Discover more from Random Minds by Katherine Brodsky
Virtuous Liars & Noble Lies
What’s one thing that takes a long time to build, but merely moments to lose? Trust.
It’s easy to erode trust. All you have to do is not tell the truth. See? Easy. That’s why we must strive to be as accurate and truthful with our words as possible. When a lie gets mixed in with the truth, the lie dishonors and puts it under suspicion.
Besides, if a person or an organization is capable of lying once, why would it hesitate to do so again?
“But it was for the common good,” they’ll say. There’s always a good reason one might find to justify a lie. A “noble” lie, even. But by withholding the truth from someone, you’re not merely betraying their trust, you’re also robbing them of the opportunity and freedom to make their own informed decisions—decisions that are based on truth, not false pretenses or narratives.
Of course, many virtuous liars might hold the belief that they are able to predict the consequences of their lies, but it’s impossible — that is, without calling Miss Cleo on her special psychic hotline. And that’s an expensive call. So, short of divine intervention, those who lie in order to affect a certain kind of behavior or outcome are in essence playing God, and they are narcissistic enough to believe that they can.
Humans may forgive a friend they like (or love) for lying, for making a mistake—they are far more reluctant to forgive a leader, let alone an institution. Once that trust crumbles, no amount of the truth will repair it because the truth won’t even be recognized as such.
Of course, there are certain instances of lying or deceit that we may consider acceptable. For example, if a loan shark comes looking for your best friend, you’re probably better off telling them that they’ve left the country. And I’d certainly hope that the courageous people hiding Jews in the basement to keep them safe would also lie, should the Nazis show up on their doorsteps. Here, you’re dealing with unjust, irrational, and immoral governments and individuals. Enemies, if you will. But when your government lies to you and thinks that its justified, what might that imply about how they view the population they have been sworn in to represent?
Then there’s the matter of little white lies. We tell them because we don’t want to hurt others—and, also, perhaps because it’s uncomfortable for us too. Telling the truth isn’t always pleasant. Maybe your friend asks if a dress she just bought looks good on her? You don’t like it, but you nod your head anyways. But what if she could still return it? Or adjust the fit? A romantic partner toiled over a delicious meal that didn’t turn out so delicious—you eat it and compliment the chef to spare their feelings. But what if you told them that you truly appreciated their efforts and then suggested a few ways to improve? Would that help them grow, or just hurt their feelings?
Life is complicated. Our decisions are too. And, not lying, doesn’t mean that you have to be brutal with the truth either. Compassion and truth are not mutually exclusive. Truth can be delivered with great care. But by sharing the truth, you’re respecting the autonomy of the person that you care for, as well as their ability to be rational.
Would you rather make decisions based on the most complete and accurate information you can get, or seek your way out of the woods without a compass?
And, speaking of honesty, if you don’t speak the truth of what you believe and feel, those around you will never know the true you. That makes for some pretty inauthentic relationships.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.