Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Post No. 95: 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate


© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Laughingman and the Logistician have been friends for years. The Laughingman has laughed out of loud at some of the Logistician’s antics.

He has also expressed bewilderment following comments by the Logistician, when there were highly desirable women in the room.

He would shake his head, and ask, “What in the world made you say that?” The Logistician would reply, “It’s the truth – which people respect.”

In case you haven’t figured out who is the more practical of the two, and who usually got the gal, there’s another Logistician story of note.

He once had this girlfriend, who was stunning in every aspect imaginable. One day, she asked him whether he loved her. He replied in a perfunctory fashion, “Why yes, dear.”

But then she followed by asking, “But do you love me?”

*

*

*

All of his buddies have since said that all he had to do was to simply say, “Yes.” But noooooooooo…. Not the Logistician.

His response, after pausing no less, was, “What’s the definition of the second love which distinguishes it from the first?”

Aphrodite replied, “You know. Do you love me?”

The Logistician never provided a satisfactory answer.

To all who later questioned the wisdom of his choice, he calmly stated, “I was placed in a situation where I was asked to respond to something I did not understand. For me to have said ‘yes’ would have been a lie, without a definition being provided.”

There is a logical explanation for this madness. You see, he was screwed up way early in life. Not only did he have traditional societal, familial, and religious forces suggesting that he always tell the truth, but he also attended West Point. The Honor Code there prescribed that he, “not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.”

He tried to apply that principle (minus the toleration part) to his life, albeit not always successfully. However, he’s tried.

One of his favorite quotes is from former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura: “When you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory of what you said.”

And so it was with a great deal of discomfort that the Logistician recently found himself in a heated conversation with a friend of 35 years, as to the responses one should provide to senior citizen relatives whose mental faculties are declining.

The friend argued that “a game” should be played with the relative, since that provides comfort, and the truth need not be told. He said that it was “unnecessary.”

The friend also extended this reasoning to raising young children.

The next day, the Logistician shared this exchange with another mutual friend of 35 years. She suggested that the truth can shatter someone’s delicate perception of the world.

It made him wonder whether there are ends sufficiently important to justify out right lying. He wondered whether there are dangers, so “clear and present,” to support such action?

He thought about this a lot during the recent presidential campaigns: Is winning more important than telling the truth?

(Candidly, we’ve reached a point where we aren’t sure what to believe from the news media anymore.)

Back to the Logistician, he has always contended that when asked a specific question, he is required to provide a truthful response.

On occasion, he has recognized the value of silence, or momentary evasiveness, by posing, “Do you really want to ask that question?”

Many would argue that in cases of national security, it is appropriate to lie.

Some others would also argue that when you have a confidential relationship with someone, it is appropriate to lie, to those outside of that relationship.

And then there was our former President who only lied about sex.

If there are so many instances where it is appropriate, then when is it inappropriate to lie?

Back to kids, is suggesting to a child that there is a Santa Claus, the Easter Bunnie, or the Tooth Fairy, a lie?

And what about that dying parent? Are lies appropriate at the death bed?

If Congress poses a question to a member of the CIA, is the operative required to always provide the truth? Was Oliver North justified in lying to Congress about Iran-Contra?

Or was Jack Nicholson correct in A Few Good Men, when he said that, "[We] can’t handle the truth?”

P.S. By the way, you’re right. The Logistician is not very bright, and he lied. He did not provide 27 situations.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

83 comments:

  1. Is it a lie if you tell the truth and then the truth changes?

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  2. When I saw this title I took a moment to think about my answer before reading yours. You brought up two instances when I advised lying: 1) Santa, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. Childhood is so very short so why should we not make it as wonderful and magical as life is supposed to be and never is? I would give up much before giving up the memories of my cousin Billy and I bolstering each others belief in
    Santa when the other kids were telling us the "lie" that he didn't exist.

    2) A friends mother was in a nursing home and every day she asked when her husband was coming to visit her. The husband had been dead for years. The friend tried explaining this to her mother day after day only to hear the same question the next day and go thru the explanation again. Now the father happened to be a business owner and a bit of a workaholic so the friend tried saying that Dad was still at work he would come tomorrow. With this second the Mother was content and they would continue to have a nice visit. The friend told me she hated lying to her mother and asked what I would do. I told her I would most certainly use the second story. The first story served no purpose except to assure my friend a clear conscience that she was telling the truth and to depress herself and her mother (very briefly) by reminding her of her husband's death all over again thus putting a brief, but noticeable, damper on the visit for both of them. The lie then did more good than harm.

