Friday, January 29, 2010

On What Occasion Do You Lie...?

How often do you lie? Tell the truth now, how often to you occasionally tell a little white fib? I watched a movie the other night with Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner called "The Invention of Lying". It took place in a world where lying and deception were completely unknown. Everyone told the truth, and everyone else believed them. A fellow was driving while drunk -- absolutely inebriated -- and he was pulled over by an unruly police officer. His friend in the car with him, Mark, (Ricky Gervais) stepped outside the car and said,

"Officer, this man is not drunk."

"He isn't? Oh, goodness, sir, my apologies. I thought you were drunk..."

The police officer believed Mark because lying was unheard of -- ever. Mark had invented lying. (And yes, when they got back into the car, Mark drove.)

Can you imagine what a dull world it would be without lying? There would be no fiction, no art, everything would be what you see is what you get. In Mark's world, he was a screen writer, but there were no movies, only incredibly boring lectures of the truth.

We have all told fibs on occasion, sometimes to save our own skin, and sometimes to save other folks. I have always believed that lying is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it is used to protect someone else's feelings. We cannot always admit to someone that their new dress makes them look fat, or that the watery, gristly beef stew they cooked is horrible.

"Yum, this is delicious."

What purpose does it serve to be brutally honest in instances like that? Do you think God would be mad at us if we have actually spared someone else pain? I don't think so. That is a whole different type of duplicity than the type used for our own gain -- monetary or otherwise.

In "The Invention of Lying", Mark invented lying as a tool for kindness, and it worked. He made people feel incredibly happy, just by telling them "little white fibs". I think all of us have done that at some point in our lives, and when it works, it actually makes us feel good too. We have eased someone else's life in just the smallest way. Truth can often be unnecessarily brutal.

On what occasion do you lie fib?

(The winner of the almost-mascot from my previous post will be announced Saturday morning...)


Kathy's Klothesline said...

I guess we all want to believe that we are above reproach and always honest......... truth be told, though I am pretty sure that we all lie from time to time. Is Santa a lie? Is the tooth fairy a lie? I suppose we need to define "lie".

Kathryn said...

Well, i try not to lie. I try to be almost transparently honest. Not always good for boundaries, however.

Most of my lies happen after the fact. Someone presses me about something i don't want to answer & i just blurt out the truth. AFTERWARDS i think, "Oh i should have said, 'XYZ' instead." A lie i couldn't think of at the time.

For the things that you usually use white lies for, i try to think of something good in the situation. Stew not so good? But the seasoning is? So it becomes, "Wow. You did a great job with this seasoning. The flavor is just right."

Years ago i read a book, i think by Joyce Landolf. She & her daughter had a game of trying to find something good about everyone they saw & give that person a compliment. They were together in an airport traveling.

A fellow passenger was apparently a person unattractive in every way & the daughter said, "You take it mom, i can't think of a thing."

Joyce looked her over & then complimented the lady on the button on her coat. That made her day! Evidently the buttons were something special & no one ever noticed them.

I'm not always so good at this, but i do try to see things this way.

Sunny said...

I try very hard never to lie, although sometimes I have fibed, but only as to not hurt someone's those pants don't make you look fat!
Sunny :)

Owen said...

Would you believe me if I told you that I don't lie to anyone ? Except maybe a little to myself...

JeannetteLS said...

I have lied when I have been afraid that the truth would... what? When I was younger I lied because people did not believe the truth. The truth? Until I faced the truth of my life, I lied a whole lot--it was a way of magically keeping safe. I would like to say that I do not ever do this today, but I do. Sometimes I cross that line out of insecurity and fear of not being loved, of being judged harshly. I do not lie about other people, nor to hurt a soul.

It's the struggle of my life, really. I know this isn't a light-hearted response to your marvelous post, but I think about this topic a lot. Honesty vs picking the part of the truth one cares to share... omission vs lying.

I believe in Santa, so that's not a lie! And I refuse to answer ALL questions about clothing and weight, etc. When asked about something like that, my response is ALWAYS, "Do YOU like how you look? Frankly, if YOU are happy with your clothes, I'm going to be." And it isn't a lie or even a fib.

But when pressed in some personal matters? When I sense danger, sometimes it is very, very hard for me to figure out QUICKLY how to tell the truth AND protect myself.

