We are all familiar with white lies: little fibs meant to protect someone's feelings, often with seemingly low consequences. But what happens when those harmless lies start to snowball and interfere with our moral compass? Should we always tell the truth, or is a little white lie sometimes an appropriate way of dealing with a difficult situation?
When it comes to being polite, there are times when saying one thing and thinking another could actually be beneficial - both to us as well as the person we’re speaking with. Telling a fib in this instance is sometimes seen as an act of kindness, allowing the other person to leave the conversation still feeling valued, even if deep down both parties know it’s not true. If a friend or acquaintance mentions that they remember fondly visiting with someone, but it’s entirely possible you never met before, should you politely say that you also recall the visit?
We’ve all been in a situation like this: wondering if we should mention that it wasn’t you who dined with them, attended their wedding, or was there for a birthday party. Unfortunately, saying something like “I don’t remember that” can be quite painful in situations like this. The person may feel embarrassed, making it even harder for him or her to mention other visits that really do involve us.
It’s important to remember that no matter which route you take, the decision needs to take into account all potential consequences - such as long-term implications of telling a slight untruth, versus the immediate satisfaction of sparing someone discomfort in the moment. There’s no right or wrong answer. At the heart of the matter is a decision of personal integrity – whether or not you value honesty enough to risk upsetting someone temporarily or stick to the truth at all times.
In situations like these, those who value politeness over truth often believe that dishonestly “playing along” can help maintain pleasant social relationships. Embarrassment or panic can lead us to quickly try and fill awkward silences, where bending the truth has almost become second nature. We may not even realize how quickly what started out as a kind gesture has slowly morphed into a web of lies, slowly tangling up any hopes of honesty in our lives.
On the other hand, sticking to the truth - even when it involves a bit of discomfort or awkwardness - helps people develop a reputation of reliability. Being truthful gives people faith in one’s guidance, causing others to appreciate our willingness to own up to mistakes - even ones that aren’t ours to begin with.
It takes great courage to be honest, but ultimately everyone deserves to live with the knowledge that their word is trusted - even if what one says is the source of a little pain. Being honest about moments where we don’t remember something allows regrets and mistakes to be validated, and then shared. Instead of trying to paint a rosy picture of events that didn’t happen, it is better to just admit that there are some things we don’t know or remember.
No matter how polite it seems at first, it isn’t worth being dishonest over something as trivial as visiting with someone we didn’t know. The trustworthiness and respect that come with being honest are worth the short-term discomfort and embarrassment; in the end, that self-respect is far more valuable than the fleeting moment of pleasantness that lying will get us.
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