Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The long road to honesty

Long road draw sweat, shortcut draw blood. (Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent)

Dear Zayda,

This was one of my grandmother’s favorite proverbs. I still think of this when I am tempted to take a short cut because it seems easy at the time. Getting into bad habits usually starts with trying to get somewhere without taking the effort we really need to get to that place.

For example, last year taking a shortcut looked like one way to keep my car on the road. My car is a 20-year old BMW that is now a classic. This car has been faithful to me. Besides, people are always stopping me on the streets to find out if I am willing to sell the car. Some say newer BMW models are not as good as this one. Whatever the reason, my car is like a magnet for BMW-lovers, and I have no immediate plans to part with it.

Last year, my car gave me a difficult choice. If I didn’t have a paper to prove the car was fit, the police could fine me and stop me from driving the car. To get the paper, one mechanic told me I had to pay a huge bill. Then someone else gave me a shortcut to keep the car on the road without paying the huge bill. I could cheat. That is, I could pay someone a fraction of the size of the bill, and that person would so something illegal. He would give me the paper that would convince the police the car was in order even though it was not.

Well, Zayda, it’s all right to be tempted, just so long as we don’t yield! So I saw my car parked in my garage when I needed it. And I saw myself having my car to use whenever I wanted. I saw a big expense to take the long road, and a small cost for taking the shortcut. And then I realized that the shortcut could indeed draw blood. In the first place, the rule that the car must be in good order is to protect me and others who use the road. I also realized that if I did something dishonest today, I could hardly refuse if people who cheated for me then asked me to do favors (and perhaps cheat) for them.

Besides, my grandmother’s words were as fresh in my head as if she was in the room with me. So I decided to fix the BMW so it would be fit enough to be on the road. I was not able to find the mechanic who had told me I would need to pay a lot of money to fix the car. So I checked with someone with a lot of experience. As a result, my car was fixed an amount of money I could afford - about one-third of what the first mechanic told me. So, the long road didn’t draw as much sweat as I feared it might, and I didn’t have to worry about the “blood” that the shortcut might have drawn.

This week, in Jamaica, a woman lost her job. It seems she may have just taken too many shortcuts. As a result, she is now branded as a thief even though she might not have started out intending to steal.

Shortcuts are often like being on a slope where the grass is smooth and slippery. So we may intend just to go down the shortcut just this once, then there are two times and three times. Gradually the habit forms, and we convince ourselves that shortcuts are the sensible person’s way of shortening the distance.

This woman now has not only lost her job. She has also lost her reputation. Others who should have known about the shortcuts have also lost their positions. Shortcuts can draw a lot of blood. And for a long time. It is possible that no one will want to give this woman (or people who were closest to her) a job again.

This is a matter of trust.

So, Zayda, you may need to remember to tell the truth even when it seems a lie would do. Or do your homework even when a friend may make it easy to copy her work and present it as your own. Like all of us, you will be tempted, and the choice – between the long road and the shortcut – will be yours.


Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

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