That's as honest as I care to be for now! I do love, Jo, just how eclectic your blog truly is, and the wisdom that comes from you and you don't REALLY realize it!

(I felt like throwing that in there because I DID put the quote back on my mirror! Thank you)

Brenda said...

I can't add much more to what you said very well in your post. I feel exactly the same way as you. I will rent this movie the next chance I get. It sounds great!

Marguerite said...

Sounds like a great movie! I think that we all tell little fibs, on occasion, and agree with you that it can be a good thing, when done to spare someone from having hurt feelings. Happy Friday, Jo!

Susan said...

Small world - I was thinking on similar veins and came to the opposite conclusion.

Fiction isn't lying - it's a complete fabrication. Lying is taking the truth and twisting it back on itself.

I think we could do without the lying.

Kindness and gentle honesty, yes.
Lying? No thanks.

The Bug said...

I recently read a book by Stephenie Meyers (yes, the Twilight author), The Host. It's a book about aliens inhabiting the earth & using the humans as their bodies (hosts). These aliens did not ever lie & never expected to be told things that weren't truthful. Therefore their tv shows were EXTREMELY boring to the humans LOL.

TC said...

I perhaps lie to myself? White lies to protect feelings, yes but not so much I'm wishy washing, if you are chubby and related to me I will tell you, they do the same for me.
Once in awhile I might omit a detail in something I relayed to my husband but it's usually a matter of hours before I fill in the missing detail, then it's not such a big deal. Only so much bad news @ once.

Anonymous said...

I've lied many times and will continue to do so. I hate to hurt anyone's feelings and I never want to take away anyone's hope.

Must admit...I lied more when I was younger. Usually to guys I didn't want to go out with.

Alicia said...

You know what lie I hate to tell Jo? I hate to lie to a client when one of my "high-ups" doesn't return a call or hasn't done something they've promised to do!!!

I can't tell you how many times I grab the line and tell Miss So and So that Joe Blow is on the line and wants to find out if she took care of that issue for him and they tell me, "Oh, can you do me a favor and tell him I'm with a client cause I haven't had a chance to take care of that yet?"

No. 1...they are asking me to lie, and to lie for them, it isn't to save my butt!
No. 2...I just heard them on the phone with their BFF talking about the fun they had this past weekend so I know they had the chance they just mismanaged their time!

Wow, it felt good to get that off my chest even though only you heard it dear Jo.

Russell said...


Often people will start out a sentence with "Well, to be honest ..." which makes me wonder if they were NOT honest earlier. But, well, it's just a figure of speech.

I think it is best to be tactful but honest. Period.

If someone asks me a question I try to give them an honest answer.

When asked "do you like this hair style" I have said "I think it looks fine but I liked the other style better, but perhaps I was just more used to it."

If someone says "How does this taste" and I do not think it tastes good, I will say something like "How did you make it?" or "How do you think it tastes?"

I try very hard not to lie but I am sure there have been times in my life when I have told a fib. I guess we are all human.

Kimberly said...

I tell tender lies when the truth will hurt someone. Example - "why are you leaving me"..."Because I need time for myself, we don't want the same things"...what I really mean is "I don't love you anymore".

DJan said...

In my youth, I thought brutal honesty was a good thing. I hurt so many people but didn't realize I was being cruel, just honest. There's a difference between not telling a lie and being cruel. I learned the hard way.

Cloudia said...

You make a comprehensive argument!

Who me, lie?
You mean when we lie to ourselves?

Aloha, Jo

Comfort Spiral

Susan said...

An interesting addendum, Jo. I was speaking to a board member of SAGALA today; the Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alliance: grads of the US military academies. They came out in support of the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell today - their first public statement.
And what the board member said was this: "Gay service people are forced to lie about themselves; to withhold basic information about their families and loved ones. That's against the code of integrity of the military and it isolates them from their comrades at a time when unit cohesiveness is essential."
In other words, lies divide, not connect.
And thanks for the blog visit!

JoMo said...

Hi Jo, ever notice that it's the liars who accuse everyone else of being just that?

I tend to believe people when they tell me things, I don't like being a person who suspects and a result when I get lied to I get pretty disappointed.

Unless it a politician. :)

As for me, I think I lie less the older I get.

