The other day I was pulled over at Panjim by a traffic cop for not wearing the seat belt. He asked for my license and enquired whether the car belonged to me. I replied affirmative. He told me that I had committed an offense by not wearing a seat belt. My mind started racing. What was the fine gonna be? Should I try to bribe him and get of lightly? Or should I pay the full amount? I decided to go with the flow. He didn’t seem to be interested in a bribe and proceeded to write a receipt. It turned out to be Rs 100.
I began thinking about my attitude to the whole incident. Would I have bribed him if it had meant a lesser fine? Bribing traffic cops is very common. But in doing so aren’t we cheating? Aren’t we stealing from our own country? The money given as bribe goes straight into the cop’s pocket. So in order to save some money we are ready to ignore our moral values. Now if you consider a rupee saved is a rupee earned, does bribing amount to stealing? Just because no one will catch us, we are ready to steal. So how are we different from thieves? And spare a thought for the honest officers who always issue receipts and the honest traffic rule violators who always pay the full fine. Both these honest parties are at a loss. Their crime? They are honest. Is this how we reward honesty?
I always felt thoughts are as important as deeds. In Christianity, having evil thoughts and intentions is also a sin. In short, most of the general public has the same mindset as a thief when it comes to bribing. Besides, there are other instances when we are ready to resort to unlawful behaviour when we are sure we will not be caught. I the feel, the only difference between us and criminals is that we lack the courage to do such things when there is a good chance of being caught and the result being public defamation and maybe even a jail sentence.
Another instance of bribery, albeit on a much smaller scale, commonly observed is in public buses. The conductor charges you less than the fare and doesn’t issue a ticket. Both you and the conductor are happy. It is a win-win deal. But doesn’t this amount to stealing from the corporation that runs the buses? And what about the honest conductors and commuters?
Take another example. Mob mentality. Violent protests are commonplace in our country. You see a huge mob going on a rampage destroying lives and property. Now the people of the mob draw courage from the fact that they are part of a huge group and the odds of being caught are negligible. So then we have normal people behaving like hooligans. Why? Just because they know they will not get caught. I know psychologists will have other reasons for mob mentality. But this is definitely one of the main reasons.
Then we have road rage. Incessant honking, rude facial expressions, obscene words and hand gestures are a common site on Indian roads. Why are people so rude on the road? Agreed driving is quite stressful. But you don’t see people abusing loudly when someone cuts the line at a post office or someone stamps your foot in the bus. Why? Again I feel it because of the ‘pay back’ factor. On the road there are no repercussion for bad behaviour. You just drive of, never to see the other party again. But at the post office or in the bus, you have to be in the vicinity of same people for at least a few minutes. So shame and guilt as a result of your abusive behaviour may force you to hold yourself back when offended.
Even brilliant minds are not free from this scourge. Take the ‘guest register’ at the I.I.Sc. mess. Here there is a system wherein non members can take meals at the mess by making entries in the guest register and paying the dues at the month’s end. It used to be a voluntary exercise until the authorities realised hardly anyone was making entries. How could mature and educated people think that they could save some money by cheating the mess contactor? And mind you I found the rates very reasonable for Bangalore. Again I feel it is the ‘I can get away with this misdeed’ factor.
So here we are then, lay ‘innocent’ people with a criminal mentality. We look down on the criminals who have been caught. But in reality, how different are we? It is just that we are lucky to be coward enough not to act on our evil thoughts. Jesus said, only a faultless person can cast a stone on a condemned sinner. It is time we clean up our thinking. Good words and deeds will automatically follow.