When is it ok to tell a lie?
Nobody likes being lied to, but the question of whether we should ever tell a lie to others presents a real dilemma.
On the face of it, lies should be avoided at all costs, because nothing upsets us humans more than having the truth hidden from us.
On the other hand, there may be times when lying is the best option for you or the person you’re lying to.
So, when is it ok to tell a lie?
If we never tell a lie to anybody, we can rest assure that we have been truthful, honest and fair in our dealings with others. When it comes to relationships with lovers, friends, family and colleagues, being completely honest really is the best way to ensure your friendship stays strong.
If you never tell a lie, you’ll never have to deal with the guilt and shame attached to hiding the truth. Furthermore, your friends will respect you as a person who can be trusted – they might just not share all their secrets with you, in case you tell somebody else…you see, not telling lies can get you into awkward situations where your desire to tell the truth betrays the trust of another.
2.To protect from the truth
There are some instances where it may be smarter to tell a lie in order to protect somebody from a truth they are not able, or ready to handle.
For example, if you know that a very young relative was adopted but they haven’t yet been told this by their adoptive parents, it’s really not your place to step in and ‘tell the truth’ – even if they ask you in some direct or indirect way.
Likewise, if a friend who feels they are being talked about by others asks you what is being said about them, it might be wiser to leave out some of the most hurtful comments than to give a verbatim account of the bullying.
3.To protect ourselves
Protecting yourself at the expense of others is a complete moral no-no, but there are times when you might need to tell a lie in order to protect yourself because of the actions of others.
For example, on holiday, alone in the only bar in a dead-end town, you find yourself trapped in a conversation with a group of drunk and aggressively ignorant people. They’re saying terrible things about a particular group in society, being racist and telling you that they would attack somebody from that group who came to their town.
You disagree with them completely and want to tell them how small-minded they are – but you fear for your immediate safety and decide to say ‘yeah’ when asked whether you agree with their views. You’ve lied, you feel guilty for not standing behind your views…but you’re still alive.
4.To protect a third-party
The lie told to protect a third-party appears to be the most honourable of lies. In the journalism trade, the hiding of sources is fundamental to ensuring people come forward with stories, whilst feeling secure they’ll remain anonymous. This is a rare context in which the truth is understood (legally in most countries), to be worth concealing in order to preserve the rights of a source. For the rest of us, hiding or obscuring the truth is a more risky pursuit.
Trouble is, lying to protect somebody else can end up landing both you and the person you’re trying to protect, in even more trouble than might have been the case. If you do lie to protect another person, think carefully and ask yourself whether it’s actually in both of your best interests.
The classic ‘save another’ lie is when you decide to take the blame for something a friend or colleague has done. Instead of letting them get in trouble, you decide to take all of the blame yourself – a seemingly selfless act of generosity. In truth, your motivations for doing this are unlikely to be entirely ‘pure’: Maybe you’re protecting them because you know deep down it was your fault, maybe you’re seeking their approval, or worst of all, you’re protecting them because they’ve made you feel as if you should. None of these are good reasons to lie, let alone jeopardise your own career or criminal record!
The term ‘White Lie’ is used to describe lies which are justifiably told – although it’s not clear who should decide how justifiable any given white lie might be. All too often it’s the person telling the white lie that will justify the process to themselves or friends, after the event, saying ‘It was only a white lie…I had to really’
A true white lie should only be told where there is no harm associated in doing so but it’s hard to think of many situations where this might be the case. All lies have a collateral impact, so even the classic white lie, told by a parent to a young child who ‘isn’t ready to hear the truth’ could have negative consequences.
Looking back on our childhoods, we can probably all recall the white lies we were told: Maybe our parents told us that a ‘special kiss creates babies’ or that ‘if you don’t eat vegetable you’ll go blind’ – these were lies told in the best of faith, but would the truth have hurt that much?