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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Learning Experiences: Lies and Omissions

Lately, life seems to be throwing a whole bunch of pretty big learning experiences my way. They're not always pleasant; in truth, most of them have been very unpleasant; but viewing them as learning experiences makes it easier to bear the uncomfortableness.

I've had the opportunity to learn about life, people, and most of all, to learn about myself. Today I'd like to explore something I started to write yesterday...

Is it ever acceptable and okay to lie? Certainly a large part of me doesn't think so, but my instinctive reaction isn't always in accordance with that. Case in point, this morning. I got up and got myself ready at the dawn of stupid o'clock, ready for my morning appointment. As I was leaving, my mother saw me. Once I had confirmed to her that I was headed to the hospital, my mother followed it up with, "done it again then, I take it?"

I won't go into all of the thoughts and feelings a comment like that brings up for me (that would be a post all on its own, I think); but I will say that before I'd even properly taken in the question, before I'd even properly understood what she was asking, the word "no" was already on my lips.

I ask myself again, "is it ever acceptable and okay to lie?", and this time I begin to speculate about abusive situations. What do I really believe? Is it okay to lie if you're going to be abused if you don't? Is it okay to lie if telling the truth endangers your life? I'm still not sure.

I read The Kite Runner not so long ago, and one particular paragraph from that has truly stuck with me:
"There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft....When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness."

I don't feel okay about lying to my mother. Technically I told her the truth; I had my appointment when I did because that was when the OTs would be working. I also omitted a large portion of the truth - I had "done it again", (although it was three weeks ago). I didn't lie for gain; I lied for my emotional well-being and her protection... but that doesn't make it right. Is stealing someone's right to the truth really any better than stealing someone's right to be safe? I still don't know.

So now I ask you, is it ever acceptable or okay to lie? How much (if any) omission makes something a lie?


  1. I have thought about this philosophical dilemma a lot as well, although I have come to a very different conclusion. I think that is okay to lie under certain circumstances, but particularly when your safety, or someone else's is at stake. The famous example would be: If you were hiding a Jew in your house in Nazi Germany, and the Gestapo came pounding on your door and asked "are you harboring any Jews?" Clearly you can, and should lie in this situation. Knowing full well that to give the Jew up to the Gestapo would lead to his/her death, to tell the truth would itself be unethical.

    I think the same can be true of protecting one's self from the abuses of others, whatever they may be. I think it is problematic to be attach too much dogma to telling the truth per se. Perhaps the emphasis should be on doing what you believe to be right by yourself and others, whether or not that involves telling the truth. And, in my humble opinion, you have the right to protect yourself.

    It's a fascinating question.

  2. Hi mzungita,

    Thanks for commenting. You've given me some interesting things to think about, that's for sure! Your Gestapo example was helpful too, thank you.

    I agree it's a fascinating question though!