The Grays of Honesty

There are no absolutes when it comes to integrity and honesty!

A doctor friend of mine, after a couple of drinks at a recent party, narrated a story about a patient Z, who had been troubling him and his staff for the past 2-3 days. Z was to be operated for a slow growing tumor on his face, which had been around for the last 3 years. He had had a CT scan done 2 years ago and a repeat study was performed a week back. My friend mentioned in his report that as compared to the previous scan, the tumor had increased in size. Z wanted this line deleted because otherwise he wouldn’t get insurance, if the insurance company knew that the tumor had existed for 3 years. Z wanted to suppress all his past medical records and history related to the tumor and show that this had only come up recently. My friend refused to do so and in any case as part of standard policy, he didn’t have the ability to change a report once it had been handed over to the patient. The patient refused to listen and kept harassing everyone in the CT scan department. It reached a stage where my friend and Z had a slanging match with my friend having to finally bang down the phone. Even though there was clear malicious intent, Z did not see anything wrong in scamming the insurance company.

A few more doctors joined in and each one had stories of patients who were willing to go to ridiculous lengths to hide records of previous treatments, just so that they could get medical insurance or reimbursement. However not a single non-doctor who heard this discussion thought there was anything wrong in what Z was doing and a few were surprised that we were even talking about this issue.

Clearly, suppressing the knowledge of pre-existing disease is wrong in a black and white world. And yet most people in this world will still do it, if it helps them get a better deal with an insurance company.

This is the same paradoxical behavior that up to a few years ago would make heroes out of those who were raided by the income-tax authorities. No one used to think that it was wrong to conceal income. Today, things have changed a bit, but there are still large numbers of people in India who look at you as if you are an idiot, when you talk about declaring all your income and paying taxes on it.

This is also the same behavior that used to make otherwise law-abiding citizens in the 70s and 80s lie about the bottles of alcohol and expensive watches they were smuggling back from foreign trips, before the customs laws became so much more liberal.

This is also perhaps the reason why Ms. Kiran Bedi did what she did. People inviting her for lectures were willing to pay her business class fares. She traveled discounted economy and still went ahead and claimed business class reimbursement, the difference going into a charity that she was running and needed funds for. From an absolute perspective, what she did was wrong. But given the constraints and the practicalities involved, I am not sure I wouldn’t perhaps have done the same thing for my charity.

It’s funny! The same people who would die rather than be caught taking or giving bribes or stealing money, will often have no qualms when it comes to situations like the ones I have described above.

These all serve as reminders of how gray our world really is!


  • shubhojit wrote:

    The world is never completely black or white, in fact is is shades of grey tending towards the black …for everyone has a price. The only difference being that the price differs as to the circumstances for the same person.
    More so in India, where a paler shade of grey is definitely not something to be proud of!
    And, since nobody can ever be in your boots the reason for your shade remains inexplicable to everyone else …unfortunately.
    Beautifully articulated piece left open-ended at the correct place!

  • RAVI GADIYAR wrote:

    Sir,Absolutely a GRAY world.It is these types of articles which reveals the reality in todays world.Thanks for the usual exciting write up which i await every saturday.

  • Sujata Morab wrote:

    We are living in an era where each step of life has become a “dilemma”. The choice between devil and deep sea, the catch 22 situation and so on… So people go for the lesser evil. We cannot blame them. The bribe taker babu is not 100% at fault. Nobody is at fault. The situation just is. People are no longer ashamed to say they are not so honest. The solution lies in everybody suddenly becoming honest at the same time. Is it possible in real world?

  • Ashutosh Marballi wrote:

    Honesty and integrity are values that are unfortunately very hard to come by these days. They are practised by people only at their convenience. It is also surprising that Mr.Z tried to supress his medical history. Having briefly worked as a life insurance agent, I can say that a thorough check is carried out before issuing the policy by the insurance company’s doctors. And if the policy is still issued by company unaware of the client’s medical condition, the insurance company can reject the claim amount if the condition is later revealed.

  • In fact all the situations and anecdotes of all sorts make life around the world very colourful. Depends how you look at it!! As it is rightly said – Get what you like or else (read if you are not able to) (learn to) like what you get ! Life is always beautiful

  • black white vs gray, Dilemma has existed for eons.And as for Doctors giving a “correct” BP reading it is fairly common even now, right?

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Your insurance story hits the nail on the head. I head the medico-legal cell of a hospital where unbelievable excuses are offered by patients/relatives to cheat insurance companies by asking for changes to be made in the discharge card/indoor-papers. I don’t think Kiran Bedi did the right thing especially when she is crusading against corruption! Defending herself by twitting is merely a form of escapism.

  • As stated in your article itself. One of your doctor pals did not change the medical report. There are still people who come to me to pay taxes honestly. And I advise others to do the same.

    People can believe what they want to, something that helps them sleep at night. Such people always tend to see the world through a tinted glass, and ignore anything that may prove them wrong.

    Honesty helps, its healthy 🙂

  • Prabha Vinay wrote:

    Didn’t get time this morning to read this column, the first thing for me every Saturday morning, but once in office got some time to read your article “The Grays of Honesty” and was thankful to myself for having done so and to you for writing the article!

    ‘Honesty is the Best Policy’ is what I’ve been taught and followed quiet rigidly at times but nowadays when I see a few more people around who quiet gleefully dodge the “basic principles” of Life and seem to win, it compels us to think otherwise. But at the end of it all the ‘Principles of Life’ rules as it leaves a scot-free eternal and true Smile on your face for just being Simple and Good!!

  • Ganesh Parameswaran wrote:

    Really a good post. It makes you to stop to think how much is an action right.

  • Jaeysh Desai wrote:

    Separating wheat from chaff, that is what happens when people are put in such situations, who capitulates and who stays firm. Bad news is good news for media and reporter, so it gets reported and read more frequently. But goodness too exist, it depends what we choose to see. and what we choose to see depends on our own proclivity is at that point of time. 30 years I have spent in profession and can say with confidence that honesty pays and sincerity is appreciated.One can only judge one’s own action. All man-made rules have to be evaluated in given situation, because they are imperfect, so I would give precedence to basic instinct of truth, honesty and sense of fair play above man made rules when they are in conflict.

  • Ashish Jois wrote:

    Very true sir. Makes one think what WE should do if such a situation arises.

  • Dr. Rahul Navalkar wrote:

    Just playing the devil’s advocate here :

    Don’t the insurance companies scam you by offering the world when you sign up for the policy and then find out excuses not to pay up the entire amt. of the bill.

    Don’t the IT laws in our country penalize the middle class while the very poor and very rich get off lightly in comparison.

    Don’t the custom officers want bribe for carrying certain items (e.g. when my parents got a TV from Dubai during the shopping festival) as there were no clear rules about the permissible limits (in this case the size of LCD allowed)

    We live in a gray world and morality is a matter of convenience.

    When it is convenient we sit on a high pedestal and preach morality to other “mere mortals”; when inconvenient, we say…you gotta face reality!

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