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The Impact of Little White Lies

March 12, 2019  | 
https://www.clarepiromediation.com/blog/the-impact-of-little-white-lies/181/

{4:00 minutes to read} In his book Lying, Sam Harris explains how a seminar he took as an undergraduate led him on a path to believe that any lying, even what most may deem “a little white lie,” is harmful. The seminar was called The Ethical Analyst, and it focused on the question “Is it wrong to lie?” In the course, he learned that lies damage personal relationships and violate the public trust, whether they are big or small.

The book caused me to reflect much more on the justifications we make for being less than truthful. I’m referring to how we think of ourselves as basically honest people even though we may engage in a little white lie about something small to spare another person’s feelings. According to Sam Harris, there is no such thing as a lie without consequences, and the sparing of feelings is not the result of a lie.

Think About It From the Other’s Perspective

We tend to think that a lie over a trivial matter, such as feigning illness if you don’t want to meet with a friend, is just done to protect the other person. But when seen from the other’s perspective, it would be perceived as a betrayal of trust as opposed to an act of kindness.

A Little White Lie Is Still a Lie

When a person is dishonest, they are lying, and that causes a loss of integrity. It also denies the other person the opportunity to know the truth and perhaps act differently. Think of the classic question “Do I look fat in this outfit?” We all laugh and say the answer is always no, but by lying about how you really think the person looks, you potentially prevent them from dressing in a way that would be more flattering.

Unwarranted Praise

There is another familiar lie that we may think of as harmless and sparing the recipient from unnecessary embarrassment. This is when you tell someone that he or she performed well or did a good job when you really don’t think they did. Telling this lie is unfair to the person and, more importantly, it denies them the opportunity to receive criticism that could actually help them to improve their performance.

The Accumulation of Falsehoods

It’s easy to remember the truth, but much more challenging to remember to whom you told what lie. And if you tell a lot of little white lies, you have to remember the falsehoods long into the future. For example, the fact that months ago you said you had the stomach flu and couldn’t go to a party may be unremarkable to you, but not if your friend who had the party asks if you got over your illness, what caused it, and how you are feeling now. This, of course, can lead you to tell yet another little lie or lies. It is daunting for you and if caught in the lie — even a little one — it can cause others to lose trust in you.

To be clear, this post isn’t reflecting upon pathological or serial liars, who lie about things big, small and meaningless. These types of blatant lies by a leader out to manipulate the public and stoke fears in people are devastating. And on a personal level, I see the harmful effects of major lies between spouses when I mediate. We usually can’t do anything about those situations, but the little lies count too, and those are entirely within our control.

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
500 Mamaroneck Avenue | Suite 320
Harrison, NY 10528
Tel: 914.946.0848

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