Thursday, August 6, 2009
T3 - White Lies
So many books are written using the concept of deceit. One of the MCs typically keeps something from the other, or they both do. Of course, by the end of the book, the lie comes out, usually ushering in the black moment when all is almost lost.
Most of these lies are called hard lies. There is no moral ambiguity about whether the lie is right or wrong. These types of lies—and in fiction, they are usually about someone’s identity or an aspect of their identity—are just always wrong. Some examples? A character allows someone to think they are someone else, or that they have a different career than they actually do, or that they have more/less money, or that they are a Christian when they aren’t…those types of falsehoods.
But there is another type of lie that just isn’t so cut and dried. The little white lie. It is said that white lies are said to protect someone else and hard lies are said to protect yourself. Think about the truthfulness of that statement for a second! Also, if a white lie comes out, supposedly the consequences wouldn’t be as bad compared to the consequences of an exposed hard lie.
In a poll done by iVillage.com where participants were asked whether it was ever okay to tell a little white lie, 47% of people said they’d lie if the truth hurts; 23% said they’d lie if there was no harm, no foul with the lie; 19% said no, they’d never lie; and 11% yes, they’d lie to avoid conflict.
So obviously white lies run rampant in the general population. But does that make them right?
Both white lies and hard lies are, in fact, by definition, LIES. A lie is a falsehood, and there is no moral spin on that definition. So no matter what your intention with the white lie, it’s still a lie due to the fact it’s a falsehood. I’m not going to dispute this with anyone, but I welcome your dissenting opinions in the comment section.
I want to focus on white lies for the rest of the post. Here’s a definition compiled from several online sources: an unimportant lie (especially one told to be tactful or polite); an often trivial, diplomatic or well-intentioned untruth.
Usually, people give these white lies about a friend’s new outfit or haircut. Or at the end of a horrendous date, you look over at your flushed companion and say, “I had a nice time.” Or you rave about your husband’s new recipe but scrape it down the sink first chance you get. And to really hit home, what about all those book reviews you give on your blog that aren’t truly how you felt about the book? [Enter music from Psycho here…Jeannie wielding the butcher knife…]
Before you start to collect logs for a Jeannie-roast (and yes, I realize that rhymes with weenie roast—so no smart comments), I want to say that I’m not advocating that you STOP doing the above things. I believe there are times when white lies are appropriate—even preferred. And as I usually try to do, my opinion is based on some verses in the Bible.
Look at Rahab in the Old Testament. She took in the spies Joshua sent to scope out Jericho. The King of Jericho sent Rahab a message telling her to bring out the men, but Rahab lied and said the men had already come and gone. She said she didn’t know which direction they went, and went so far as to tell the king’s men if they went quickly, the could catch up with the spies! James commends Rahab in James 2:25 for her righteousness and execution of good judgment (white lie). She lied to protect the lives of the spies.
Another incident was in Exodus 1 when the King of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn baby boys. Verse 15 reads, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” They lied to Pharaoh to protect the lives of the little boy children.
Gregory Koukl, the founder and president of Stand to Reason, a website devoted to defending the faith and "equipping Christian ambassadors with knowledge, wisdom, and character," said in a radio telecast the following: “I think there are many things that, in isolation, would be wrong, but when a higher moral good is served, they not only become not wrong, they become obligatory” (1995).
If there’s going to be any wiggle room, it’ll be found with the white lies (that we or our characters tell). But where is the line between the morally “right” white lie and the morally “wrong” white lie? Why should this even be important?
I think when you tell a white lie to avoid some discomfort on your part, then that’s bordering on not morally “right.” The above instances of white lies really do pack a punch! I mean, Rahab and the Hebrew midwives were saving lives with their lies. If all you’re saving is someone else giving you a hard time or quibbling with you over your opinion, that’s probably not enough.
One alternative is to just speak the truth in love, and open up the possibility for further communication. You can say something truthful and not be harmful about it, it just takes additional thought and finesse on your part (that we usually don’t want to give). When you give a white lie, the dialogue is closed off…unable to penetrate further because the other person isn’t privy to how you really feel. And what does this say about our trust of the other person? The answer is that is says we don’t trust them.
I guess I just want you and I to think about the reasons behind our (or our characters’) white lies. Is it something chronically overused or is it just the occasional I-don’t-want-to-hurt-my-spouse/friend thing? Is it more about you and your lack of wanting to be confrontational or be seen in a disapproving light or is it more about the person you think you’re protecting from your real opinion?
These are the questions our characters should wrestle with, too. Does one of your MCs glibly spout of white lies…much like Jim Carrey’s character on Liar, Liar? Or does one white lie really rack your heroine with guilt, because she thinks all liars will go to Hell (Rev. 21:8, people…not making that up…but obviously decided not to go there with this post)? And what about lies catching up with them?
Q4U: Have you ever given a white lie and had it come back to bite you BIG time?