Everyone lies. There isn’t a person on this planet who tells the truth at all times. However, it seems that some lies are far more acceptable than others.
We identify some untruths as “little white lies,” statements that aren’t entirely truthful, but are intended to help, rather than harm someone. We might compliment a young chef or singer to boost their self-esteem rather than give them our more honest and unflattering opinions.
We frequently engage in “fibs,” which are lies intended as jokes. We might tell someone we did something shocking when we didn’t actually do it, just to get a rise out of them. We might lead someone to believe we betrayed their confidence in a way that would embarrass them, only to confess, a moment later, that their secret was still safe.
We might tell out-and-out lies during the planning of a surprise party or baby shower. We might even intentionally set things up to make it look like we’ve forgotten someone’s special day, only to enhance their enjoyment when the elaborate celebration is revealed. If directly questioned by our loved ones, regarding our plans, we’ll lie right to their face in the interest of pulling off a festive event.
Further along the continuum towards unacceptable lies are the lies people tell to themselves in order to cope with really difficult situations. Growing up in Wisconsin, I often heard, “It’s not that bad,” in reference to the weather, when it was, in my opinion, quite bad. People tell themselves, “I don’t really mind” a job that they hate, or “at least I’m lucky to have a job” when, in fact, they hate that very job.
Next we have the lies people tell each other out of laziness and disinterest in carrying out a real conversation. How’s it going today, Phil? Great, and you? Oh, can’t complain. When, actually, Phil and his college son are fighting and the guy that “can’t complain” has been complaining to his wife about her weight all week. We call these tiny lies “social pleasantries” and we really don’t expect much truth in casual conversations.
Then we have the serious lies people tell themselves like “I can quit drinking any time I want to,” or “I don’t really need to smoke pot, I just like to,” or “The few things here and there that I steal from work don’t really affect anyone, and besides, I deserve them for what they pay me.” These are the lies that poison us slowly, erode our morals, and distort our thinking to the point at which we actually believe ourselves.
Once we’ve mastered lying to ourselves, we become able to tell the big ones to the important people in our lives. “That other woman means nothing to me,” or “I was going to tell you about that when I got a chance, it just hasn’t come up yet,” or “Me and Daddy are just working some things out right now, everything’s gonna be just fine, just go back to bed.” or “Don’t worry, we’ll never have to move again, I’ll make sure of it.”
Although it seems utterly clear that these “terrible” lies are very hurtful and destructive, are they really that far from the little white lies we generally accept? The basic concept is the same. We begin by fooling ourselves, then we try to get others to believe our untruths, too. If you value honesty in your lives and in your families, take care to notice just how much “harmless” lying takes place and remember that once you’re on the slippery slope, it’s pretty easy to just keep on sliding down.