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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 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?

Wordle: signature


MeganRebekah said...

Very interesting post, this is something that I always discuss with my sister and brother-in-law.

Another time I always worry about this type of thing is with beta reading. If I'm reading someone else's work, I always wonder beforehand what I'll so if I hate the book or just know it's not publishable. Luckily, I haven't come across anything bad, but the worry is lurking in my mind.

I'll be interested to see what others have to say about all this.

Oh, and lying definitely comes into play in my book, and many different levels.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think EVERYONE tells little white lies every now and then. You aren't going to say, "No, I can't come to your party. Why? Because I don't want to hang out with you. You're annoying." So you make up an excuse. Or someone comes in and says, "Do you like my new haircut?" It looks HORRIBLE. You can try to find something nice to say about it, but sometimes nothing but a lie will do.

Katie Ganshert said...

Very interesting fodder to chew over. I know I've told white lies. In fact, I used to tell them A LOT. Hubby and I both did. Mainly to make excuses for invitations or whatever. Then we discussed it and decided we needed to stop. We don't want to teach our children this is okay, ya know? What we've discovered: when we tell people we can't come over or whatever, they usually don't even ask why. So we were giving white lies for nothing. Silly us.

SM Blooding said...

I am shunned and have been ex-communicated from my entire family...for some stupid white lie that I told my mother to make her feel better--VERY similar to what Stephanie mentioned--and then it came back to her and Holy PETE! It went bad.

I am a horrible, rotten person--*biting tongue* It actually got a LOT worse than that--who doesn't deserve to HAVE a family (bad, bad, bad and I do realize that we're all clinically insane)and it's something that I can't recover from.

I tell it like it is. And now? I'm a...I don't want to curse here, but I'm--yet again, mind you--a VERY not-nice person. I still do a couple of little white lies, but they are few and far between.

I think I'm just surrounded by people who WANT to not like me. Just family. Friends and coworkers are awesome!

Tara McClendon said...

Here's an example of where not telling a white lie caused major problems. In his attempt to be truthful, my hubby once told me that he loved everything about me except my cellulite. ("Oh no, he didn't!" is the appropriate response.) This was not good for our marriage nor for our physical times together. He now knows that even if I'm in the room next to Megan Fox, he better say I'm the sexiest woman there!

Jessica Nelson said...

No, I don't like white lies at all. Except for those biblical examples, or like during the Holocaust to protect people.

Terri Tiffany said...

I try really really hard to come up with truth when faced with a situation where I might hurt a person --like saying no to an outing, I will say I really don't like the movies if I don't or I am tired out if I am. But it is hard not to want to hurt people especially persistant ones.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

sounds like we're all at different places concerning white lies. i didn't think we'd reach a consensus... :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Is evasiveness considered a white lie? If so I'm guilty.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

ha!'ve probably hit on the "out" we all need. just be evasive...vague...general. :)

Heather Sunseri said...

What a difficult subject, Jeannie. My minister did a couple of sermons recently about lying, during which he explained that even the tiniest of white lies is a sin. Part II of the sermon focused on whether there's such a thing as a lesser or greater sin. I believe a lie is a lie no matter how big or small, and a sin is a sin. Having said that, am I perfect? Absolutely not and I would be lying if I told you I never tell a lie.

Great post!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

heather - i would be interested in hearing your pastor's comments on greater or lesser sins. i ran across a commentary that said there were greater and lesser sins based on Jesus having said, "The one who turned me over to you has committed the greater sin." (something like paraphrase). i've never heard of anything like this please email me any info you have! charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com

Tabitha Bird said...

Wonderful stuff Jeannie. I think it is so important to get to the bottom of 'white lies' and the motivations our characters may have for using them.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Oh, Jeannie, this is such a great post-- thank you!
I have struggled not only with white lies, but deception, which is even more sinister. You hide the truth, or only reveal part of it to make yourself look better than you are. Oh dear.

Yes, I've been caught. Mostly by the Holy Spirit, other times by people. No fun either way. Speaking the truth in love, as you say, is always easier in the long run.

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