Personal integrity is not about flaunting the principles that you claim you stand by. It is how you live by them, even through small, seemingly inconsequential, everyday acts – especially when no one’s watching!
Last evening I was visiting a friend. A visitor arrived at his door when we were there. He was a vendor, as I soon discovered, of pirated movies. My friend, quite nonplussed by my consternation (I don’t think he was even aware of, or cared to know, what I felt about what he was doing), bought several of them – new movies (some of whom were still playing in cinemas currently) in English, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam. I was, honestly, appalled. My friend is a young, talented, hard-working professional. That he would indulge in an illegal act, buying and watching pirated movies, disturbed me. I politely communicated my disapproval of his action and left his place soon after.
But indulging in such an act is not something that is unique to my friend. Most of us Indians prefer choosing the ‘easy way out’ in most situations – be it watching pirated movies or bribing a traffic cop who has issued a ticket or getting a ticket examiner on an overbooked train to confirm a berth out of turn. And yet, rather hypocritically, we participate in protests seeking an end to corruption in the country. The stand we, often subconsciously, take is that everyone and the system is corrupt; let everyone and the system come clean; then, and only then, will I believe that things will change and be part of that change. And so no one changes and the system thrives – on the self-centeredness and holier-than-thou attitude of a people!
There are several thousand ways in which as a nation, a culture, we are corrupt. But we must realize that we are really sowing the seeds of such a culture in the minds of impressionable young people in the manner in which behave in our homes. The most rampant form of our “corrupt” thinking is when we watch pirated movies at home – either by buying pirated DVDs or streaming pirated content online. And worse, we think there’s nothing “wrong” in what we are doing. We brazenly brag that we do so on social media and in public. Now, let’s understand that movie piracy is stealing someone else’s intellectual property. Would we steal someone’s handbag or wallet? Would we encourage our children to steal from store shelves? Then why are we stealing in this fashion – movies or such entertainment content? Let’s remember that each time we watch a pirated movie we are telling our family and our children that it is “okay” to be dishonest and it is “fine” to steal. When we bribe a traffic cop for a ticket he has legitimately issued we are contributing to corruption staying deep-rooted in Indian society. These may appear to be inconsequential acts to us, but consistently indulging in them is ruining our nation’s social and moral fabric in more ways than we can even imagine.
I must confess that I used to watch pirated movies too. Until Lagaan (2001, Aashutosh Gowariker, Aamir Khan) was released. I first saw it in the theatre. And then, within days of its release – when the film was still playing in cinemas, a friend offered me a pirated VCD. I was shocked. I had read about the hardships the film’s crew had gone through to complete the film and release it. I was appalled that we could be so blatant and heartless about simply paying Rs.35/- for watching a cheap, pirated version of the film at home, instead of spending Rs.300/- ~ Rs.400/- for a family of four (at that time – now an in-theatre movie experience costs Rs.1000/-) to watch it in the theatre. That day I refused to watch the pirated version of Lagaan. And I have since then stayed away from watching pirated movie content or using pirated software. The way I looked at Lagaan has also changed my thinking about personal integrity completely. I have bribed people in the past for services and favors – because it was easy, it was convenient and everyone was doing it. Over the last 14+ years though, I have made a conscious effort not to. Even so, I must quickly admit, I am no activist. I don’t fight for any cause. Not even for a corruption-free India – let it happen, when it happens and when it must happen! I have taken these stances of personal integrity because I just want to be at peace with myself. So, whenever I am placed in a situation when I must be corrupt, I reason with the other party and encourage him or her to follow the rulebook while trying to explain my point of view. And, always, my experience has been that when you are honest, people are willing to be honest too. I have shared some of my experiences in my forthcoming book (Westland, August 2014) ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money’.
I have not shared my thoughts here because I want you to follow them. Or endorse them or accept them. I am not saying this is the only way to practise personal integrity. All I am sharing here is that let there be some consistency in what you say you believe in – which is, integrity and principle-based living – and what you do and how you live. For, only when, as Gandhi taught us, what you think, what you say and what you do are in sync, will there be inner peace and happiness!