But if I'm trying someone's home cooking and they ask how it is, gotta admit, I still lie about that.

Mia said...

Morally speaking I suppose we're never supposed to lie. But morality, like truth, is subjective.

I will absolutely lie to protect people. If somebody puts a gun to my head and asks me where my grandparents are the truth is the last thing coming out of my mouth. I'd lie to protect our nuclear secrets. Not that I know any. And we don't have nuclear weapons anyway. Is that a lie?

In a less extreme example if somebody asks me if they look fat I'll tell the truth. I know they're probably only asking to validate their own opinion but what's the point in lying about something that's so obvious to everybody? But there's no reason to be mean about it. Making cow noises is unnecessary.

Lying for monetary and personal gain is just difficult. It usually requires a very good memory. I'm starting to have problems remembering what really happened. I don't think I can handle fiction.

Lying to boyfriends is absolutely essential. Men want the truth? They can't handle the truth.

Mia said...

Then again all that could have been a lie.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Hmm. If I told you that I always lied, would you be able to trust that statement?

Anyway, I am a squirrel, so what do I know. Okay, maybe not a squirrel but I am a mammal.

the walking man said...

I never outright lie or dissimulate. But I have an extensive enough vocabulary and still reasonably good cognition to be able to use my words to not hurt or intimidate another if that is not my purpose.

Land of shimp said...

I think it's all about intent, Jo.

You see, when I read this post, I thought back over yesterday and immediately spotted two situations in which I did not tell the truth. However, the intent behind that was sincerely caring about the people I was talking to.

A friend called while I was dead in the middle of something very involving, and was busy as could be. But she was upset, I could tell by her voice she was upset, and when she asked "Am I interrupting anything?" I flat out lied and said, "No, I'm not busy at all. What's up?" because whereas I was busy as could be, I wasn't busy with anything that was actually more important to me. If I told her the truth, "Rushed off my feet, but I can take time for you." which would have been the actual truth...her response would have been, "I'll call back."

So ...yeah, I wasn't truthful there. Then last night my son brought a new girl into meet us as we watched a movie. End of a long week, all we really wanted to do was watch our movie, but being a gracious host meant replying to her, "I don't want to interrupt..." with "Oh, no, don't be silly. It's not very good, sit down, can I get you something to drink?"

Can you even imagine if I'd told this poor young woman, "You know what, nothing personal, but I'm dead on my feet and don't actually feel like talking to you." which ...yeah, that was the truth of the matter, but ...boy would that have been rude, and cruel.

What would be the opposite of deception? Would it be sincerity? I think so. So, maybe that's the better question: We all lie in very sincere efforts, "Oh you weren't interrupting!" because sincerely, we don't want to hurt anyone.

I think that when we are being honest, we lie a ton in the course of social interaction, often simply by omission, but the intent is a sincere one.

I really think that's the better question, how often do you find yourself acting in a way that isn't about sincerity in one form or another?

The black and white definition of "truth" "lie" negates the actual intent...which intent can be very true...which leads to things like, "Oh, you weren't interrupting!"

Which part of that is the truth that matters? I'm pretty sure the truth that matters lies in the intent. I hope it does, because like I said, twice yesterday...lied. Did not tell the truth. Told something other than the bald facts of how I was feeling, and what I was doing...

Which makes me wince a bit...but you know what made me wince more? The thought of the reactions of the two people whose feelings I was considering, if I had chosen to tell the bald truth of the matter.
Lies of diplomacy, born in sincerely caring.

I guess there are good deceptions, and bad ones made solely for personal gain

Jo said...

Kathy, good case in point! That is what the movie pointed out. Without lies there would be no fiction.

Kathryn, there is a saying that the best lie is the truth. I think if we can find something truthful -- but perhaps evasive -- to say, that's probably the best. Love your story!

Sunny, yes, what is the point in hurting someone's feelings, right?

Owen, ... um ... I might perhaps not believe you. :-) I'm fibbing -- or am I?

Jeanette, thank you for the compliment. :-) And yes, it is frustrating to tell the truth and be told one is lying, isn't it? It is enough to make one tell a lie. I think we have all been in that situation too, sadly.

Brenda, the movie is a comedy, but it will definitely make you think!