    3) I have to confess I really lied routinely when working with children to boost their self confidence. For instance in art projects, children like their own work and see it as wonderful. I would make a fuss over every child's work and find something original and constructive to say about each child's work. The problem of course was trying to get some clue as to what I was supposed to be seeing before I opened my mouth! Anyhow, it did wonders and I found helped improve their work habits in other subjects.

    I wasn't as blatantly untruthful about their academics, but certainly tried to give good news before giving the bad and then ending with another bit of good news or praise.

    4) To adults I have found if I never lie I don't have to lie to cover the first. And tho I have no trouble remembering what I have said (in fact what they have said also) it is still too much trouble to fabricate. BB

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  3. Brenda has provided a very good rationale for those "little white lies" that are told throughout life. I have two stories about lying that I like to tell. The first illustrates that I have similar issues to the Logistician's. The second illustrates rationalization.

    1) My first wife went to a cosmetics demonstration at a department store one day. When she came home, she had been made up completely. I am, as she knew, not a fan of make up at all. However, she asked me what I thought.

    Me: "You really don't want me to answer that."
    Her: "Yes, I want your opinion."
    Me: "You know how I feel about make up, are you sure?"
    Her: "Yes, I am sure."
    Me: "You look like a clown."

    She ran out of the room, crying. I felt no remorse.

    2) In high school I had a friend, Carter, who swore he always told the truth, that he never lied. One day, he and I and his girlfriend (Linda) had been hanging out together and we were taking her home. Now, she was not supposed to be seeing him that day (her parents thought they were seeing a bit too much of each other) and she was supposed to have been somewhere else all day. About a block away from her house, he stopped the car and both he and Linda got out of the car. They walked to the corner, he picked her up and carried her back to the car. They got back in and we started driving down the block to her house.

    Me: "What was that all about?"
    Carter: "That was so I could honestly tell her parents that 'I picked her up on the corner on the way here.'"

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  4. Holly: "Is it a lie if you tell the truth when the truth changes?" That's a very interesting question.

    We'd be curious to hear the thoughts of our readers to this one. We have some thoughts, but the question raises some significant issues.

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  5. Brenda: You brought up some very nice examples in connection with the lady in the nursing home, and your role as a teacher. We will get back to those later which we try to extract the principle or construct which some might theoretically argue is applicable to other situations in life.

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  6. Thanks Douglas for your contributions. What are the principles or constructs which we as readers should take away from these examples? Once again, we'll defer commenting on the underlying reasoning until others have had an opportunity to comment. Thanks, as always.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. In response to Holly's question (a good one), I need to ask...

    Does truth actually change?

    Yes, some things may be believed to be true at one time and then believed it to be untrue at some later time. The answer to the question "Do you love me?" may change and you may believe you are telling the truth each time even if the answers are different. But did the truth change? Really? Or did what you believe change?

    We'd need to define "truth" in this case in order to answer Holly's question.

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  9. Holly-If when you tell it you are telling the truth to the best of your knowledge than it is the truth. If I tell you I am 60 years old and a year goes by and now I am 61 years old I was not lying a year ago and I am not lying now.

    Brenda-Why can't Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy be treated like all the other wonderful fairy tales that children are told. Even when my niece was 3 years old she understood that the Grinch was a make believe person. It did not lessen her enjoyment of Dr Seuss. I am particularly troubled by the Santa and Easter Bunny thing being represented as reality to small children as these are so closely tied with holidays celebrating the birth,death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do you think happens when children find out that they are made up to make them feel happy? I'll tell you what. At some very deep level a suspicion is planted that Jesus Christ is like Santa and the Easter Bunny. Perhaps it happens at a subconscious level but it is all the more powerful for that. I myself was raised Jewish and still believed in Santa and the Easter Bunny so having them outed did not set me up for a crisis of faith.

    As to the mother who was senile would it have been so bad to say he won't be seeing her today but that she would be seeing him later. Later to both the person visiting and to the patient would mean when mom passes on....unless they did not believe in life after this life.

    Children are precious and we should want to build their self-esteem but it should not be built on falsehood. Art is a window and allows us to look in while the artist however young is allowing us to see things through their eyes. How can we fail to encourage that spark? Not everyone has great artistic potential but every child's art has something of value that can be appreciated and shared. It seems you did what I would have done and I am puzzled as to why you view it as lying.
    Douglas-Could you not have said to your wife that you didn't like make-up covering up her beauty? That would have been truthful without being hurtful. Saying she looked like a clown was cruel rather than simply truthful. After all she didn't really look like Emmet Kelly now did she? So it means you exaggerated in a way to hurt her because you didn't like make-up.

