In Defense of Lying

I've been saying for the last few weeks that my favourite line from Glee (sorry, still can't figure out how to link to it) is when the Cute Teacher's Psychotic Pregnancy-Faking Wife's Crazy Sister says "Dishonesty is FOOD to a marriage, it will DIE without it". I don't really believe this, of course. But I do think that people who insist that honesty is always the best policy are, well, wrong.

There are different kinds of lies. There are lies you tell to make your own life easier, lies you tell to protect yourself and lies you tell to protect others. Some lies just come out of nowhere. I have one friend who's a veritable Shakespeare of lying -- nothing important (as far as I know), but basically she just does it to keep in practice. A bunch of us were having dinner at a restaurant in Toronto and one friend asked this friend where the washroom was. The Master Liar told her it was towards the back of the restaurant and down the stairs (which was true). The friend immediately stood up, went to the front of the restaurant and started climbing UP the stairs. The rest of us called her back once we got up from rolling under the table laughing.
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And the marriage thing. Yes, in a marriage, largely you don't want to be lying your head off every time you open your mouth. You need to be honest about your basic values, how you want to raise your children, whether you just blew a mortgage payment at the casino. But the times when you think "whoa, what's with the hair?" or "you are completely unattractive to me right now" or "Seriously? Some woman actually LIKED that?" Is it helpful or constructive to say any of those things out loud?

I think if you're going to 'be honest', what you're going to say should hurt you more than it hurts the person you tell. To quote another TV figure from a bad medical show (because apparently all I do lately is watch crap on TV), "the truth will set you free, but it usually kicks the crap out of someone else".
When my friend's husband cheated on her and left her, and actually said he'd fallen out of love with her, I was horrified. It was one of the worst things I could imagine, to have the one person who was supposed to love you no matter what turn around and say "you know what, all those things you've always worried about, that you're fat, that your feet are weird, that your voice is whiny and you laugh too loud? They're all true, and they've made it impossible for me to love you, and I'm leaving". I was talking on the phone with this friend a few weeks ago, about how honesty even between friends is a mixed blessing. If someone criticizes something that you're already sensitive about, it just feels like your worst fears about yourself have been realized. If they come up with something different, then you're thinking 'holy crap, I hadn't even gotten around to worrying about that -- what else is there?'

I have friends who've sworn they'll never lie to their kids -- about Santa Claus, about dying, about where babies come from. That's fine, it's good to have principles. Personally, I have no qualms about lying to my children. I like them to have a sense of magic, I want to protect them from things that they're too young to understand except as overwhelmingly frightening, and frankly, nobody needs to know where the good chocolate lives except me. One of my friends says she remembers being really angry when she found out that her parents had been lying about Santa. Yeah, okay, they'll get over it. I've never said "no, you will never die", but I have an overanxious boy who tends to brood on things, so I find ways to get around saying, yes, beautiful nine-year-old boys die every day in ugly and unfair ways, because that's not something he needs to know with that kind of immediacy right now. And if I told my daughter what I really think of her cartwheeling ability? Irreparable damage would be done to our relationship.

I don't want you all to think I go around lying with gay abandon. I'm actually a terrible liar. I just don't think The Truth is the panacea some people make it out to be. Sometimes a little dishonesty is the best policy.
And Lynn? Remember I never actually said I was good at trivia :).


Lynn said…
Yes, but if you are good at *eating candy*, then that's all we really need you for :).

I really liked this post too -- I have exactly the same position.
Anonymous said…
Well said! I was just having a conversation about this with a friend and the topic about "lying" about Santa came up. And I've actually had to talk to my kids about why "white lies" can be O.K. Such a tricky subject.
Rosemary said…
I've lied. I've been lied to. Tomorrow is the two year anniversary of my life blowing up in my face because of the the biggest lie I've ever encountered. I really agree with you, you have to look at the reason behind the lie. There is always a reason for everything. Sometimes it's very hard to understand that reasoning. One thing I feel for certain is true... It all comes out in the wash. All of it. One lie can't be the icing on the cake. The final straw. It's a slope and either you're going up - or down. Every day I just try to go up. Maybe it's just the good girl catholic in me but I gotta say. When you lie and then you seek forgiveness for that lie - it's much easier to receive that forgiveness than it is to forgive oneself. So I guess the answer is ... only lie about things that you know for certain you will never feel guilty about?
Anonymous said…
Great post. But also weird convergences. We were talking about corporate values at work yesterday. Two of the corporation's values include integrity and honesty. I said we should really just have integrity as the corporate value because it includes honesty. But what I didn't say (but believe) is that sometimes honesty is not a great value ... but if you have integrity then you will know whether it is better to be honest or not share with a co-worker "hell yes, you look bloated and fat today".
Rosemary said…
Integrity. That is definitely the word of the day. Thank you Zarah. Please tell me you're not a vegan. Please. Hope that made you laugh Alison.
alison said…
Yeah, it's those lies of ommission that are the ones that are social lubrication, the ones where you think "Whoa, what's with the hair" but don't say anything.

Another great post, Biblio. And I'm not lying.
Bibliomama said…
...and that's why I love Zarah. Should have gotten you to co-wrote this post with me. ("If only there was a word that meant, you know, being honest without always being totally truthful...and if only it started with an i")...
Anonymous said…
I think that there's a big difference between telling a lie, and not telling the whole truth. And I also think the intention matters.

To me, Santa isn't really a lie, so much. If I were directly questioned, I wouldn't conceal the truth. And not telling my husband that I don't particularly like his feet isn't a lie, either. Telling my daughter that babies are found in the cabbage patch, or telling my husband that my new outfit cost half as much as it really did, those are different.

No one likes brutal honesty. I'm with you. It's all a question of balance, like pretty much everything else.
Mary Lynn said…
I have a friend who once said that lying was the single worst thing that her kids could ever do to her. I thought, "seriously?!?" I can think of a whole lot worse.

I'm not saying lying is a great thing and we should all lie to each other all the time, but it is sometimes socially necessary in the "white lie" sense. Soemtimes you have to say "thank-you, I really like the present you gave me" even if it's not what you'd really like.
Julie said…
i'm all about the lying. like allison, i like to keep some magic and mystery for my kid. and i've seen a 5 yr old girl know where babies come from and be terrified. nothing like hearing a 5 year old girl crying because "babies come from your VAGINA!!??" not that i will keep my kid the the dark forever, but i don't think little lies will make his life tragic. it's not like he's a stolen baby that we are trying to raise ourselves and not tell him or anything (anyone watch that Lie to me episode?).

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