Lying: Does It Sometimes Help?

October 13, 2016

If we ask ourselves, surely most of us would say we hate lying and do not tolerate deceit. In general, we address the issue in a moral way and therefore condemn any behavior that is associated with falsehood. The funny thing is that most of us also lie occasionally. They are”white lies” that we tell to lower the offensiveness of what we are announcing.

What if nobody in the world ever told lies? For example you meet someone and you say, “You look so ugly!”; or your boss welcomes you by saying, “I think you’re an idiot and I’m looking for an opportunity to fire you.” Or you invite someone to dinner at your house and at the end, instead of saying “thank you”, they say rather “You cook terribly. What tasteless food.”

“Without lies humanity would die of despair and boredom”

-Anatole France –

This kind of brutal honesty would be taken for rudeness. So, even if we say that we do not like lies, we must recognize that we don’t like certain truths either. And there are cases in which lying is not deceit in the moral sense, but a way to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Is it valid to lie?

As in almost all human behavior, the most important thing is not the behavior itself, but the intention behind each act. There are those who boast of being absolutely honest and go around inconsiderately “singing truths” to everyone. We should really think about whether their intention is to tell the truth or, rather, to hurt by using a moral pretext.


Similarly, there are people who lie with a laudable intention. Some time ago a reporter said that his mother had fallen ill and the doctor called him aside to give him the diagnosis. “Pancreatic cancer,” he said. The man insistently asked him not to tell his mother because she was an extremely impressionable person and the news would affect her too much.

The doctor, alluding to his ethics, told the woman what the diagnosis was. She was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a week later died of a hypertensive emergency. This truth caused her so much fear and suffering that this news was worse than having kept her in the dark. Sometimes lying helps, at least until we find it best to tell the truth.

So a lie can only be assessed when taking into account its motives and the effects it brings. If the intention is to avoid a greater evil, it is reasonable to put aside the moral issue and focus on the practical effect of the truth. Lying is not always reprehensible.

Lying to take advantage

If the purpose of lying is to satisfy a selfish desire or profit in some way, the situation is very different. In this case, the lie is considered a tool for manipulation. The truth is omitted or distorted with the objective of putting the other person in a state of vulnerability.


That kind of lie only helps the person who tells them. Instead of avoiding unnecessary suffering or conflicts, they foster them instead. The same happens when you lie for fear of facing a truth or taking some responsibility. Far from being a formula to keep the situation on good terms, it is like a poison that is polluting everything around them.

There is also another kind of lie that is even used in some forms of therapy. They are those phrases that are not very certain, but ones a person constantly repeats to themselves to operate by auto-suggestion. It is the case of saying, “I’m fine and I’ll be better,” although the facts indicate otherwise. In this case, it is similar to some advertising mechanism by which “a lie repeated a thousand times can become true“.

Sometimes we fool ourselves to overcome a bad time or because we simply are not ready to face the truth. The trouble is that this process is not always conscious and sometimes we end up getting settled in those lies and get stuck in them.

Therefore, although in some cases lying helps us without a doubt, in the truly relevant aspects, the truth helps more. Either way, do not forget that the lie has a price. If you tell someone who is a bad cook that you like their food, you’ll have to keep eating it. If you tell a more important lie the price may be higher and such a lie may end your relationship.


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