I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but I didn’t think it would be appropriate to talk about it too early on. After all, I’m just starting out and it may not make the best impression for me to march online, all guns blazing, posting my controversial opinions on socially precarious topics. It also had to go through a lot of writing, editing, research and discussion before I was happy with it. But now I’ve gotten a handle on what I want this online space to be, I’ve decided this is a good time to start my discussion. Here begins a weekly, 3 post series.
I hate lying. It’s possibly the thing I find most abhorrent in humans. That being said and being the hypocrite that I am, it’s probably the offense I commit most often – especially when it comes to exaggerating. It’s incredibly easy to lie, and unfortunately I can find myself slipping into it without thinking and I have to force myself to confess my lie and ask for forgiveness. Unfortunately, lying comes naturally without needing to be taught. No parent teaches their child to lie (I desperately hope), but somehow children learn to do it. Few people like being lied to but they do believe in some exceptions. I’m not exempt from this; I do believe in a few very specific exceptions. But as a general rule of thumb, I don’t think lying is ever justified, good or right. If I lived a different life, there may be more occasions where lying would be acceptable however those cases rarely arise in my life at this point. I don’t believe in white lies or lying to preserve other people’s feelings. This extends to keeping certain information privy so that people can’t react negatively or get upset or angry. I think it’s totally unfair to restrict someone’s information flow based on what you believe they will think or how you think they’ll react. It’s making a choice for the other person that they won’t be able to react in a mature way. It is never okay to assume or make a guess on how someone will react and then base your actions on this. Unless the person has told you how they will react, then you cannot know for sure how they will respond to anything you say. Even if you’re basing this on someone’s history of reacting explosively to bad news, it is not your choice to decide for them whether they deserve to know.
I’m fed up of this happening to me; how dare you assume how I’ll react to a situation! That’s why I make an absolute point not to do this to others. I’ve seen, heard of and been in too many situations where information is withheld for someone’s ‘own good’, and it makes me angry that people think this is an acceptable way to behave. You can never know for certain how any one person will react to circumstances, so why would you think it’s okay to make choices based on a guess? I can’t think of any situation in my life where I would have been better off not knowing something that directly affects me. Ignorance is not bliss. Tact is required of course, but not so much that you are trying to manipulate someone’s reaction! Just tell the truth and then let the person decide how they want to react. Everyone’s reaction is a choice, whether they realise it or not (with some exceptions where an individual is physically or mentally incapable of choosing a response). For you to withhold information, that means you have made a judgement on how the information will affect another person’s life. There is no way you could know that! There are many opinions on exceptions to this statement – these are best explained in an example I came across in an article on lying:
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.
In this cases the child being lied to is incapable of controlling their response because they don’t have the mental capacity to do so; simply due to the fact that they are young and weak at that point in time. Once they are older and stronger, they will be told the truth. This information was kept secret without malicious intent. If the child was told the truth, they might immediately suffer. I understand the reasoning behind this lie, however I think this situation is rare. Another example however, I don’t think is excused by the fact that it involves children who may not be able to “handle the truth”:
We heap exaggerated praise on our children all the time about their earliest attempts to sing or dance or paint or write poems. … this encouragement leads to future practice, which in turn promotes the development–in some — of genuine achievement.
I think this can set up some unrealistic and damaging expectations for the child to succeed. What if the child, believing they are very talented shows off their skills to others who tell the truth? The child will be upset that they weren’t as good as they believed but they also may no longer trust their parents, now knowing they lied to them. The term child here is rather broad; very young children are more forgiving than older kids (partly due to their shorter attention spans and limited cognition of past, present and future). Legally speaking, I myself am still a child, but I would never want to be told I’m better than I actually am, or not be corrected when I overestimate my own abilities. If I’m not willing to take advice, that isn’t your problem – so you should offer it regardless of whether you believe I’ll take on your opinion. Knowledge is infinitely valuable.
However, if I knew for sure the consequences of my actions before I spoke because someone had told me their plan, then I’d be more likely to bite my tongue. This infamous scenario comes into play here; if someone asked me a question and I know that by telling the truth I will endanger another person’s life, is lying still the wrong thing to do? I’d like to think I’d still tell the truth if my own life was at stake, but for another person it becomes a more difficult issue. Someone else’s life potentially rests in my hands. Here I look to the Bible and find a few stories describing this situation, including the story of Rahab in the book of Joshua.
For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Rahab hid two Israelite spies from authorities seeking to kill them. When questioned, she pointed them in the wrong direction and helped the spies escape. In this situation, lying was considered the right thing to do because it saved the life of the two men. This lying to preserve life happened earlier in the Bible too, in Exodus. The Pharaoh of Egypt, who had enslaved the Israelites, ordered all new born boys to be killed. Some midwives first didn’t carry out his orders but when questioned by the pharaoh, lied to protect a baby’s life. In each of these stories, God blessed these women who had lied, because it had saved a life. Lying to save someone else’s life is the only situation given in the Bible as justification to lie. Bottom line though, lying is not what God wants us to do. But if you do – as I am confident that every human has – you can apologise. All is not lost. People forgive and God forgives.
To continue the discussion, I also don’t think it is okay to try to eavesdrop, snoop through messages or try to find out secrets. If you suspect someone is hiding something from you, confront them directly. If they explain that they don’t want to tell you, you must respect that. You can’t force them to admit that they lied, nor can you force them to tell the truth. I don’t have much on my phone or laptop that I “want to hide” from any one person, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to read over my shoulder or swipe through my photos unless I ask them to. Even if I don’t have my own secret information there, I have messages written to me in confidence from other people. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll read something you shouldn’t have read, and you can’t undo your actions. I have simply seen too many occasions where someone has seen or read something they shouldn’t have, and they get offended at what is said or that they weren’t told. If I’ve allowed you once to look at something on my phone, that doesn’t henceforth grant you permission to scroll through my phone whenever you like. It’s like thinking that because I gave you $5 once, you can now take money from my wallet whenever you like without first asking and getting permission.
So what should you do if someone asks something but you don’t want to tell them the truth? Perhaps it isn’t your information to give away or a secret you’d prefer not to share. Don’t lie or make up a story. Simply explain the situation. Say those words exactly and you’ll scarce go wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being honest; “I’m not comfortable sharing that (with you)”. I don’t think you’ll come across many people who will stay angry at you for being truthful. They may be offended at first, but as you both mature I’ve found that people come to understand why you chose to be truthful even when it might mean saying things that are difficult to swallow. Lying to preserve someone’s feelings is risky; chances are the truth will get out and they’ll be more wounded that you lied to them than what you really thought anyway. Unless lying will save a life, then try to avoid it. Someone’s reaction to the truth is all a matter of self-control; whether they choose to use it or not is beyond your control.