Marguerite, I think sometimes it is almost an instinct to tell a fib, in order to spare someone's feelings. Have a great weekend!

Susan, the concept in the movie was that fiction did not exist because people did not know how to create an artificial truth. It was an interesting concept. I wonder if lying to spare other people's feelings is not sometimes an instinct. I enjoyed your blog on the subject! And yes, lies do very much divide and not connect. I have seen that happen a lot.

The Bug, that is the same idea as the movie "The Invention of Lying". It's a concept that really interests me.

TC, yes! Missing a small detail can constitute a fib, sort of -- *heh*. I think we all do that too, to spare other folks' feelings, or even or own. :-)

Carla, "I never want to take away anyone's hope." You have hit the nail on the head. Why be cruel, right? We don't have to be if we don't choose.

Alicia, I completely agree with you. I don't like being asked to lie for someone else. That is just wrong, and I refuse to do it. Good for you!

Russell, one of the things I have noticed about you is your honesty. It is very refreshing. You are also very tactful -- most of the time. :-) I really respect people who can be as honest as you are.

Kimberly, yes, sometimes brutal honesty is necessary, isn't it? We might not like it, but it's easier to move on when people are honest with us -- or vice versa.

Jo said...

DJan, if someone invites me to their house, and I don't wish to go, I will tell a little fib rather than say to them, "I don't want to go to your house because your cat smells and you smoke too much." *heh* How to win friends and influence people. :-)

Cloudia, there is a saying "We can't lie to ourselves." I think in the most part that is true, although sometimes we try. :-)

JoMo, I think there is an Irish saying to that effect, that people who lie a lot actually accuse other people of lying too. It's true, isn't it? I have known people like that in the workplace, and it's horrible.

Mia, "Lying to boyfriends is absolutely essential. Men want the truth? They can't handle the truth." LOL. But yes, there are times when lying is almost necessary, unfortunately, especially to protect other people. There are folks who have lying down to such an art, they can fool lie detector machines. I am not one of those people, however. Everything about me gives me away whenever I tell a lie. *sigh*

LGS, You are a mammal? I thought you were a marmot. Okay, bad joke. I have a feeling, though, that you are an honest squirrel. :-)

Mark, yes, that is the secret, isn't it? Being tactul while being truthful. Very good observation!

Alane, "I think that when we are being honest, we lie a ton in the course of social interaction, often simply by omission, but the intent is a sincere one." You have said it best. I think we all tell -- what -- little white lies all during the course of our day, with co-workers, family, friends, etc. I think it is simply called social graces, and what an awful world this would be without those social graces. If we actually count the number of times per day that we do this, I think it would add up to a lot!

Whitney Lee said...

I do try to be honest these days though it's often difficult as I dislike conflict. I've noticed honesty often causes conflict. On the other hand, honesty helps avoid conflict just as often.

I lied quite a bit when I was younger: "Me? Smoking? No?" or "I'm staying at so and so's tonight."

As I've gotten older I've realized that dishonesty makes me sick. Seriously, it makes me physically ill. I don't have to take to my bed when I tell someone I like their new haircut, but I do feel off if I'm not being honest about what I deem important to the people I love.

This is a really interesting question. There is a book I read that said all of our conflicts could be avoided if we simply told the truth to everyone (including ourselves) all of the time. It is definitely an interesting concept.

Jo said...

Whitney, "I don't have to take to my bed when I tell someone I like their new haircut, but I do feel off if I'm not being honest about what I deem important to the people I love." Yes. That's the thing. Telling the truth about the things that are important to the people we love. That is important. In the alternative, I don't feel happy when people lie to me, either. It is an interesting question, isn't it?

A human kind of human said...

I think the motivation behind the lie is what makes it a lie (dishonesty) or not (tact). If we look at lying from a biblical perspective we will probably be shocked out of our tiny little socks. So many of the biblical heroes (old testament) were outright liers yet still found favour in God's eys. In a secular sense, I do not believe that what we know as a white lie, is wrong, it is just good manners (???) Do I make any sense at all?

Paula Slade said...

Honesty is a big issue that was driven home to me at a very early age. I appreciate truth (no matter how difficult it can be to hear or give) but I recognize silence when truth is not given to me, and when I am asked for my thoughts and opinions I frame my answers with something positive about the situation so as not to be brutal or harsh.