    Good point about Carter. Lying can be done by purposely avoiding the truth.

    By the way I am not saying that I am not guilty of ever lying. I don't make a practice of lying but it has happened more frequently than I would care to admit to myself. I am happy to report that my ability to withstand the temptation to lie has grown stronger as I have grown older.

    When is lying appropriate? When it will save a life. Not something that happens every day. So if you are hiding a family that is about to be hauled away to a concentration camp don't hesitate to do what you need to do.

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  10. Holly and Douglas: Arguably the key to the changing truth question is what the person understood the facts to be at the time that they made the statement, or responded to the question asked.

    It also raises the question as to how much research, or in other words diligence, should someone perform, or corroboration seek, to ensure that what they said is the truth. We frequently fail to remember that "I don't know," or "I do not recall," are perfectly acceptable answers.

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  11. Douglas: In reference to the "love" questions, they were asked within 20 seconds of one other, so the person asking apparently felt that there was a different meaning to the first love as opposed to the second.

    We well understand what you mean by one's concept of love, or one's attitude or feelings for that matter, changing over time. That is definitely an issue to consider.

    We would imagine that the nature of a relationship evolves over time, along with the maturity of the each person.

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  12. June: Nice discussion.

    We all could probably agree on saving a life.

    What about lying to win an election so that the socialists do not prevail, or so that the free market capitalists do not prevail? In theory, each side would argue that if the other prevailed, lots of people would "suffer" harm of some sort.

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  13. June raises a good point (lying to save a life) which begs the question: is it then acceptable to lie to person to keep them healthy?

    Without elaboration, I have found myself in this position occasionally. In a situation which may not directly and immediately involve the issue of mortality, is it acceptable to tell a tall one to maintain the health and the life-quality of an individual (in this case, a very elderly individual)? I think so -- but then I tend toward expediency.

    Jeff Dreibus

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  14. June, did I mention she is my ex-wife? And, actually, I didn't exaggerate to hurt her. The make up was layered on so thick she could not have smiled without cracking it. It was make up a Geisha might have been proud of. And "clown" was exactly what it reminded me of. She wanted an insult. I gave her two opportunities to avoid it. Her way of insulting me was usually preceded with "I'm sorry but..."

    Log, my point on Holly's question was that the truth doesn't change, our perceptions of it might. Which you understood, as did June. The love questions you fielded poorly was a trap. The only right answer was an immediate "more than you can ever know" or words to that effect. Any hesitation, however slight, would mean you failed "the test."

    Lying is necessary at times and under certain circumstances but these are things that often defy pre-determination. I had to answer my mother's question the night my father went to the hospital for the last time. He hadn't died but he was going to. Her question was a simple one:

    "He's not coming back again, is he?"

    There was no way to lie, to soften the blow that she already knew was coming. I could only nod and say that he wasn't going to recover.

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  15. Thank you June. As usual you come thru with a very sensible discussion. I will however continue with my ways (too old to change!) :) BB

    PS: I still believe in Santa and put out my stocking every Christmas for him to fill. He hasn't failed me in 67 years, so if that isn't proof of his existence I don't know what is. BB

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  16. When it comes to children, I believe in preparing them for the real World, and Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, et. al. aren't good at that. When it comes to women, lying is often the best option. Just remember what you said, they will.

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  17. Jeff: Simply beautiful. Lying to keep someone healthy.... Uummpphh.

    We've frequently mentioned that we have learned more in the past year, since starting this blog, than during any other comparable period during our lives. We may have to change 27 ways to look at issues to 54.

    Thanks.

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  18. June and Douglas: On the make-up issue. There is a concept which the Logistician uses in his workshops: The Doctrine of Unnecessary. Was it necessary, or did it advance any societal interests, for Douglas to inform his wife that she looked like a clown?

    Could that statement also be viewed in a positive light, in that it effectively communicated to her the extent of how poorly she looked, so that she would not embarrass herself in public?

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  19. If a lie benefits both parties (without harming a third), then I would commend its use. Brenda's nursing home example fits well within this logic: Her friend's lie (where Mother was made to believe Father remained alive) assuaged a senile Mother while offering her visiting child an afternoon free of grief and mourning. In this sense, the truth is more selfish than the lie, as its usage serves to clear the child's conscience, yet harms the mother emotionally; over and over I might add.

