The Value of Lying

While I was eating at a restaurant a few days ago, I looked over at a couple sitting at a table nearby and thought about walking over and telling the woman, “You could do better, maybe not all that much better but better, nonetheless”. I doubt I could have gotten away with it.

Latter on, when a friend told me that it wouldn’t have been a good idea, I asked him, “When did being honest stop being a virtue?”, not that I seriously considered sharing my thoughts at the time in question. Upon retrospect, I’ve come to two conclusions.

  • Sometimes it’s good to lie (for instance, had I been asked in the example above), and perhaps even better avoid having to.
  • In all honesty, I don’t know why people lie so much when the truth is so much more devastating than any fictitious line could ever be.

I want to deal with the first point from here on end.

When do we lie? I’m sure we all do it to some extent. When asked by our girlfriends and wives if they look fat, we tell them they’re thin as rails, when in reality their thighs (seem to) look as thick as tree trunks (not that this has bothered me in the past). When asked to evaluate a friend’s work or art, we don’t think twice to proceed to give them empty flattery and fill them with false hope of a future in the area concerned –setting them up for a devastating fall (truly a worse evil than the lie itself, but let’s leave the evils of lying aside for this article). We tell our girlfriends their jeans don’t make them look fat … well this much may be true as it’s not the jeans, but the excess calories they carry around their waist and thighs.

I’m sure there are purely selfish reasons for lying but it seems obvious that in many cases we use lies to build and maintain the self-esteem and confidence of those we love (and maybe others, too). We lie to maintain civility, friendships, and to keep the objects of our love from suffering.

So rather than tell you to go out and lie with abandonment to all societal values and norms, I think it obvious there are occasions when the best thing you can do is to lie, or at least keep your mouth shut if you don’t have the stomach for it. But how do you teach it as a value? Furthermore, can you see religious figures trying to teach the value of it to their parishioners? Can you see yourself reading the gospels wherein Jesus says,

And he said unto the multitude, “For those without the stomach, it is better to remain silent. But for others it may be of great benefit to lied to, for it need not be what leaves one’s mouth that contaminates another’s soul, but how it affects his brother.

Remember always, what you don’t know cannot hurt you, but may save you. There is a time for truth, and there is a time for lying. Everything has a season. Those that have ears, listen!”.

And the multitude listened attentively and all who heard marveled in awe and asked, “Who is this man who speaks with such authority? From whence does does his authority come?”. “Is this not the son of Mary and Joseph, the carpenter?”.

Now, I can’t say I like to lie, or that I’m even particularly good at it. In fact, the opposite is true. In the fat examples above, I’m likely to respond with a calm, “Why yes, you’ve gained a little weight in the last while”, and probably have said so, several times. I do recall being told several times that I’m brutally honest. Just ask any of my ex-girlfriends. Thus judging from the potential reaction to an honest response in the above proposed situations, it dawns on me that knowing how to lie (what and when to utter one) may be a virtue (just not one that perceived moral authorities are wiling to accept, admit publicly,  and teach).

Maurice Cepeda

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