Yudhisthira: Will you lie when you know the consequences will be in your favor?
Updated: Jul 31, 2022
Blog #5: The price of honesty and integrity
Honesty is not free in this world. Is it?
Can someone be honest and yet speak a lie?
Do you lie sometimes so you don't hurt the person you are talking to?
What constitutes a lie? What is a half-truth?
Is it your fault if someone mishears your comments?
Are you willing to suffer the consequences of uttering a half-truth?
Yudhisthira was the son of Lord Dharma, his divine yet surrogate father and Kunti born though the invocation of a divine chant that summoned Lord Dharma. Being the first born son of King Pandu, He was first in line to the throne and becomes the heir apparent creating immediate resentment in the minds of prince Duryodhana, first born son of the caretaker King Dhritarashtra. Yudhisthira was revered for his justice and honesty. As the Mahabharata war finally starts, he even gives soldiers fighting on his side who believed in the cause of the opposition to switch sides to do so without fear and thus welcomes Yuyutsu to his side. After the defeat of grandsire Bhishma, the Kaurava commander, his teacher Dronacharya unleashes mayhem on the Pandava army. Yudhistira is faced with the grim reality that victory is not attainable without a small aberration on his blemishless character. He must utter a deceptive white lie to force the opposing general, Drona to lay down his weapons. Victory therefore comes at a cost. He lied for the first and only time in his life. The consequence he pays for this lie is watching his siblings suffer in hell while his adversaries gloat in heaven. The agony at this injustice that he feels is the price he pays before he passes to heaven. Thankfully God does reveal to him upon reaching heaven that the vision he saw was an illusion. His siblings are in heaven and will join him there.
Our null hypothesis for the Yudhisthira persona
Yudhistihra was a wonderful child and his personality is full of excellent attributes that made him a natural choice to be the heir to the throne at Hastinapura. He was strong, bold, honest, high integrity, respectful to elders, kind, generous and also skilled in battle, especially with a spear. His greatest acknowledged attribute is that he never lied. Almost! Among all the characters of the epic, I believe he is the easiest to characterize. He was almost blemishless except for just one half-truthful statement he utters. He did have an addiction to gambling and alcohol that cost him dearly twice and led to a genocide.
Relevance in today's PC world: Yudhisthira challenges us in a great way. He was a wonderful child and his personality is full of excellent attributes that made him a natural choice to be the heir to the throne at Hastinapura. He was strong, bold, honest, high integrity, respectful to elders, kind, generous and also skilled in battle, especially with a spear. His greatest acknowledged attribute is that he never lied. While almost! But his half-lie is very relevant in today's world. What is a half-truth? Is a half-truth a half lie? Is a lie uttered for the cause of Dharma justified due to its noble purpose? Is there no consequence for the half-deception? There clearly is a lethal one here. Drona dies due to this half-truth, half-lie statement.
Let me give you an example of PC speak (chock full of white lies) - I love the word "INTERESTING" in response to an idea or a suggestion. This is a frequent response from just too many people to too many things. Interesting- it can mean everything from "you are full of it" or "I don't think that's gonna work" to a passive bystander. There are many other mutations of this word interesting before it gets to the real meaning- "Wow, I love that idea and gosh, darn, why didn't i think of it? Even if i did, I am not gonna tell you that is mighty clever of you. All you will get from me is the tepid INTERESTING". It is like the "pass" bid in Contract Bridge. What it hides is far more than what it reveals. You might as nock your arrows, now.
Being honest in today's world is very hard but not impossible. Our family and friends do seek honesty and its sibling, integrity in all of us. Few seek 100% honesty, not unless we are very close and also empathetic to each other's perspective. The other side of the equation is also very important, especially at work. Are we willing to win at all costs, even use the soft white lie to get ahead at work? Are we willing to risk the climb to the next rung of the corporate ladder?
Luckily, we can blame Yudhisthira for this trend. He wanted victory against those standing in the way of Dharma and could actually blame God for forcing the white lie from his mouth the sake of victory. God wanted the good side to win so he forces the honest prince's hand. So there, do you feel better now? We mere mortals can breathe easier, say our white lies and say, wow, that's an interesting perspective on honesty !! How much of Yudhisthira is in you ?