If I told you a lie, would you think less of me? Would you understand if down the road I explained that it was actually a “white” lie — a minor, polite or harmless lie, like a fib. Otherwise described as a trivial, diplomatic or well-intentioned untruth.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s good to remind yourself of this seeming contradiction: white lies for a positive purpose are okay; lying is not.
Some common reasons for white lies include not admitting to being pregnant in the first trimester, out of superstition; telling someone you’re taking her somewhere other than to a surprise party in her honour; and probably the most common occurrences revolve around children.
But is it always the right thing to do, since it’s basically not being honest? Children are especially sensitive to recognizing when facts simply don’t jive. When I was a child one of my friend’s parents passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.
My classmates and I were all told the same thing: it was an accident.
Two decades later I found out that the deceased had actually committed suicide. When I asked some of the others if they’d heard, they were all dumbfounded. This was a white lie that had been kept up for over 20 years.
Now it doesn’t affect my life either way, but it’s amazing to think that dozens of parents banded together, got their stories straight, and managed to remember for that long. Why did they do it? They didn’t want children to know that there was even a possibility that someone could kill himself.
I do find myself occasionally telling my child non-truths, such as “no, we can’t have ice cream for lunch because the store is closed” or “that isn’t broccoli, it’s a miniature tree grown just for eating” and “you have to go to the potty — they don’t have diapers on vacation.”
And every once in awhile I feel guilty about it (like the ice cream one), or have to back track to get out of it (like the diaper one). But I don’t feel as though I’m teaching my children anything amoral by telling them fibs, especially ones of such little importance and certainly nothing they’ll remember in a few years time.
Real lying, on the other hand, is completely different, and not something to be condoned. It is imperative to teach our children the difference between telling the truth and lying. There is nothing that can destroy a relationship as quickly and severely as an intentional lie.
Lisi Tesher is a much travelled freelance writer who has studied art history, photography, languages and pop culture. She is also a constant and fascinated student of relationships, maintaining contact with a worldwide network.