adam 1977 p. 44) 

Why should competition be pictured as a “win or die” war-like scenario, to be dealt with through dubious means? Competition need not be pictured like that.  

The true sportsman is one who trains honestly to win. A dishonest sportsman is one who wins through deceit and his glory is only a false one, with him knowing that he is never the best.  

If the modern executive cannot win a competition through honest ways, it only means his knowledge is not good enough that he has to resort to deceit. It is the same in many other forms of contest. 

Those advocating the use of force and deception do not realise that they are blind to the verdict of history. Chinese history goes back about 4,000 years.  

When one counts the horrendous periods of fierce wars in ancient China, one would find that these periods totalled to less than 600 years, about 15% of the recorded history of China.  

Chinese history favours positive productivity rather than the use of force and deception, which is branded by history as foolish anachronism.  

It is human nature to work hard rather than to cheat. Some modern industry giants cheated for years and, in the end, the so-called clever cheating destroyed these organisations. 

The ultimate superiority of honesty over deception is emphasised by Sun Tzu:  

These agents can be properly used with intuitive sagacity. Only he who is benevolent and honest can use secret agents. Only he who is subtle can get the truth of their report. (Sun Tzu 13:15-17) 

Those who cheat defy the verdict of history and only fool themselves. 

We will examine in coming articles this issue of “The end justifies the means” through a critical analysis of the “win at all costs” doctrine of Machiavellianism, which advocates tactics based on fraud, dishonesty, fear, violence, murder, disloyalty and betrayal. 

It will be shown that Machiavellianism is a foolish strategy. 

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