The Truth About Little White Lies

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Last night I watched an old episode of “Full House” with my daughter. Remember that show? Cute kids, cute dad (and uncles), and a situation that got neatly resolved within 30 minutes with a life lesson. And who doesn’t love Baby Mary Kate and Ashley? In that episode, as in most, one of the girls does something she shouldn’t have, and wants to hide it from her father to avoid getting in trouble. So she tells her sisters they need to make up a story so their dad will never know. A little white lie. A “fiblet,” she calls it.

So what is the deal with little white lies? We all tell them, so how wrong is it, really? Turns out, not that wrong! In fact, there’s a school of thought that thinks little white lies are an important positive component of relationships, and that it would almost be anti-social not to tell them. Of course, when you lie, it’s important to understand why you do it. Lying to protect yourself, to get your way, to prevent criticism, or to cover up a misdeed is never okay. Sorry, DJ! But telling a fib to protect someone else’s feelings or to soothe rough patches is actually a good thing. It’s called pro-social lying and it may even be a factor in helping to form stronger social ties and keep relationships healthy.

Keep in mind that relationships and social connections must be established with honesty in the first place. If you have that foundation, a little lie is almost expected in certain situations. What benefit is there in telling your best friend that her awful new haircut is, indeed, awful? It will only make her feel bad, there’s nothing she can do about it now, and she asked for your opinion because she wanted your support. So give her that support and make her feel good about herself. If she loves it, let her enjoy it.

Just be honest with yourself about the purpose of your lying. Is it to help you or to help others? And do you find that you’re lying more often than not? What benefit do you get from your lies? Are you lying out of insecurity or to gain favor from others? If you feel like your fibbing might indicate a problem, it might be time to start being more honest more of the time. You might need to deal with your own issues and find other ways to get the benefits that you believe lying gives you.

And then there is the opinion that says that honesty is always the best policy. All of the time. Tell your sister that she does look fat in those jeans. Do it tactfully and lovingly, of course, but don’t let her go out there looking like that! For this group, the belief is that if you don’t tell people the truth about their shortcomings you deny them the opportunity for improvement. You might also be taking the easy way out yourself, which will hold you back from growing and dealing with difficult situations. And always remember that you run the risk of your lies catching up with you at some point.

So what is the truth about little white lies? There might not be a right or wrong answer here. There are pretty good arguments on either side, so let’s just say that every situation needs to be weighed on it’s own, and we all need to be smart about ourselves and other people’s feelings.


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