To Stop The Crying, Keep On (White) Lying!

There are tiny voices in each of us; a conscience that triggers our sense of morality and guilts us when we say or do something wrong. These voices scold us and make us feel shame, sorrow and regret. Many people have been victims of their own conscience, in fact, it’s inevitable. 

However, there is one falsehood to the universal ethic that is lying. To lie is to deceive and, in some cases, betray another person. Yet, one might wonder the circumstances under which it is okay to do this. Sometimes lying to one person leads to saving another person, emotionally or even physically. Surely, your conscience couldn’t blame you for this, and if it does, to hell with it!

It is important to acknowledge that lying isn’t great, and shouldn’t be done regularly, but there is a level at which the truth must be sacrificed in order to spare someone else’s feelings. Such a form of lying would be considered telling a “white lie,” which is formally defined as “a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person.” It is important to delve into this meaning so that people acknowledge the variety of scenarios that involve telling a lie in order to help someone else.

First and foremost, there are innocent situations in which a person can lie to another individual. “Does this dress make me look fat?” Karen asks, to which you sweetly and devilishly reply, “Absolutely not! In fact, have you lost weight?” Okay, okay, this might be viewed as sugarcoating, but what cruel person is going to tell Karen she looks like she put on a few pounds?

The role of any friend is to politely and kindly respond to all the Karens of the world when they ask such questions. Simply put, telling a white lie in this situation is the best way to avoid conflict and hurt feelings. In an article on whether or not white lying is “kind or cruel,” a psychologist reflects on this idea by stating that empathy is a critical factor leading to why people lie. It can also demonstrate how one’s personal feelings and care toward others can cause them to tell a white lie, ultimately wanting to serve as a protector.

Yet, one thing remains clear: the gist of white lies revolve around the context of the situation. One famous white lie we often tell ourselves and others is that we are “fine.” This is because the motivation of most people “is to uphold social norms,” as identified by Kelly Shi, a former applied ethics student and journalist at Santa Clara University. Additionally, a person telling others that they are “fine” when asked can prevent them from digging into another’s business, especially on a day when nothing seems to go right. This might save someone the bother of explaining what is giving them a difficult time if they don’t want to share.

White lies are unavoidable and abundant. Oftentimes, people (including myself) don’t realize how many times they say a white lie, in fact, if you’ve ever said these common phrases, you are as guilty as anyone:

  1. “My phone died.”
  2. “Your haircut looks amazing!”
  3. “That makes sense.”
  4. “I can’t come in today, I’m sick.”
  5. “I’ll call you later.”
  6. “I’m listening.” 

Furthermore, there are moments in which lying is critical to someone’s safety. Hear me out: you bump into a woman who is seemingly being followed by a suspicious man. She tells you with angst in her voice that you must not tell that man where she is going because he is trying to harm her. Before you get a chance to call for the police, the man comes up and asks you which direction she went. Do you tell him, or lie? Unless you have a grudge against this woman, it is likely that you will trick the man by telling him she went another direction. Yes, this situation is not very probable, but it can surely happen. 

To discuss something a little more realistic, white lying is prevalent in our society to maintain the identities of certain holiday figures, such as Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy. Yes, as most people already know (and if not, I’m terribly sorry), neither Santa Clause nor the Tooth Fairy exist. However, parents uphold this white lie to keep their children spirited and imaginative. It is no fun to tell a child that you buy them Christmas presents and place them under the tree yourself. By telling them a man in a red suit with an appetite for cookies brings them, the holiday becomes exciting and sparks curiosity.

Another term for this kind of lie is known as a “prosocial lie;” a lie told for another’s benefit. It might be shocking to find out that most of us learn to lie when we are children ourselves, seeing as though by then, we can gain a sense of empathy and compassion. In an article about lying, it is stated that people have four distinct human capacities, which are “theory of mind, empathy, compassion, and the combination of memory and imagination that allows us to foresee the consequences of our words.”

To prove that children have these capacities, a study was conducted by Harvard psychologist Felix Warneken to see whether or not a child would lie about the quality of art pieces. In the study, if the younger child saw that the artist appeared sad when they told the truth, they resorted to white lying and saying that they didn’t think their picture was “that” bad. This study makes clear that white lying stems from not wanting to hurt others and is thus not entirely bad or wrong.

Whether to white lie isn’t just a dilemma for philosophers, but a code of ethics that can be cracked by anyone with common sense. It should be obvious to the best of us that telling the truth is necessary in situations that can seriously affect others, however, white lying can be harmless and at times, beneficial. Though it comes down to one’s moral compass, the majority of people would agree that protecting another’s feelings, life or simply keeping children happy, is worth having a slightly guilty conscience.

