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The Honest Truth About Lies

Updated on December 22, 2011

“Do these jeans make me look fat?”

“No… of course not!”

A little white lie. A small, insignificant blur of the truth. Twisting your words to help someone, rather than hurt their feelings. A tall-tale, fib, half-truth, or exaggeration. You say you’re on your way, when in reality you are still brushing your teeth. You bend the rules, pull at the technical truth, and mentally lie to yourself, until even you are convinced you will be there in five minutes. It’s a minimal slip, only to protect yourself or others. No, it isn’t wrong, but rather kind and forgiving. Relax, everyone… It is just a little white lie.

Lying has become so frequent in our society that we hardly realize it, says Stephanie Ericsson in “The Ways We Lie.” Lying is not just what we typically think of- a blatant, cruel, and obvious lie that hurts others. As Ericsson points out, lying is a major part of our daily conversations, and is so much more than just straight out lies. Small lies to spare others’ feelings, putting on the right act, diverting attention from the truth, leaving out a few “minor details”, and lying to yourself are all also lies. No one likes a brazen liar; yet why can we handle fibbers and storytellers? If we can accept that, if we even do it ourselves, how can we judge others for lying in court, deceiving loved ones, and hurting one another? It makes us hypocrites, an attribute that our society claims to hate so much. At the end of the article, Ericsson quotes, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” If society really does hate liars, we must all stand, put a stop to the seemingly insignificant lies, and push on towards a more honest civilization. But does our society really hate lying? Yes, we despise lies and liars when we get rudely misinformed to, cheated on, stood up, or treated unfairly. But when we use a lie to get some “deserved” mercy in a class or to keep us out of trouble, we love them. When are lies okay? How honest is too honest, and is there ever an appropriate time for a little white lie?

I have a younger sister that is blatantly honest. I am not quite sure if she has a filter on anything that comes out of her mouth. If she sees a peculiar looking man at the store, she will loudly tell me to look and then proceed to point. She doesn’t have the thought about being polite or socially acceptable; all she cares about is how fascinating his mustache is. Even when I do not ask her if she approves of my hair or outfit, she will tell me, and she doesn’t mince any words. “What are you wearing?” “Do you think that’s flattering?” “Where do you think you’re going tonight in that?” It’s harsh, and has led to several breakdowns on my part, but it does spare me. It does improve me. Yet is the truth always worth it? I’ve found that sometimes the truth is more destructive than the deception.

Ericsson briefly hits on this during her essay. She talks about trying to go an entire week without lying, and the consequences that soon followed, like late fees, losing a client, and hurting people she cares about. I remember being young, and doing a very similar thing. Each morning, before I got out of bed, I would make a pact with myself. “Today, I will not sin once!” I’d tell myself time and time again. But halfway through breakfast I would have a mean thought about my sister, and have already ruined the deal. I would then give up on my good deeds for the day. After all, it was a lost cause. I think lying for a lot of people is like that. We do it so often that it’s nearly impossible to not lie. Yet having to work at something is no reason to not try at all.

Looking back on my day, I can see a multitude of lies. I lied to my mother, telling her I was caught up on my studying. I complimented a girl’s hair, not truthfully meaning it but wanting to be polite. I lied to myself, lied to my family, my peers, and my superiors. Yet none of those lies harmed them. Some protected others and some protected me. Many negative results could have come out of the truth, but none came out of my little fibs. Think about this: if we told each person the truth of what we thought about him or her, what would happen? Those people would quickly feel unappreciated, unattractive, overweight, unintelligent, undervalued, and unwanted. If people could hear our thoughts, the truth that courses through our veins, we would lose respect, relationships, jobs, and most likely be beat up a few times. Now think about this: if we told those same people a twisted, slightly improved version of our opinions of them, what would they then think? Would they love their nose, agree that size ten is the new two, believe that a D is still passing and therefore certainly acceptable, or feel like someone truly appreciated them? Bergen Evans says, “A man who won’t lie to a woman has very little consideration for her feelings.” So yes, lie to me. Make me feel better about myself. Give me beauty through your empty words and intelligence by your false comments. Sometimes, the façade brought on by a little white lie is all we need to get by.

Ericsson says that if we can freely lie without any twinges of guilt, what separates us from the scummy CEOs that steal from their company? What separates us from the cheaters in relationships? What separates us, the well-intentioned liars, from the evil ones? In her article, Ericsson also says, “I cannot seem to escape the voice deep inside me that tells me: When someone lies, someone loses.” While I can see the logic behind this, is it really always true? We can ask for the truth all we want, yet when we ask those questions that can harm us, don’t we want the positive answer, regardless of the truth? Forget “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The truth stings, much more than a few pebbles ever could.

I don’t mean to condone lying. I consider myself a trustworthy individual with good morals, who chooses the truth over a lie the majority of the time. However, I do believe lies are sometimes justifiable, unlike Ericsson, who concludes that no lie is consequence-free. I can see the error in my judgment-how do we know when a lie is acceptable and understandable and when it is just plain wrong? When we are lying for our own gain and own desires, when our lies can hurt someone, yes, that lie is dishonorable. But when a lie can help, not just ourselves, but the people and world around us… what is the harm in a little white lie? I’m not sure if my logic in this essay makes me out to be a shameless, moral-less liar, but I do know one thing. I’d rather be told the jeans look amazing, then told they look a few sizes too small.

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