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The Voice of Hope

By Aung San Suu Kyi with Alan Clements

ALAN CLEMENTS: Daw Suu, here in your country, speaking the truth is regarded as a punishable crime against the state if that truth is unacceptable to the authorities. But why is "truth" so threatening?

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Because the power of truth is great indeed. And this is very frightening to some people. Truth is a powerful weapon. People may not think so but it is very powerful. And truth - like anything that is powerful - can be frightening or reassuring, depending on which side you are on. If you're on the side of truth, it's very reassuring - you have its protection. But if you're on the side of untruth - then it's very frightening.

AC: What are your views on having the uncompromising conviction that speaking the truth is imperative, no matter what the circumstances or the consequences may be? Is honesty always the best policy?

ASSK: Honesty is the best policy. One should just do it openly. This is how I've always operated. It doesn't mean that I tell everybody everything. But if I'm asked about something, either I say what it is, or I just bluntly say: "I will not tell you." For instance, when the military intelligence came to try to interrogate me I just said that I would not answer. If I had answered I would have implicated other people, because what they were doing was trying to find out who [was] helpful to me, so they could get them.

AC: So the criteria for you in truth-telling are the implications for others?

ASSK: Yes. It's better not to answer than to deceive. Deceiving is an exhausting activity. It's true what Scott said, "O what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!"

AC: Even when the challenge of honesty means weighing the risk of imprisonment, harassment to family, loss of job, or even torture?

ASSK: You lose more by deception - that, you can be sure of. But, it's true that nothing comes without a price. However, it's always easier to accept the consequences of honesty rather than the consequences of deceit. All the times you have ever deceived anybody will stay with you for your entire life, whereas the consequences of honesty, in the long run, are never burdensome.

AC: How would you advise others to challenge the habit of deception?

ASSK: What I would say would be so simple, most people would not be able to accept it. I think you're just happier for not indulging in deceit. That's it.

AC: What, in essence, does truth mean to you?

ASSK: In the end, truth cannot really be separated from sincerity and goodwill. I cannot claim that in every situation I am able to see the truth. But one does one's best to be sincere in evaluating a situation, making an honest distinction between what is right and what is not. If you do so you are on the side of truth. But truth is a large concept. Pure truth - absolute truth - is beyond ordinary beings like us because we cannot see things absolutely and as a whole. But we try our best. I think of all of us who are on the side of truth as struggling towards it, rather than in full possession of it. Truth is something towards which we struggle all the time.

From "Truth is a powerful weapon" in The Voice of Hope
by Aung San Suu Kyi with Alan Clements

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