When lying is good

As a youth, I was taught to never lie and at some point in my life (probably on my mission), I read an account of an individual who’s sole goal in life was to be known as an honest and trustworthy man. He wanted it on his tombstone. And of course he wanted to live his life in a manner that would make that designation true. I accepted that as a valiant goal and promised myself that I would strive to do the same. I promised myself that I would never lie. I’m one that believes that some things can easily be black and white while other issues remain in the “gray” area. I consider(ed?) lying to be very black and white.

The other day I was listening to my current book in the Tales of Alvin Maker, and a character started talking about different types of lying. The types of lies or liars ranged from the “good” liar to the professional/evil liar.

The “good” liar is one who lies in order to accomplish good things such as the mother who tells a less attractive daughter that she is pretty. Or perhaps a father who protects his family by telling them he is a paper salesman when in reality he is an agent for the government.

The evil or professional liar is one who lies in order to degrade others or to accomplish truly evil things.

Between these two extremes are the casual (socially acceptable) lies and white lies that make life easier. Probably the most common lie in our society is the “I’m fine.”

“Hey, how are you?”

“Oh fine. You?”

In my book, the character is able to see through lies. Not just see through lies, but she also knows the thoughts and feelings of any individual. She’s a “torch” and can see the “heartfire” of other individuals (it is a fantasy novel after all). So when she knows someone is lying, she also knows why they are lying and their true intentions (even if the person doesn’t know their true intentions). So she has some interesting perceptions and indicates that there are some lies that are good. It all depends on the intent of the person behind the lie.

So is some lying acceptable? I’ve always been one to always tell the truth even when it’s socially not really correct. When someone asks how they did in a play, I tell them what I really think. I may leave out some details, but I try to never lie. Is that wrong? Should I be telling people that they are great singers when they aren’t just so I can later see them on American Idol (at the beginning of the season — bad singers).

Is it ok to lie to spare someone’s feelings? Is it really a lie when you tell someone you are fine even when you are not? Is it a lie when you tell your less attractive daughter that she is just as pretty as the next girl.

I’ve always taken the approach that a lie is a lie no matter what the purpose. So what say ye?

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4 Responses

  1. Mike W. says:

    There is always an alternative to telling a lie. One can tell a daughter that the world sees as unattractive that she is truly beautiful. That’s in no way a lie.

    The problem with using lies to accomplish a “good end” is that once one choses a certain means, the consequences automatically follow. Philosophy and pragmatism teach that often times the end justifies the means. In reality, the means determines the end. It’s like a sowing tares and expecting to harvest wheat.

    If we sow lies and hope to harvest a loving, sincere and deep relationship we are profoundly deceiving ourselves. The world does it all the time and I’m sure to OSC it’s okay because he is a pragmatist. To me it’s just a profound logical disconnect to sow one thing and expect an opposite result.

  2. Reluctant says:

    I mostly agree with you Mike. But there are many who would argue that sometimes a lie is “needed.” You can’t always rephrase a potential lie to make it sound better. It worked in the ugly daughter scenario, but what about the government agent?

    If he is required by his employment to not tell his family what he does, how can he get around that? I know there is always the choice of changing jobs, but someone has to do this secret “national security” stuff. So someone has to lie to their loved ones.

  3. Reluctant says:

    Oh… and don’t necessarily blame OSC here. It’s not like his characters always do and think the way he feels is right. After all, in one of his books, the “hero” has a homosexual experience and I’m confident that OSC doesn’t agree with that. I honestly don’t know his feelings in this situation.

  4. Mike W. says:

    Can he not say “The job I do requires secrecy and it is very important”? I don’t that it violates the law of honesty. I just think that Card has bought into the idea (just like everyone out there who considers himself a “realist”) that Greco-Roman ideals are more practical and therefore more valuable than gospel values that can be sacrificed at whim for expediency.

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