    And as for the "lie" of Santa Claus. I was raised a Catholic, and happily believed in St. Nick during youger days. I reflect on that period as one of adoring joy, not as some type of psychological mind-trap effected by conniving parents. In other words, adjusted adults "get over it" and move on. The Santa myth also fits well within the parameters of my "mutual benefit" logic: I looked forward to unwrapping gifts from the North Pole on Christmas morning, and my parents shared in the excitement. When I grew older, I chalked it up to childhood fantasy and imagination. And imagination is a healthy part of childhood. Take that away, and our children are adults.

    Excellent discussion here!

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  20. Jonathan: I love to visit your site because you have such a way with words. Apart from the message, additionally I am always entertained. However, this is probably the funniest short sentence that I can recall you writing. "When it comes to women, lying is often the best option."

    The character Gregory House on the TV medical show House, claims that all successful marriages are based on lies.

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  21. MVD: "The truth can be selfish." Wow, we'll have to think about that one for a while, to determine whether that concept is applicable to other situations.

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  22. Two quick things folks:

    1. Should we, at the conclusion of this exchange, put together a book for grade school children about the situations when lying is appropriate?

    2. Why has everyone limited their comments to the children, the elderly or dying senior citizen, and the spouse's appearance? Namely the easier ones.

    What about the CIA? Clinton's lying about sex? Oliver North and Iran-Contra? The death of Santiago on Guantanamo in "A Few Good Men?" How about a President or his lieutenants regarding the true state of the economy, or an impending enemy attack, when they strongly suspect that the citizens will panick? Is lying to prevent people from panicking one which we should add to our childrens primer of honesty?

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  23. Why does there appear to be an absence of anger and acrimony in this exchange, at least thus far? Who can identify the liberals, progressives, conservatives, Dems, religious right, Repubs, etc. based on their comments?

    Why hasn't one single person taken the position that we should always tell the truth?

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  24. interesting....

    how would

    "do no harm"

    fit here?

    but then, we must define "harm"

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  25. Holly: You raise a good point about "do no harm." There was a famous sports radio announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers by the name of Chick Hearn. He passed away a couple of years ago.

    He had a phrase, "No harm, no foul," which he frequently used at the end of games when everyone was frantically running around, and someone clearly fouled a player, but the referee did not call it. What if the game is really close? "No harm, no foul." Hmmmpphh.

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  26. Governments lie because they believe they need to. Some of it is necessary and more lies of omission. Some of it is believed in the public good but the public may feel otherwise, thinking it is about protecting political careers. It is very difficult to know what should be kept hidden and what shouldn't. I am old enough to recall when Gary Francis Powers was captured in the Soviet Union after his U2 spy plane was downed. Quite a scandal, President Eisenhower first denied the U2 flights and then had to admit to them. I think people knew we engaged in espionage, we just didn't acknowledge it as a nation. But there is a difference between keeping things hidden and deliberately lying about illegal activity. While Clinton wasn't lying about an illegal activity, he did lie to a Grand Jury and that is illegal. My main concern about that scandal was not about the sex, it was about what he was willing to do to avoid it becoming public knowledge. What if, for instance, the Chinese had learned of the affair and used its exposure to coerce policy changes? Or to gain advantage in talks? And, if that happened, would we even know?

    Lying is what got Nixon in trouble over a political prank. Yet, while it got Clinton in trouble, the reaction was entirely different. Politics? Bad vs good scandal handling? Ideological perspective of the media? Popular guy vs unpopular guy? Good economy vs bad economy?

    we never learned the whole truth about either scandal. We most likely never will.

    Who decides what is true, what is important, when the government controls what is learned by feeding the leaks in the first place. Creating small scandals to distract from worse ones. Leaking information for political purposes.

    How do we, the public, decide what is important and what isn't?

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  27. Douglas: You raised a number of very interesting points:

    (1) "Governments lie because they believe they need to...." Does the same apply to individuals?

    (2) "While Clinton wasn't lying about an illegal activity, he did lie to a Grand Jury and that is illegal." If an employment application contains a signature line where the applicant declares under penalty of perjury that all of the foregoing statement are true and correct to the best of his knowledge," and the applicant lies, should he or she be criminally prosecuted since they broke the law?

    (3) "Lying is what got Nixon in trouble over a 'political prank'...." What was the "prank?"

    (4) Should Eisenhower have been impeached for initially denying the U2 flights? Should a president be immune from prosecution for lying if it is done in the course and scope of his or her duties?

