The truth about when it’s okay to lie

Written by Angela Atkinson

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” ~Winston Churchill

Shh! when to tell a lie

We all know that usually the right thing is to tell the truth. Your mom, your teachers, your religious leaders – all of them certainly advised you to always tell the truth.

Most of the time, “they” are right – honesty really is the best policy. But sometimes, the right thing ISN’T to tell the truth – it’s to lie. While honesty is often the best path, there are times when a little dishonesty makes sense.

In an ideal world, you’d only speak when your words are honest, kind, and helpful. And unfortunately, there are many times the truth isn’t kind.

Do you really want to tell your boss that she looks fat in her dress? Would it be appropriate to tell someone that you don’t think he could ever complete a marathon after hearing of his plans?

What if telling the truth is painful, but helpful?

Bottom line: It isn’t always cut and dry that being honest is the best policy.

What to Consider Before You Tell the Truth

So, when you’re not sure what to do, consider the following before you say something you can’t take back. 

  1. How’s it gonna feel to you? Ask yourself how you will feel afterwards. Will you feel better or worse? Look ahead and determine if you’ll regret your honesty or lack of honesty. We’ve all said things without thinking that we later regret. Consider the long-term, too.
  1. How’s it going to feel to THEM? Consider how the other person will feel. When you’re done speaking, will the other person be in a better place? What is the most likely outcome for the other person after you’ve said your piece? It might feel good to unload a little truth on someone in the moment, but there’s eventually a price to be paid for making someone unhappy.
  2. Is the truth going to improve anyone’s life at all? If your words are helpful, you’re probably okay. The great Olympic athlete Jesse Owens lied to a promising high school athlete regarding his long jump accomplishments. This inspired the student to work even harder.
  1. How much could it hurt the situation? Consider the damage created by being dishonest. What is the likely outcome if you choose to lie or withhold the truth? Can you handle it? The problem with lies is the seemingly never-ending need to tell more lies to cover yourself. The truth is like air trying to escape a balloon. It eventually finds its way out into the open.
  1. Are you making someone else pay for your negative experiences? Being self-indulgent is often an excuse to be honest and unkind. Keeping things bottled up can become uncomfortable after a while. You might feel the need to vent and share what you know or think. Ensure that you’re not saying something inappropriate just to relieve your stress.
  1. What is the right thing to do? Consider emphasizing kindness and ethics. There are times that honesty is kind and ethical. There are times that dishonesty is kind and ethical, too. Both can also be unkind and unethical. Seek a balance point that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong. You probably don’t want to run around lying to everyone to lift their spirits, but telling the truth 100% of the time is a poor choice, too.

We all lie. Research has consistently shown that the average person lies 2-3 times in a 10-minute conversation. Depending on how much you speak each day, that’s many lies.

Observe your conversations over the next week and notice how many times you lie. Notice what you choose to lie about and ask yourself what would have happened if you had been truthful.

Would you rather emphasize compassion and appropriateness or honesty? In many case, these values are at odds. It can be a challenge to make the best choice every time.

The importance of honesty has been debated for thousands of years. It’s a challenging subject with many varying opinions. Complete honesty has the potential to harm others and damage your relationships. A little white lie can often save the day. Consider the impact your words will have before opening your mouth.

 

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