According to Dr. Robert Feldman, the average person lies three times in a ten-minute conversation, often without realizing they've done so. Does casual dishonesty come so natural to mankind? I don't want to believe it. But honestly? I do.

People will lie to protect someone's feelings, stretch the truth to impress a crowd, or pretend to agree with someone just to avoid conflict—and that's just honest folk.

Dishonest people will lie, cheat, and steal to get whatever they want. Most people agree that there's something wrong with that, but at least 40% say lying is justified sometimes, including when a parent lies to their own children.

I hold on to the increasingly unusual idea that lying is not okay. The ends do not justify the means. I know I'm not alone in this ideal, but it sometimes feels that way. Here's why I feel the way I do:

1. Lying Is Wrong

First and foremost, let's start with the most obvious reason not to lie: it is both morally and ethically wrong. It is also literally wrong because lying represents something other than what is right or true.

If you're a Christian, you know that “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is one of the ten Old Testament commandments. Beyond the Christian Church, honesty is one of those principles you can find in almost any religion or philosophy on the planet (or beyond?).

Honesty—or at least trust—is the foundation of all relationships.

2. Lying Is Exhausting

As Mark Twain put it,

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

When you lie, you're doing two things at once: you must both create a falsehood and withhold reality. That takes extra brainpower and is more demanding than simply telling the truth. The bigger the lie, the more energy it takes. Even small lies add up, and can quickly wear out your mind.

3. Lying Is Harmful

Lying usually ends up with someone getting hurt. In many cases, it's you.

Dishonesty is harmful to the recipient of a lie because it presents them with a distortion of reality. Even if they never find out it was a lie, that misconception might prevent them from pursuing the correct path or making a decision based on all the right facts. If they do find out it was a lie, they're likely to be hurt or offended.

As well, lying is one of the quickest ways to destroy your own reputation. If your friends or coworkers know you're willing to lie to someone else, what's to stop you from lying to them?  The smallest lie leads people to question everything you say. What's more, you lose the ability to influence others.

4. Lying Is Easy

The hardest part about telling the truth is that often the lie seems much simpler.

After all, if a lie means avoiding conflict or saving someone's feelings, that's a win, right? Wrong.

It turns out that it's a common trend: most things worth having don't come easy. The truth sometimes hurts, because we live in a world with pain and disappointment. Denying that won't make it go away, but facing it just might.

The Exception?

In the world's history, there have been some situations where people have lied to save someone's life, such as during war or persecution. If you find yourself in a situation like that, by all means, do what you believe is honorable and right. Most people, however, lie for relatively trivial reasons, when the truth would have served just as well.

When you do tell the truth, it is possible to tell it with grace and love. A tactful choice of words can save someone's pride just as well as any outright lie. But the truth is so much sweeter. There is so much good in a white, pure truth.

Do you believe lying is ever justified?

9 thoughts on “Four Reasons You Should Never Tell That Little, White Lie

  1. I lie VERY rarely, and because I only lie if I have to, I feel like I could probably give some legitimate reasons. I have a recent example of one reason to lie. I have been overworked and on the verge of breaking down, and I can’t call a day off without switching with someone. EVERY single person said they couldn’t pick up the shift I needed to take off. There was one person left who told me they weren’t sure because they were looking forward to that day off, but could also use the hours (they don’t work all that much) Then they asked why I needed it off. They said “do you need it off just cause you want it off?” And I said “well I have a family member moving out of town and tomorrow’s their last day. So I was going to help them”. And they said they would think about it. So I didn’t make them feel like they HAD to, but I stretched the truth because I really needed this day off. They gave it to me, and I am completely satisfied with that decision. The amount of energy I used to create that lie was phenomenally less than the amount I saved by getting the day off so I can continue working at a reasonable level.

  2. Is it THAT big a deal, regardless of how insignificant the subject in itself may be? Yes, it is that big a deal. That’s precisely the point. If one cannot be trusted about insignificant things, how can one ever be trusted about very great matters?

  3. I’ve been married almost 10 months, which started with me cleaning his house and finding things that didn’t become a man of God. When I confronted him he always responded with a lie. We’ve been apart more than together. I knew all was lies but kept trying to make it work. He said he repented but never thought it important to admit to the truth. I just just don’t or can’t believe anything he says.

  4. That is a tough question because if you don’t lie, you may end up hurting people. That said, if they find out you lied, you may be in a worse place than you started. So my answer is no, it is never right to lie. It may hurt, but the I think the trust you build over the long run is worth it.

    Do you/would you lie to your kids? What about Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc?

    1. I don’t have kids yet, I’ve only been married less than a year. That said, my wife and I have talked about (thanks for the nudge) and can’t imagine lying to our future children. My wife was never lied to by her parents, and it gave her so much more respect for them.

      1. We have more or less come to the same conclusion. Not all relatives understand that and sometimes there are conflicts of interest. You definitely feel the push to just make it easy and lie. So this will be an ongoing challenge.

        1. Yes, one of the beautiful things about family is that it involves so many different people. One of the costs of that is that family often disagree on important subjects :/

  5. Great post John. The words that comes out of our mouths is a reflection of our heart. I think there are always exceptions, but at the fabric of our character, we must realize and live an intentional life that reflects the ethos of Jesus. Great post bro!

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