Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Good lies?

A recent CNN article on lying caught my attention the other day. It seemed to be an extension of the blog entry I wrote the other week about things being sinful due to context rather than in an absolute way. Please read the CNN article and then come back here—I found it impossible to excerpt. (It’s a quick read.)

It’s really making me think. I’ve been known to be a stickler about lying. On the one hand, I’m fanatical about ensuring that the words that pass my lips are 100% honest. On the other hand, though, I’ve become somewhat of a master of spin. So there’s a lot of words that *don’t* pass my lips. I may think them, but I don’t say them. Is that lying? Is that wrong?

I definitely don’t appreciate these kinds of verbal “sins of omission” if someone does it to me, especially family or close friends. But on the other hand, I’m often grateful to find out afterward that someone spared my feelings or purposely made my day less stressful.

A few years back, my 16- and 12-year-old kids were packing to go to camp (a scene that’s soon to be repeated this weekend). I had gotten them everything they needed the week before, and now they were supposed to be dutifully filling up their duffle bags. It was late Friday night; the plane was early Saturday.

Going down my son’s list, I discovered that one essential, hard-to-get item was missing. Frazzled and exhausted, I confess I got pretty darn angry. I was in the middle of my tirade when his older sister piped up, “I found it!”

Ah. I settled down, and then just left them to finish up their packing. As far as I know, they made it through camp fine, whether or not they had everything.

It turned out later that my daughter had given her item to her brother to keep me from going ballistic. She knew she’d have a chance to get a replacement since she wasn’t going straight to camp that year but was visiting family first. So, she just handled it.

And I’m only grateful. I’m also impressed with her presence of mind, and her love for all concerned. She frankly deceived me, but I think she stood up for a greater good.

So… Lying. It’s against a commandment, that’s for sure: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” But even that sets up a context—you shouldn’t lie to harm someone else. Lying to help someone… does that work? Perhaps not if it hurts a third person, but if the circumstances are right, who knows?

There’s a well-known sentence in Science and Health: “Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help.” And that sounds pretty absolute—not a lot of wiggle room there. But, in the name of context, I’d like to share the entire paragraph.

Teach your student that he must know himself before he can know others and minister to human needs. Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help. You uncover sin, not in order to injure, but in order to bless the corporeal man; and a right motive has its reward. Hidden sin is spiritual wickedness in high places. The masquerader in this Science thanks God that there is no evil, yet serves evil in the name of good.

It’s worthy of note that the statement about honesty is associated with a paragraph about knowing yourself and fighting sin. So, perhaps the worst form of dishonesty is when we’re fooling ourselves, and letting ourselves off the hook for wrongdoing through self-justification or rationalization. There’s no excuse for this kind of lying.

But using words to harm others, even if they’re honest, is also wrong. I’ve had to learn the difference between being honest and being blunt, between stating the bald facts and considering people’s feelings. I’ve had to learn how to package an unpleasant message with loving commentary, and how to keep back details that would only add fuel to the flame. And I know by definition I’m only seeing things from my own perspective, so in the end, how completely accurate can I ever be?

So it’s a tricky thing. In the end, and what I think the CNN article is saying people are okay with, lies that help or comfort are acceptable. It’s lies that harm that need to be scrupulously avoided. And I’d add to that self-deception covering character weaknesses that need to be overcome.

Or am I on a slippery slope here?


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5 Comments:

At 7/18/2006 10:39:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

Slippery, perhaps, but well-populated.

You have to be very careful how and when you omit facts or flat-out lie to protect someone's feelings. I just handled a situation where two people were hurt by a misunderstanding created by some overenthusiastic matchmakers who spoke out of turn and either stretched or completely ignored the truth. Their intent was good, but their approach ... not so much.

I think that when we are genuinely listening for the Father's direction and genuinely following our highest sense of right, we can usually find the right words to fit the situation without having to resort to human solutions that may not be the most effective or helpful.

 
At 7/18/2006 11:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your daughter could have said, 'here, take mine, i can get another tomorrow at --' and it would have been fine. that she felt the need to stretch the truth indicates something about you as seen in her eyes.

i'm surprised sometimes to realize that i'm telling the truth all the time. not being "brutally honest" just that telling the truth is better. working from a position of love, everything falls into line.

-ObiDon

 
At 7/18/2006 06:12:00 PM, Anonymous Rev. Veronika said...

I am reminded by your article that we are given the advice in the Bible not to say more then 'yes' and 'no!' Also, in one of the gospels Jesus says that every word we say is weighed on judgment day. This must also include our thoughts. This brings me to the practice of inner peace and stillness as the basis from which to start. When I look into the book of Job it comes to me that at first they started talking about God, then Job talked to God and only last did he listen to God. I think he was healed when he learned that listening to God in the inner stillness comes first!

 
At 7/19/2006 12:18:00 PM, Blogger kindli said...

The CNN article reminded me of shopping with my friends for clothes. When they ask "Does this make my butt look big?" What do you say? Is a "white lie" acceptable?

My friends and I eventually came up with a series of replies including "It is not the most flattering for your figure" and while it avoids the direct issue, still manages to answer the question honestly. We're not being brutally honest, but we're not sugarcoating the issues either.

I talked about this with my husband, he says its like being painted into a corner. We've tried to keep little white lies out of our marriage. Most of the time we've just found it easier to admit we did something stupid (or forgot to do something) than it is to lie about it and get found out.

 
At 7/21/2006 12:25:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

I liked how the article addressed timing. If you are waiting for your cue to walk down the aisle at your wedding, and you ask me if the very unflattering dress that you are wearing makes your butt look big, I am going to lie like a cheap rug. Why? Because there is absolutely nothing either of us can do about the fact that the dress does, indeed, make your butt look big, and the truth is only going to make you more nervous than you already are. Also, in that moment, you might say, "Does this dress make my butt look big?" but what you really mean is, "I'm nervous. This is an exciting but really scary moment. Will you say something to make me feel better?" And when I say, "You look beautiful in that dress," I am not lying, because what I am really saying is, "You are my friend, and I will support you and love you no matter what, and I want you to feel happy and confident as you take this very big step."

If, on the other hand, we are in the process of *shopping* for your wedding gown, then I would be a pretty rotten friend if I let you leave the store with a dress that I knew for fact made your butt look big. In that instance, you really *are* asking me how the outfit looks on you, because you really need an honest answer to that question so you can make an intelligent decision about what to buy.

I think sometimes we dig holes for ourselves because we fail to listen beyond words for the real meaning of what people are saying to us.

 

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