It shouldn’t be controversial that lying is bad, that it’s fundamentally disrespectful of other people. And yet.
Over at Psychology Today, Jennifer Lea Reynolds, on her blog about kindness, wrote about the pros and cons of “white lies.”
“A white lie,” says Dr. Julia Breur, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private clinical psychotherapy practice in Boca Raton, Florida, “is a well-intentioned untruth” that’s said despite the fact that we often feel uneasy about telling them in the first place. “It is usually a small, deliberate and harmless fib, often done to spare someone’s feelings and to do no harm – its intention is to produce favorable results.”
Indeed, we feel uneasy telling lies because we know it’s wrong. This really sounds more like a liar making excuses for herself. Is there any action we take that isn’t about “producing favorable results” on some level?
There’s some implicit theory of mind going on here, starting with the patronizing assumption that the lie’s victim can’t handle the truth. I can’t even explain how frustrating it is trying to work on your problems and then nobody will cooperate and say what’s wrong with you, to “spare your feelings.” Don’t project your preference for dishonesty onto me.
For example, if the reality is that someone’s new shorts are ill-fitting, the honest truth would be to say so. If a person thinks they’re the next Celine Dion, but their voice makes you want to cover your ears, telling it like it is would mean conveying your pure, unfiltered thoughts.
However, empathy kicks in, and rather than telling your friend that you wondered when the dogs would start howling as they sang, it’s sometimes easier and nicer to let them down gently – if at all – so they can hold on to hope and not feel crushed (and you can preserve the relationship).
You don’t have to go out of your way to tell people how you perceive their faults, and you don’t have to word the truth harshly.
It sounds like Reynolds thinks some catty, mean-spirited shit about friends she has inauthentic relationships with. It’s like she doesn’t understand that she can have a kind disposition toward someone and express the truth from that place.
Notice that physical attractiveness and quality of voice are matters of individual taste, and not everybody has to like the same things.
Hope is some bullshit, not an end in itself. People shouldn’t have false hope. The truth matters.
More broken theory of mind: why would honesty in admittedly trivial white lie situations end the relationship? How much are you walking on eggshells around this person? Again, it seems like she fears the truth would be relationship-ending because there’s meanness behind her opinion, not friendliness. She’s afraid of being found out and blaming the fragility of her friends.
“Individuals of all ages who have empathy understand that sometimes telling little white lies can protect other people from getting hurt unnecessarily,” says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Connecticut. “Most people that I have come across tell these little white lies because they understand that 100 percent honesty all of the time is not beneficial.”
A white lie, she explains, spares people from unnecessary hurt. People who tell them should be praised for their kindness and the good outcome that usually comes from not saying potentially hurtful comments.
America is a supposedly Christian nation, and God Himself said that you should always tell the fucking truth. Is this Barbara Greenberg lady the Pope or something? If you have a consequentialist moral system, that’s fine, but you should say so and admit that other people go through life based on principles, as an alternative. Why do the ends justify the means here?
Has she not noticed how corrosive it is to society that everybody expects to be lied to all the time?