When is it (Not) Okay to Lie?

The good people at RoleReboot.com asked for a slightly different take on the notion that honesty is always the best policy. Fancying myself a psychological iconoclast, I chimed in with an article for them. There’s an excerpt below and go here for the entire piece. Enjoy.

Person A often reveals the truth under the guise of altruism or respect but, in reality, he or she is doing it to relieve his or her own guilt. People often fail to recognize that when they “get things off of their chest,” they often feel better, but they are transferring their pain onto the person who is hearing the words. This leads to a double kick in the teeth: “I’ve done something awful to you AND I’m going to ask you to help me feel better about it.” Guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion that most of us will do a lot to eradicate, and it’s particularly easy to do it when you believe that it’s “the right thing to do.” But simply believing that doesn’t make it so. It’s only the evolved person who ponders the question: Who benefits most from the truth and who will suffer because of it?

3 Responses to “When is it (Not) Okay to Lie?”

  1. Lisa says:

    Excellent article that goes beyond psychology and into the realm of ethics. The world would be a kinder place if we asked ourselves that question before making many of the decisions we make, whether they are regarding telling the truth or anything else. I’ve been on the giving end and receiving end of “apologies” such as you describe, the ones designed to relieve my own guilt or that of another. Such “apologies” are a mockery of the purpose of apologizing in the first place. But as you pointed out, guilt can make us do crazy things, including trying to turn those we’ve hurt into our own oppressors. Would it better, do you think, to simply own up to what you’ve done wrong and refuse to be forgiven until you’ve had a chance to somehow make amends? Not always possible, I know. But what say you?

  2. Rob Dobrenski says:

    @Lisa: This is really, really tough for me to wrap my mind around because the terms “forgiven” and “amends” can have so much variability based on person, lie and situation. This could make for another dozen posts.

  3. Lisa says:

    True. As you said, it’s all about motivation. Maybe I should have said it differently, the part about “refus[ing] to be forgiven until you’ve had a chance to somehow make amends.” I guess I’m just trying to find a way to make apologies genuine and without involving self-interest. It is really tough for me to wrap my mind around it too.

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