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  28. Where's all the passionate, intense emotion which we typically see with your posts? Most spouses would flip out if they became aware of a lie uttered by their spouse. Where is all of the intense commentary which we anticipated?

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  29. And what of lying to save oneself needless persecution if not death?

    When Der Fuhrer's shock troops showed up at your door and questioned your religion or your allegiance to the Reich, you knew that there was only one "right" answer; the "wrong" one meant gulag at best.

    So did you choose to make a "statement", or did you choose to remain safe -- particularly if the well-being or your family was at stake in the bargain? I know what MY choice would have been had I been in that position.

    Jeff Dreibus

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  30. My answers to your questions:

    1) Yes, though most individuals feel the need less often. (humor) The dynamics are different, you cannot compare the two directly.

    2) Should? That's up to the prosecutor. If you lie on such a statement, it is perjury and is punishable by law. That is the point of that perjury phrase, isn't it? Did you think it had no meaning?

    3) Bugging the Dem campaign headquarters. Yes, it was illegal. Yes, it was a B&E (a felony), but the actual perpetrators (including the planners)were caught right away. It was lying about association that got Nixon in trouble. People forget that a famous Nixon quote showed he had no idea who was behind it. I didn't like Nixon but that wasn't a big deal for me.

    3) No, why would you even ask? Eisenhower lied because he thought he was protecting the public and he thought Powers had not survived the downing and could be disavowed. Cruel? Perhaps.
    Compare that lie to Clinton's. The latter's was not to protect the country but to protect himself.

    My question to you:

    Was Clinton's impeachment proper?

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  31. Let me ask you married folks this one. Let's assume that your spouse lied to you about something, and you later found out about it, and your spouse admitted that it was a lie. What type of lies would not bother or concern you, since you feel that they are justified or appropriate?

    Here's another question, prompted by Douglas' exchange with his first wife. Why ask a question of another person in an interpersonal situation, if you suspect in advance that they will not provide you with an honest answer? In other words, why set yourself up for disappointment?

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  32. "Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest."

    Mark Twain

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  33. "In other words, why set yourself up for disappointment?"

    "Where's all the passionate, intense emotion which we typically see with your posts?"

    You see, I don't set myself up for disappointment. I simply don't participate much. If I were to get passionate, and intense, it would simply bring dissention and contempt. So I save myself the trouble.

    Don't mistake quiet for anything other than...quiet.

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  34. MVD-The truth can be selfish. I recall a friend whose husband was crying on Mother's Day and she went to comfort him thinking his tears was for his mother who had died 6 months or so earlier. He chose that moment to unburden himself and tell her that his distress was really because he had an affair during the last year and had recently ended it. His burden of guilt was lifted by unloading the lie but the truth destroyed his wife who both loved and TRUSTED him without reservation. Telling her did not build trust, it destroyed it. She took the kids (2 boys and a girl) and went to her parents home. Was the battle that ensued over the next few years and the reconciliation that still left her trust shaken worth his telling the "truth"? Maybe if Gina loved him less her pain would have been less but I feel he was selfish when he told that particular truth.
    ===========================================.
    "Should we, at the conclusion of this exchange, put together a book for grade school children about the situations when lying is appropriate?

    2. Why has everyone limited their comments to the children, the elderly or dying senior citizen, and the spouse's appearance? Namely the easier ones.

    What about the CIA? Clinton's lying about sex? Oliver North and Iran-Contra? The death of Santiago on Guantanamo in "A Few Good Men?" How about a President or his lieutenants regarding the true state of the economy, or an impending enemy attack, when they strongly suspect that the citizens will panick? Is lying to prevent people from panicking one which we should add to our childrens primer of honesty?"

    First such a book would not work. Very young children do not yet have the emotional maturity to make that kind of judgment call and frankly there are few mature adults who can do so. It is better to impress the need for honesty as the nature of humans seems to seek out falsehood to cover their collective arses.

    2.They have limited responses to these because most other situations have no ethical reasons to do something that whithout the most extreme cause is inherently wrong.

    3.Clinton lying about sex was wrong but what brought it to the place of criminality was perjury.

    Oliver North considered what he was doing to be of service to his country but he was an adult and was born long after the Nurenberg trials.
    No soldier should attempt to use the excuse of "I was just following orders"to justify criminal behavior.

    The same holds true of the death of "Pfc Santiago". "You can't handle the truth" is no justification for the lie.

