Currently there is a commercial on TV where a cheerful woman visits her new neighbor with a homemade pie. She states that she has actually come by not to simply welcome the woman into the neighborhood but to see if in fact she might be weird in some way. The smiling neighbor inquires as to whether she would like to come in and snoop around to see what her new house looks like. The narrator poses the questions, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all said exactly what was on our mind?” While many would agree that honesty is the best policy sometimes lying can be a better alternative.
I am a true believer in honesty and truth. I try to always live my life by these tenets although I’m certain that there are times when I fall horribly short. Like most wives (and husbands), there are times when I want to spare my husband’s feelings and have not always been completely honest with him. When he puts his heart into purchasing a gift for me that he’s excited about or when he builds me something or makes an upgrade to our home, I don’t have the heart to tell him that what he did was not exactly what I was hoping for because I know it would hurt him. And his feelings matter more to me in that moment than honesty. I know he does the same for me as well.
Let me add, too, that in cases of wanting to preserve someone’s feelings, I have mixed thoughts about that. By not being truthful (in a polite and respectful way, of course) we deny the other party the opportunity to grow. When we are able to listen objectively to what others have to say to or about us, we can learn a lot about ourselves that allow for personal improvement. In circumstances such as these, one needs to evaluate each one individually and discern which approach would be most beneficial to the other party.
A child who is too young to fully embrace the severity of their actions may need to be shielded from the blatant truth. Years ago, a friend confided in me that her young child had inadvertently given their family pet a toxic substance to eat, causing the eventual death of the pet. There was no malice on the part of the child, who was very attached to the pet, and due to his highly sensitive personality, the parents decided to spare the child any more angst and possible guilt. In this instance, not being truthful was an act of love and protection.
There are other times when honesty can hurt. People are often blunt and callous in presenting their version of the truth or in making comments showing no regard for the feelings of the other person. And while none of us actually has the ability to hurt another person’s feelings (all feelings are a personal choice derived from our thought process), there are times when even the most prepared are damaged by another person’s comments. Telling someone that they are obnoxious and that no one, including yourself, likes them may be liberating for you to express but is highly insensitive and offensive as well. Rewording it using more thoughtful vernacular or refraining from offering any commentary at all can be an act of consideration for the other person’s feelings.
When you know that in stating truthfully what’s on your mind that it will only agitate the other party who in turn will to seek to retaliate against you, wisdom dictates that silence may be a safer option. Sometimes, keeping the peace in matters that have little significance has far greater benefits than candor.
When a police officer pulls you over for a broken tail light and writes you a ticket, you may become irate but it does not behoove you to speak your mind by telling him/her that they ought to be out catching real criminals rather than wasting your tax dollars stopping law abiding citizens such as yourself. Remaining silent or polite can prevent you from causing further distress to yourself in challenging the officer.
If someone points a gun at you with the intent to cause you bodily harm, that is not be the optimum time to call them a punk. In extreme cases, voicing your truthful opinion could cost you your life. Sometimes silence saves.
I also don’t need to tell my husband every time I’m angry with him or those times when I feel disappointed or disillusioned in our relationship. Many of these issues are based on my own perceptions or expectations and most can be resolved within myself to the extent that they are no longer a problem for me. In other cases, I can make the necessary changes in our interactions that alleviate the unhappiness and improve the quality of our marriage. This is a smart strategy that long-term married couples have mastered.
If I’m angry with my boss, a verbal commentary can not only damage our relationship but can create an uncomfortable work environment as well. In some cases, people are spiteful and expressing the truth can exacerbate the situation making matters worse. Perhaps one is willing to take that chance; in other circumstances the stakes may be too high and the individual is not willing to potentially risk losing their job.
Remember when you were a child and your grandmother gave you that awful gift that you absolutely hated? Mom taught you to be polite and thank her. She never encouraged you to be truthful and tell her you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing such an ugly sweater. The intent was to be grateful and appreciative of the loving act of an elderly woman and to preserve her feelings. This is compassion and respect at its finest.
Being bluntly honest with another can oftentimes cause them great distress or worry. A husband who faces being laid off from work does not want to add any unnecessary stress to his family so he bends the truth. A child, off to college for the first time, rarely tells their parents everything that occurs on campus. Wanting to ease their parents concerns, they downplay or omit certain events knowing that the parents would only worry and feel helpless in protecting their child. (I’m not recommending this practice in issues of a serious nature.)
When you want to threaten to cause harm to someone or to their property, even if there is no intent to follow through or as a ploy to get them to comply to your demands (manipulation) this can be considered a terroristic threat and possible cause for legal action. It might be best to rethink your comments.
