Lying is Not Always Bad, Right?
If you grew up like me you were taught that “liars go to hell,” and have since then tried your damnedest to always tell the truth. People without super religious parents most likely still heard some version of this and were simply told that lying is wrong.
Most of us could probably agree that deliberately deceiving someone for our own gains is dishonorable. But what if it benefits the person receiving the lie?
Let me guess, you’re sitting here racking your brain for times when it could possibly be okay to lie, and you can’t think of any examples that would make you feel less than slimy.
Your best friend just spent an hour on her make-up getting ready to go on a date with her dream date. She asks you how she looks on her way out the door. Do you tell your friend she looks like a prostitute mixed with a clown and ruin her self confidence? Or let her march towards her doom?
So maybe not everything is black and white. Gerald Dworkin, professor of philosophy, wrote in the New York Times that he would find the following situations permissible to tell a casual fib for the greater good…
- A man lies to his wife about where they are going in order to get her to a place where a surprise birthday party has been organized.
- A young child is rescued from a plane crash in a very weakened state. His parents have been killed in the crash but he is unaware of this. He asks about his parents and the attending physician says they are O.K. He intends to tell the truth once the child is stronger.
- Your father suffers from severe dementia and is in a nursing home. When it is time for you to leave he becomes extremely agitated and often has to be restrained. On the occasions when you have said you would be back tomorrow he was quite peaceful about your leaving. You tell him now every time you leave that you will be back tomorrow knowing that in a very short time after you leave he will have forgotten what you said.
- A woman’s husband drowned in a car accident when the car plunged off a bridge into a body of water. It was clear from the physical evidence that he desperately tried to get out of the car and died a dreadful death. At the hospital where his body was brought his wife asked the physician in attendance what kind of death her husband suffered. He replied, “He died immediately from the impact of the crash. He did not suffer.”
All of a sudden lying doesn’t seem so bad now.
Now please don’t take this as encouragement to go out there and lie your way through life to get what you want, but in the very least these examples might have you thinking. They certainly have me scratching my head wondering, “Is not telling the truth really that bad?”
Who decided lying was bad anyway? Who wrote that rule?
Well, God apparently. A lot of people try to live their lives according to the Bible and the ten commandments, which includes “Thou shalt not lie.” If religion is what holds you accountable to have morals, then I’m all for it.
An eight-teenth century philosopher by the name of Immanuel Kant also decided that under no circumstance is lying acceptable.
The famous expression “I can’t tell a lie” is said to have been from George Washington, but it’s a good way to remember this philosophers name too. I KANT tell a lie!
According to Kant, we all have an absolute duty to tell the truth, no matter the consequences; even if that included telling a murderer where your loved one is so they can go kill them. He argues that if you lie to the murderer, and they find and kill your family member anyway, then their death belongs on your conscious.
Sorry Kant, but if an axe murderer showed up at my doorstep demanding to know where my mom was, I would lie my ass off. Does that make me a morally repugnant person? I’m ok with that if that’s the case.
I also lied last night and told my partner I didn’t want the last few bites of ice cream, because I knew he wanted to finish it and wouldn’t have eaten it if he knew I wanted it.