    Lying to prevent panick is insane. What about informing the publick to prevent panick. Not just blurt out the sky is falling of course but letting the public know that it is time to take all possible measures to either avert catastrophe or weather it the best we can...TOGETHER. There is a poster first printed in 1939 in Great Britain that stated KEEP CALM and CARRY ON. It was a motivational poster meant to prepare the public for possible gas attacks, invasion and what would become the blitz. Now with all the madness of the economy and the world falling down around our ears someone has begun to print them again and they are selling like hotcakes.

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  35. [URL=http://img23.imageshack.us/my.php?image=keepcalmandcarryon.gif][IMG]http://img23.imageshack.us/img23/6679/keepcalmandcarryon.gif[/IMG][/URL]

    http://img23.imageshack.us/img23/6679/keepcalmandcarryon.gif

    This is a link to the image of the poster.

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  36. I'm a little surprise that no one has brought up the issue of trust. Lies, half truths, omissions and other activities for whatever reasons say something about whether that individual, government, media etc. can be trusted. If in the case of male/female relationships it might take only one lie to destroy trust.

    In the case of politicians one lie can lead to significant changes in popular opinion. In some cases it might take more lies or as we have seen in history the nature of the lie and reason for it causes loss of trust.

    During the last election cycle and continuing to this day the popular media has significantly hurt the people's trust of their reporting by taking sides, omissions and in some cases lies. Without their checks on government - we are all in danger of losing our freedom. That is why the founding fathers granted them such protections from government.

    Ultimately, I think you should think about the nature of the lie, omission or half truth and its ultimate effect on whether you can be trusted. Trust is the foundation of any relationship and it is built up over time but can be destroyed in an instant.

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  37. Here's the question about setting oneself up for disappointment. Why would anyone ask someone else to make an evaluation about themself, and not be prepared for the potential of both good and bad responses? It seems to us that if one inquires, one knows that there is the risk of a negative response, or perhaps one which one might not like. Right? Second, why put the other person in that situation?

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  38. Thank you Coop. We were waiting for the word "trust" to pop up. We thought that by probing into the marital relationship, someone would raise the trust factor by now.

    Coop, June brought up a very interesting point. A cheating spouse voluntarily discloses that he cheated. Isn't that better than continuing to hide it? Or perhaps it is okay to hide if as long as no further cheating takes place? In theory, wouldn't the innocent spouse trust the cheater more for having fessed up?

    You will recall that we indicated in an earlier post that there ought to be some value to fessing up when someone has done something wrong, apologized, and taken responsibility for their action. Yes or no? If not, people might not be motivated to acknowledge their mistakes.

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  39. A cheating spouse voluntarily discloses that he cheated. Isn't that better than continuing to hide it?

    first do no harm.

    the question is not is it better to lie or not lie but which will cause the most harm, and is the person willing to deal with the fallout.

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  40. I recently told my very religious grandmother that I hadn't simply "lost" my faith, but intentionally rejected it. She didn't know what to say and now prays intently for me every time she is at a service.

    This is an instance where I truly believe that lying would have been the better option. I fear that my grandmother might never look at me the same way as she did before that conversation.

    Nice post though. Very well done!

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  41. Whats with all this third person speaking?

    Honestly though the love question is valid, I think it comes down to trust. The second love is a trust question that was being asked. Love is the want of two people who trust eachother in the end to be there when things are not peachy and tough situations come about. Would the Logi...be there when a situation would come about that would test the mettle of your relationship?

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  42. Logistician-The cheating had ended. If it was ongoing then telling his wife would have been helpful. Allowed her to not be a victim. The point I was trying to make was the husbands' confession had everything to do with freeing himself of guilt when perhaps he should have borne that guilt so that she would not have to bear the burden of his infidelity. It tore her to ribbons and he had to have known it would do so. A better way to have handled the situation would have been to confess and repent to God and himself. To swear to himself to do all he could to make it up to his wife. Give her the gift of a husband who is extra-thoughtful and considerate rather than...well I think you get my point of view about this. Gina and Joe did reconcile but she never has fully trusted him again. He had a heart attack the year after the reconciliation and they moved from New York to Florida and had another baby. Still, to this day she check telephone records. Why did she not divorce him? She took a vow, so did he and neither were willing to tear asunder what had been joined by God. Plus, she loves him and he loves her. But that rock solid trust is forever gone at least on her part.

    Kazuo-You were right to tell your grandmother. If she did not still love you as much as she did before she would not be praying for you. She is not doing that to gain favor with God, she is praying for you BECAUSE she loves you. Some day, years from now those prayers may bare fruit. It might not be till you are ready to pass on but while there is life there is hope for a change of heart and I'm sure that is what is motivating your grandmother.