We all have family members who say or do things we do not like. Being angry with them is a normal part of being a family yet it is not imperative that I mention every infraction to them. Making comments when you are angry or upset is a recipe for disaster. Hurtful words cannot be retracted and the damage they cause can last a long time. Sometimes venting with a friend or other family member helps us to release the anger in a safe environment. Once able to process and heal it, the issue has been resolved and the relationship preserved. (Refer to the SWaT Strategy in The Secret Side of Anger)
When my dad developed Alzheimer’s, he often spoke in nonsensical terms. He would recall things that never happened or insist that he wanted things to be done a certain way that were either not possible or not for his own good. Many times, in order to keep him calm, we placated him by agreeing to his demands. Since his disease prevented him from recalling his own requests, we could easily proceed with the necessary actions that benefited him the most. Being honest with those who are not capable of fully comprehending can be frustrating, futile, and distressing for all parties. Appeasement with good intent for all can be a better alternative for everyone.
Keep in mind that I am in favor of being honest with others and expressing my concerns so that issues can be resolved whenever necessary. And that is the key: whenever necessary. It is not always imperative to be truthful with others and in some instances can cause more harm or distress or may simply be unfair to the innocent party. Is it acceptable to express your anger towards telemarketers who disrupt your privacy? Are they not simply trying to earn a living as are you? Yet I know of no one who does not find their practices intrusive and would welcome the opportunity to tell them how they really feel.
Imagine a teacher, frustrated with a student, who wants to shout “What in the world is wrong with you? Are you stupid?” They know that it is not only unprofessional but it may severely hurt or embarrass the child. So they refrain their question, “Are you having difficulty understanding what I’m saying? Is there a better way for me to present this to you?” Swallowing their true feelings protects not only the child but the integrity of their reputation and job.
Consider a father who leaves his young children because he has no interest in being a parent to them. How would it benefit the children to be told the truth? At that age, and perhaps even when they are older, the pain of feeling not wanted or not worthy is excruciating. This can cause severe emotional damage as well as damage to their self-esteem, causing unforeseen and long term consequences that ripple throughout their lives. A kinder more protective approach would be a distorted version of the truth. “You father had some personal issues that prevent him from being in your life at this time” or perhaps “Right now he’s not prepared to be a parent.” On some level, this can protect the child to a certain degree from unnecessary and damaging pain. Remember, one of the functions of love is that it protects.
There is also another form of lying that is acceptable and that is playful lying. Telling children that Santa Clause is real, that the tooth fairy exists, and that the Easter bunny is the one delivering colored eggs on Easter are all harmless and endearing beliefs that add enjoyment and a sense of whimsy to a child’s life. Discovering the truth as they get older has not shown to prove detrimental to any child. For many, their realization of the truth evolves naturally with maturity and while there might be some disappointment, most seem ready to release the myth and embrace reality.
Remember, too, that silence can be a lie of omission. One need not directly relay a falsehood but in their silence there can be an absence of truth.
When lying may be the better option:
When it protects the feelings of the other person or prevents them from unnecessary worry; to keep oneself safe in a dangerous situation; to prevent causing any unnecessary duress that could have unexpected consequences for yourself or others; when you need time to reword your version of truth to be more respectful; if silence will preserve an important relationship without causing unforeseen damage at a later date for you or the other party; when remaining silent allows you to work through the issue and resolve it within yourself so that it is not longer a problem for you; when you are at risk for the other person seeking to retaliate against you causing you harm or hardship; when your very life is at risk (remember, in some cases, silence saves); when your statements are threats; when you’re angry and blowing off steam; when lying is whimsical and playful and adds an element of childlike joy.
When it’s not smart to lie:
First and foremost, it is never beneficial to lie to yourself. Total honesty is absolutely essential for your well-being, personal growth, healthy relationships, success, and overall happiness in life. “Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is a black abyss of fear that keeps us imprisoned in false truths and obstructs our chances of achieving personal greatness.” ~Janet Pfeiffer ,United Nations, Oct. 2004 One must be brutally honest in order to be the best version of themselves possible.
Never lie to avoid taking responsibility for your actions and the consequences that accompany it. Grow up and face up.
Never lie to blame another, to get them in trouble, to damage their reputation, or to cause them any kind of harm.
Never relay false information to make yourself look good, to build status, or deceive others about who you really are and/or what you have accomplished or concerning your motive and intent behind an action.
Never lie or exaggerate in order to manipulate others so that they will comply with what you want.
As for lies of omission, remember that silence can indicate an absence of truth. Not coming forth with information that can clear an innocent person unjustly accused or convicted of committing a crime is a lie of omission – allowing a deception to continue as truth. This is morally reprehensible.
Again, let me reiterate that I am a seeker and practitioner of truth yet I do recognize the value in withholding complete honesty in certain situations. Each individual must follow their moral guidelines and assess each situation independently in order to make the best possible decision. Remember, that it is not only the actions that hold merit but also the motive and intent behind them that matters. Keep your heart pure and let kindness be your guide. In that regard you will make righteous choices.
Q “Just because you have a thought does not mean you need to express it nor does it mean you have a right to as well.”
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