The nature of war has changed dramatically in the 21st century. For thousands of years, until the end of the 20th century, wars were fought on a conventional basis – there was a physical battlefield upon which troops waged war with one another. Men were conscripted and “sent to war”, wherever the battlefield was. It may have been close by, in their own country or, in the case of recent wars in the 20th century far away from home. Many a soldier has died alone and far away from home and family in the name of some leader’s misguided ideology. Wars are always caused by some leader’s misguided ideology.
But in the 21st century, with the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, the face of war changed for ever. The battlefield was no longer some foreign field. It was a neighbourhood near you. While there are still some wars being fought on a conventional basis, more wars are being fought in amongst the ordinary people like you and me.
And what exactly are these wars? The obvious one is being fought by terrorists intent on imposing their ideology on others. These wars are being fought in the city centres of the world’s capitals, in the suburbs, in the train stations, where normal people are just trying to go about their daily activities.
There are other wars being fought – like the war by criminals intent on taking from others what they have worked hard to accumulate. There is also a war being fought in our own country for the purse strings of the nation as greedy people eye large amounts of money they would love to get their hands on. We would do well to take this war very seriously.
But why all this talk about war?
Well, it’s said that, in war time, truth is the first casualty. That observation was made during a time when wars were fought on a conventional basis and there was a need to withhold the truth firstly from the enemy and then, in many cases, from one’s own people so that they did not react inappropriately.
The point is, we’re at war right now and that’s why the truth has become a casualty. And executives who operate on the basis of a military model of leadership which treats business as a war, then use their company’s brand equity, built up over decades and decades by former employees, to engage in dishonest activities so that they can “win the war” at all costs. And what’s the first casualty in their private war? The truth, of course!
Sadly, as the world has become more complex, that ancient maxim about honesty being the best policy, becomes a little indistinct.
By suggesting that honesty is the “best” policy, we have to accept the implication that honesty is simply one of many policies or options. That means that we all can make use of a number of options, some of them not related to honesty or truth.
Where do you and I stand on this? Is the truth simply one option we use when it’s convenient and, when it’s not, we don’t use it?
Are we content to allow ourselves to practise deceit as a generally accepted business practice? If so, do we have to reach a stage where we can trust no-one because we know that others shouldn’t be trusting us? That would be a tragedy.
I want to urge you to take a hard, honest look (no pun intended) at your values related to truth and honesty. If you realise that they may have become a little dusty or rusty because they have been neglected, please make a decision to find your authentic self and live out your truth no matter where you find yourself.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: honesty is not the best policy. It’s the only policy. And in the interests of being honest, I must say that I didn’t make that up, but I couldn’t reliably find who did first say it!
So, next time you are faced with an opportunity to be less than honest, take your courage in both hands and be honest!