Kiana Perez Granados believes that some white lies are simply necessary to preserve one’s feelings, as well as to keep the spirit alive for children these days. 

Melody Wang / Daily Nexus

Pretty Little (White) Liars? Look Where They Ended Up

“I just wanted to feel something inside.” 

Said Fraser, a compulsive liar whose initially harmless lies spin out of control over time in the 1997 comedy “Liar Liar.” He told the lady at his swimming pool the day before that he was healing from a grievous torn ACL injury when he was, in reality, just swimming for exercise. In the past, he’d made up at least five fake, dead family members to get out of awkward social situations. Today, he’s a self-confessed compulsive liar. And he can’t stop. 

Plus,And remember the tragic story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, whose mother lied about her having sleep apnea as a baby, leukemia as a child and a whole boatload of diseases and conditions in order to garner sympathy and free benefits? Fact is, it’s a slippery slope between a simple white lie and full out crazy. 

Even the smallest white lies can quickly spiral out of control. 

Let’s look at this issue from a social aspect. Say one of your good friends just bought a hideous pair of cowboy boots and is ecstatic about it (like Chidi from “The Good Place”). They’re clearly over the moon about this, and to avoid hurting their feelings, you make a teensy lie and tell them that you think the boots look amazing. 

Well guess what happened to Chidi after he made a small white lie that one time? He was tortured over it for the next decade of his life. This is more of an extreme example, but it highlights how white lies can have a detrimental impact on your life. First you make a small lie, then your friend buys you a pair of those hideous (and very expensive) boots because you said you like them so much and then you have to wear those hideous boots everytime you see them. What do you do then? 

It seems like so many problems can be swept under the rug by a little white lying, but in reality, that just leads to bigger problems (and more prolonged anxiety since you’re worried about your little lie being discovered). 

From an ethical standpoint, lies, even white lies, aren’t really encouraged. The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that lying, no matter what kind, was morally wrong. But, you might argue, while clutching your threatened moral uprightness, that white lies are harmless, they’re just told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, that it’s actually told in good faith. But according to the BBC Ethics Guide, white lies are still not great. First, the person being lied to doesn’t get information that they might find helpful, though unpleasant. Second, the person telling the lies finds it easier to lie in the future and may end up blurring the boundary between white lies and more serious lies. 

In the end, the way to go is if you’re not going to say something nice, don’t say anything at all, unless it’s constructive criticism which is often very helpful. You don’t need to dig yourself into a pit of white lies in order to cover for yourself or make somebody else falsely feel better. 

The scary thing is that we don’t even notice it sometimes. It just slips out. Oh, I’m doing great today (when today sucked); yeah I forgot my homework at home, can I turn it in tomorrow (you didn’t do it because you were binging “Parks and Recreation”); oh my god your dress looks so cute (eh, it looks okay). Lying is truly a slippery slope that becomes easier to do with every lie. You start off with something small and innocuous — sorry I’m late, my car broke down (it didn’t) — and then you’re making up dead family members to get out of a social event so you can go back home and watch more Netflix. 

White lies may seem innocuous at first, but unless you want to end up like Fraser, a compulsive liar, you’d better start reigning in the lies. According to Psychology Today, people lie an average of 1.65 times a day. So start acknowledging your lies, and save your quota for the dreaded “do these jeans make me look fat?” 

Going broader, the pervasiveness of white lies as a cultural norm has also been used to excuse thinly veiled political propaganda — blatant lying — and it’s affected modern discourse as we see it today. 

We see this sort of shit all over the internet. It’s called fake news. People posting falsified news events that look realistic enough to garner sympathy and attention from the infinite masses of the online world. Added to that, certain people in mainstream political parties (ahem, I think you know who) erode our trust with the proliferation of blatant lies, fake news and bullshit — so much so that a lot of it doesn’t even register to the American public anymore. 

When Hope Hicks resigned in 2018, she openly admitted that her job occasionally required her to tell “white lies” for President Donald Trump. These “white lies,” and the fact that it’s mostly accepted in our society, is the cause for much of the political strife and chaos we see today. 

Today, what constitutes a “white lie” has been twisted into something far broader than it ever was before; it’s no longer just an act of being polite. The fact that it’s seen as okay to tell a little “white lie” makes it hard to identify the ethical bright line between telling a kid that Santa’s real and fabricating fake political news on national TV. So, just try to stop lying altogether.

In the end, it’s the intention that matters. If you made a couple white lies in the past, or accidentally let one slip in the future one day, you’re still going to be getting into “The
Good Place.” But, for the sake of the people around you — and society itself — try to (white) lie a little less.

Christine Tu has told a few white lies in the past but thinks that everyone (including herself) should reexamine this bad habit. 


Christine Tu
Christine Tu is an opinion staff writer and economics major. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and making snazzy to-do lists.