    Coop-Lies, half truths and purposeful omissions may all share the same root. It depends on intent. Here is an example. My co-worker is doing a sloppy job on a project we are working on. In fact he or she is not doing nearly their fair share at all. That results in my having to do more than my share in order for the project to come out OK. Do I tell him or her that their work is sloppy or insufficient or because we know each other very well and I know this is not typical would I listen and observe to see what might be troubling them that caused the behavior or even just let it slide because we all can sometimes have an off week or so. Do I tell my boss? Why would I? If I "omit" that information is it a lie? Intent is an important element.

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  43. "Here's another question, prompted by Douglas' exchange with his first wife. Why ask a question of another person in an interpersonal situation, if you suspect in advance that they will not provide you with an honest answer? In other words, why set yourself up for disappointment?"

    In the case of my interchange with the ex-wife, it was a matter of knowing pretty much what my answer would be but asking the question anyway. She set herself up for disappointment. That was quite clear to me. The dynamics of our relationship can only be described as "hostile turmoil". It should never have begun but it did. It should never have lasted as long as it did. It was no good for either of us.

    I would also like to address the "cheating spouse confession" that June brought up. There is no reason to confess to an affair that had ended except as a selfish act to clear one's conscience or to intentionally cause pain to the spouse (this, perhaps, to both justify the affair and to create a conflict which would be punishment to the cheater).

    Lawyers often say "Never ask a witness a question where you do not already know the answer." In relationships, you should never ask a question when you already know the answer.

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  44. I would also like to address the withholding of information as brought up by Kazuo. I withheld a number of things about my life from my mother. I did this because she did not need to know the truth about them, it would only cause her pain. On the other hand, she never asked me directly so I could easily avoid telling her these things. I think we all keep secrets from our loved ones. The reasons are "do no harm", "fear of rejection", and "embarrassment." Those are all pretty good reasons though the latter two are selfish in nature.

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  45. Wow! Holly and Kazuo: This post has taken us to some places where we never thought that we would go conceptually. But it's beautiful to think about these things ahead of time.

    Another scenario: a good friend of ours has a Mother who is very religious. Nothing would please her more than to have her child "saved," "born again," or "surrender to the Lord," in accordance with her church's dictates. Our friend, although polite and respectful of our practices, is not willing to do so.

    While the Mother is still alive and in good health, would it be deceitful of our friend to tell her that he has found the Lord, and is willing to do X, Y, and Z, when in actuality, he does not believe in the religion, and is only doing it to please her?

    Assume that the Mother is on her death bed, and the child says, "Mother, I have seen the wrong of my ways. I'm going to do X, Y, and Z and become a faithful religious follower."

    Acceptable or not? Isn't the child now lying to him or herself, the Mother, and to the Lord, along with any other witnesses who might be present in the room?

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  46. "What's with all of this third person speaking?"

    It is what the thought police have mandated that we do.

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  47. "While the Mother is still alive and in good health, would it be deceitful of our friend to tell her that he has found the Lord."

    I refer back to my rule that a lie may be warranted when it benefits both parties with no harm to a third. Namely, Mother would be content in believing her son found religion, Son is content in knowing he set his mom at ease, and no one else is affected by this deathbed conversation.

    The alternative: Mother asks son whether he's accepted religion. Son says "no." Mother remains loving, yet upset, and dies soon after. Son lives with the guilt that his mother died disappointed in him. There is no chance of reconciliation, at least not in this life.

    The truth was a selfish act by Son to clear his conscience. It benefitted no one except himself. The lie would have benefitted both.

    What do we say of actions that solely benefit oneself, when an alternate path may have benefitted both parties?

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  48. Oritiorii: Thanks for visiting again.

    With respect to the posing of the two identical "love" questions, albeit with different tone, you said that the second question was a trust question. You speak as if that is the universally understood definition of a second use of the word love when the questions are posed back to back.

    We asked the Logistician and he clearly indicated that he was not aware of that definition at the time that the questions were posed, and if Aphrodite knew that to be the definition, why couldn't she simply say so?

    By the way, in discussing this scenario with others on numerous occasions, particularly women, the Logistician informs us that not one single woman has defined the second "love" as having to do with "trust." How about the rest of you? Can anyone state with any degree of certainty what Aphrodite meant by the second question?

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  49. how did we go from a national or global view relative to lies to a personal view about the same issue?

    if the child maintained that s/he would not accept the mothers belief while she were well and alive, what would make the child do so on her deathbed? The question then becomes, not one of lie(s) but of guilt. If the mother is lucid, she has had years of consistency in the child holding his/her own views, if she is not lucid why would the child try to change things then?

