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"Murphy was an optimist!"

No, white lies are not ok October 9, 2007 10:19 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Health, Mental
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I disagree with the nationally known psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig who says it’s OK to tell a white lie. Dr. Ludwig claims it is ok when

  1. the whole truth tears someone down
  2. when it protects a child’s innocence or creative imagination
  3. Offering passing pleasantries
  4. Complimenting someone

I believe Dr. Ludwig offers a terrible recipe for leading a superficial, untrue life. Temporarily, these things may be healthy for the other person but for the person uttering the half-truths, the white lies, they plant a seed of corruption that will eat at their very soul. I say temporarily for the other person because the truth always comes out. In this world you get what you give so how can you take the word of someone else that is complimenting you when you know that you would in turn give the same as lip service? We can make the choice to live one true life and be the person we really are OR we can create fables and then worry ourselves to death as we try to keep our half-truths accurate in social settings and recurrent visits with the person we once gave the lie. Why create inner turmoil and stress for ourselves? "Oh there’s Julia! Crud, what was that lie I told her. Oh no. She’s talking to Fred. Didn’t I tell him a different lie?"

Dr. Ludwig writes "Brutal honesty can be used as a toxic weapon. " and I would agree which is why we learn tact and employ tact. Tact, a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense, is different than outright lying.

A lie: "I like your new, extremely short haircut."
Brutal honesty: "Your extremely short haircut makes you look like a man and your ears stick out like Dumbo."
Tact: "That haircut is certainly a different look for you. Personally, I do not prefer buzz cuts on women."

Dr. Ludwig challenges "How can you argue with that one?" in regard to protecting a child’s innocence. I ask, are we really protecting their innocence or setting them up for a gut wrenching betrayal at a later time because of a white lie. Would I propose that we kill Santa Claus? No! I believe in Santa Claus. This one is tricky because the story of Santa Claus and his compatriots is a thrilling, mystical part of childhood and I would never deny someone that pleasure. I do believe in Santa Claus! (wikipedia) I also believe that this situation is also about presentation. I might give a little and almost, but not quite, agree with Dr. Ludwig that a white lie could be appropriate in this case. The white lie cannot be direct! In this case, it is a lie of omission. We present the spirit of Santa Claus. We present the story. We present the illusion. We allow the child’s imagination to perpetuate the lie. And annually, a riff in my soul widens as I question the deception and the tears it will bring at a later time in life; the lost innocent; the lost trust in mom and dad…because of a lie…of omission.

Dr. Ludwig suggests that a white lie is okay for "passing pleasantries." Particularly in the South we are raised to believe the same as Dr. Ludwig. I challenge you to quit! Why waste our breath with words we don’t mean? This is hard. We spend the bulk of our lives training ourselves, and brainwashing ourselves, to give these pleasantries. We become robotic in our responses. I have made a great effort to not give pleasantries and I still find myself doing it almost daily. But when I resist, and am truthful with the other person, I feel better about myself!

Lie:"Oh…it’s no trouble at all"
Truth:"Yes, this is inconvenient, but I really enjoy helping you."
Lie:"I’m fine, thanks for asking"
Truth:"To be honest, life’s got me a little down but I’m coping with it. You?"

Something I have done to help avoid being in a situation of pleasantries is to change my greeting. When two people meet, they tend to autonomously spout off "how are you?" It is a greeting akin to "hello" but unlike "hello," "how are you" requires a response which is almost always a superficial "fine thanks." My new greeting is "good to see you!" and I mean it. My greeting is a statement that requires no response. My greeting does not put you on the spot. My greeting is truthful. If I truly want to know how you are feeling I am going ask and hope that you give an honest answer.

Dr. Ludwig’s final white lie is to offer compliments to a person stating "Mild false truths make it easier for people to get along and are primarily harmless in most cases." I disagree. You are harming the relationship and you are harming yourself. As in her first case, if you give such lip service, how can you learn to trust other people. And if you cannot trust each other, how can you possible get along and build a relationship. Won’t you simply assume they are not being entirely truthful with you. You harm yourself because inside you know you are perpetuating a lie. There should be a hollowness inside your chest. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should feel superficial! And that’s not healthy.

In conclusion, Dr. Ludwig says, "The major difference between a white lie and a hard lie is that a hard lie is said to protect oneself, whereas a little white lie is said to protect someone else." A lie is a lie and a lie protects nobody. Lies serve only to undermine relationships be it romantic, business, or friendship. A person cannot improve themselves if they ask for your feedback "How are my cookies?" and you lie to them. Dr. Ludwig, you are wrong; white lies are never okay. I challenge you to wear the truth, always.

Update: Be sure to read Blurp’s I Chose to Lie for another perspective!

Related: Being too nice to your waitress may cost you money

Comments after advertisement


1. Cathy - October 9, 2007

We may be bluntly honest in our home, but you are lying to yourself if you don’t admit a lifetime of sugar coating and cow manure in another aspect of your life. Perhaps you should add one paragraph that clarifies how you have seen the damage that white lies does.

2. Dean - October 9, 2007

Is the Tooth Fairy a white lie? And what if Cathy likes a shirt that you don’t, but asks you how she looks today? A passing “you look nice today” when someone needs it, although they might not look better than any other day, is an OK white lie in my book.

But I agree lying for lying’s sake is not good, and trust me I’ve known my share of perpetual, habitual liars.

3. Doug McCaughan - October 9, 2007

And what if Cathy likes a shirt that you don’t, but asks you how she looks today? A passing “you look nice today” when someone needs it

When do they _need_ that? What’s wrong with "that’s not my favorite shirt on you?" you could add "but you wear it well" if your statement of "you look nice today" was genuine.

Genuine…now there’s a powerful word. When we tell white lies, are we being genuine?