At this stage of my life, realising that highly principled people are a pain in the neck is a bit late. But every bit of information helps when dealing with people with more prejudice than sense. On the other hand, as I explained to a younger friend, having principles, even though a bit crooked, is better than none.
We might hate principles because they shackle us in many ways but without them, I went to explain further to my annoying friend, we are open to corruption. He fully agreed with me. I found that very satisfying because it is not very often that people agree with me when I feel strongly about something. A week later, a leading regional airline sent me an invitation for their new route launch. Where is the connection? Let me tell you without trying to offend anyone. In the welcome speech, a senior official of the airline said that the carrier’s philosophy was “based on principles of honouring what was promised to customers.”
It was a very brave statement considering that he was talking to reporters. I could see them feverishly jotting down in their notebooks the moment he started saying the words. It was a statement reporters would hold the company hostage to when it fails to deliver on its promise. Almost a breath away, the man continued with the same absurdity by saying, “all journalists will get special discounts when they fly with us.”
We all knew that would never happen because it was not part of the speech. He spoke the words too soon and too eager to be part of the plan. He was of course insincere because he wanted the cooperation of the media to promote the airline’s business. He would not admit it but he was actually bending his own company’s principles to get what he wanted. I was proved right a month later while planning for my annual holiday. The local manager told me “I have no instructions from the head office.” A fortnight later, I visited the same gentleman and he gave me another explanation: “It is peak season and we cannot afford to give discounts.”
Personally speaking and perhaps I applied a little pressure, I got the fare cheaper than the original price. That made me feel a little guilty. First, I was part of the great conspiracy. Second, I betrayed the solidarity of my fellow journalists. In that, I bent my own principles and justified somebody else’s prejudice.
In my schooldays, one teacher I was very proud to call him my hero, beat the hell out of me in the last term. Until then, he was unquestionable when it came to moral values. Though only pint sized, he used to stand tall among his peers for his teaching ethics. I reminded him years later and you know what his defence was? “It was to instil strict discipline in you!” He squeaked, “I am sure you appreciate it now.”
Old and grey then and too fragile for me to do anything, I just changed the subject. The absurdity was that he nearly ripped apart the seat of my pants and he had the courage of praising his own principles. Like the airline official, his methods to get his crooked messages across depended on bent ideology. Good principles are the ones that respect other people’s feelings. Bad ones, like a friend always says, break you into tiny pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I also have certain principles and sometimes I use them to upset people. This column is one example. However, I like to think I carry a straight message with no sting in the tail. Some of my friends would raise their eyebrows learning this but then principles are never principles if they are never declared.