When you were growing up, you probably learned that lying was wrong.
Remember the old adage, “Honesty is the best policy”?
However, chances are that those same people who told you not to lie often told a few non-truths themselves. And today, the mantra of “do not lie” may be one you repeat to the next generation, although a few lies have likely slipped out of your mouth too.
What’s going on? Are we a nation of hypocrites (do as I say and not as I do)? Or is lying really okay?
At this point, it’s natural to jump in and proclaim, “I never lie!” But is that true? When a friend asks you to help with a task you find unpleasant and don’t want to do (like helping them move into a new home, painting some interior walls, or pet sitting their large and slobbery dog), do you come clean and truthfully say, “No, I dislike doing that and don’t want to do it”? Or does the more familiar phrase, “I’d love to, but … (insert your excuse to get out of it),” come out of your mouth?
The fact is that not all lies are bad, and there really is a time to lie. I’d even go so far as to say that a little lying can be healthy. As Lord Byron once said, “What is a lie? ‘Tis but the truth in masquerade.”
When to Lie
While lying can cause problems in life and in relationships, in some cases lying actually keeps the problems away. That’s because sometimes the brutal truth would hurt someone unnecessarily.
For example, if you’re visiting someone’s house and the host isn’t a good cook, there’s no need to point it out, even if they ask you, “How do you like the food?” Simply thank them for the lovely meal and move on in the conversation. After all, you’re probably there for the company, not the dining experience.
Similarly, suppose you and a friend are going out for a night of fun. You meet her at her home, and as soon as she opens the door she excitedly asks, “What do you think of my new dress? I absolutely love it!” You, on the other hand, think it’s the ugliest dress you’ve ever seen. As she twirls before you to show off her new look, you could tell her the truth and make her feel deflated. Or you could just smile and say, “You look great.” After all, style is subjective. And if she feels that she looks great and exudes confidence, then she does look wonderful no matter what she’s wearing.
In essence, there’s no need to make someone feel bad for something that is really unimportant and has no repercussions. In situations like these, being completely honest makes you look disrespectful and ultimately hurts the other person. These are prime examples of how a little white lie can make life much more enjoyable.
When Not to Lie
Of course, lying isn’t always the best thing to do. Sometimes the other person really wants to know the truth, even if it hurts. In these instances, the truth wins out over a lie.
For example, if your best friend says to you, “I really want to know the truth. What do think of my new boyfriend?” and you think he’s a jerk, tell her in a tactful way. You could say, “I understand why you’re attracted to him, but have you noticed how rude he is to people?” The truth doesn’t always have to be “in your face” blunt. Tact goes a long way when being honest.
But beware, before telling the truth, make sure it’s what the person really wants. You may even want to preface your truth by stating, “I always give the truth. Is that what you really want right now?” If they say “yes,” then lying would be a disservice to them and could erode the trust in the relationship.
And of course, any lie that hurts people or deals with morals should never be told. Falsely accusing someone of something, covering up a misdeed or affair, or intentionally tricking someone are always wrong.
Truth and Consequences
So how much do you lie on a daily basis? Do you tells someone, “I like your new haircut,” when you really don’t? Do you cover up for your poor memory by saying, “Sorry I’m late but traffic was awful,” when you really just forgot about the meeting?
Or are you too honest? When your girlfriend asks if her dress makes her look fat, do you say “Yes, pick something else to wear,” and then wonder why she refuses to talk to you for the rest of the day? When your brother casually wonders out loud, “Why am I always late for everything?” do you bluntly say, “Because you’re a very disorganized person,” and then get upset that he rolls his eyes at you?
Here’s a fun experiment: Try not to lie for 24 hours and see what happens. No white lies, and no whoppers either. Take note of how you interact with people, keep the relationship respectful, and not start new problems … without lying. After you’re done, reflect on the past 24 hours and see if you’ve learned anything about yourself, about others, and about lying in general.
You may just find that honesty isn’t always the best policy … and that a little white lie with no consequences is perfectly okay.
Lisa Haisha, world traveler and founder of the Soul Blazing Sanctuary.