On some of the problems with “white lies”

A correspondent wrote the following to me:  “I like your idea of truth groups, and I would be willing to join one if it could accept my white lies.  I know that you allow lying for self-protection, and that is good.  Occasionally, I lie to protect others.  When my elderly grandmother asked me if I liked the pudding that she made, I lied to protect her feelings; and I am glad that I did.”

(To learn more about the idea of “truth groups,” please read the last section of Chapter 6 of Part I of my essay Against the Lie; or, for a quicker summary, read this post.)

I suspect that in this individual’s comment (which I include with his permission), he is expressing the general sentiments of many other people as well.  But I would contend that “white lies” are not necessarily as harmless as they might at first appear to be, and that a person’s desire to retain the ability to keep telling them does not necessarily provide a good reason to avoid joining a truth group whose members agreed not to tell any “white lies.”  The following story might help to illustrate why:

Let’s say that I make some pudding for you, and you actually think that it’s barely edible; but, to spare my feelings, you tell me that it is absolutely fantastic, the best pudding you’ve ever tasted, the best in the world.  And I make my pudding for various other people, and they all tell me pretty much the same thing.  I’m getting rave reviews from everyone who eats my bad pudding, because I’m “lucky” enough to be surrounded on all sides by a bunch of “nice people” who all supposedly want me to “feel good” about myself.  Everybody’s happy, right?

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