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  50. "If the mother is lucid, she has had years of consistency in the child holding his/her own views, if she is not lucid why would the child try to change things then?"

    People believe what they want to believe. Oftentimes, these beliefs suspend logic.

    If Mother was lucid, she'd want to believe that her son had truly changed his mindset, perhaps in deference to her dying wishes. Yes, the abrupt embrace of religion is completely illogical. But emotion and logic run at opposite ends of the spectrum.

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  51. "she'd want to believe that her son had truly changed his mindset,"

    or not. We cannot know this.

    If this were me, I have been trained too long to see when the behavior and the words do not match I believe behavior.

    so we cannot know that she would believe it.

    and either way, this does not answer the question of right or wrong for telling this lie.

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  52. "If this were me, I have been trained too long to see when the behavior and the words do not match I believe behavior."

    So do I. Believe me, I'm extremely objective. That said, it's impossible to discern how we'd act if laying on our deathbed listening to a son proclaim his allegiance to religion. In an emotionally charged time such as this (i.e. possibility of final conversation, desire to make amends, desire to believe), logic takes a backseat to emotion. And emotion, as I pointed out, is often illogical.

    Directly to your question: In this circumstance, telling the truth hurts both parties. Mother is upset. Son leaves feeling guilty. Perhaps Mother dies soon after. A lie puts Mother at ease, and helps Son remember her as such.

    Would one insist on upsetting a dying parent if a white lie could avoid it? What's the point other than selfishly clearing one's conscience?

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  53. We're still trying to extract a consistent principle from all of this. Are people suggesting that one should consider not telling the truth when you suspect that it will hurt people?

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  54. MVD has raised a very valid point. "People believe what they want to believe." If that is the case, why bother to tell the truth, EXCEPT FOR ONE'S OWN PERSONAL PURPOSES and one's relationship with his or her God?

    However, many here have labeled telling the truth as selfish, at least in some circumstances. We generally consider selfishness to be a negative thing, unless it is used in a survival situation.

    Some people believe what they are told. Some people believe what they read. And then there are the spin masters, hucksters, used car salesmen, cheaters, and others seeking to gain some type of advantage.

    We've now assembled a very complicated, and perhaps internally inconsistent collection of situations where lying is appropriate. What are the principles to be distilled from all of this? Tell the truth when we think that it is worth it, and if not, don't?

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  55. This has been a fascinating discussion. It never would have occurred to us that as many people as we have found here, would think that one should tell the truth when they think it is appropriate or works for them, and lie when it advances other interests, although they might be considered benevolent interests.

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  56. the inconsistency is what I noticed right away.

    I thought the phrase: "It depends" and I wondered how omission played a part. If you simply don't answer, is that a lie? If you murmur something but don't speak well enough or loud enough for the other party(ies) to hear, is that a lie?

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  57. the thing that surprises me most?

    that the logistician would not have thought that people lie when it suits their purpose.

    I generally work under the assumption that what I am being told .at least. not the entire truth, that some part of it is probably something less than the truth.

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  58. Two questions:

    Should our elected officials lie about the status of the economy, and suggest that it is improving, when in actuality they have information to the contrary?

    Should parents, in precarious financial situations, lie to their kids about the state of the family's condition? Let's break it down by the age of the kids: 6 year olds; 12 year olds; 18 year olds?

    What about senior citizen dependents? Should the breadwinner lie about the status of the family's financial situation?

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  59. Holly, thanks for being an active participant.

    Holly said:

    "the thing that surprises me most?

    that the Logistician would not have thought that people lie when it suits their purpose.

    I generally work under the assumption that what I am being told .at least. not the entire truth, that some part of it is probably something less than the truth. "


    Holly: Many have characterized the Logistician as naive. He views himself a little differently. First, he prefers to give people the benefit of the doubt.

    Second: He doesn't like having to watch his back. He is concerned that he will develop a negative attitude toward people.

    Third: If he operates on the assumption that people will generally tell the truth, then his guard will be lower, and in those instances where it really doesn't make a fifference, he will not be disappointed.

    His attitude is why bother with stuff which one does not have to, until really necessary. Then he will tell with those people, on a case by case basis, as necessary.

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  60. Log, politicians should speak positively about the economy even when it is in the tank. You might ask why I would say that. It's simple, the tone they set has an effect on the economy by having an effect on the confidence of the people who are the economy. Being negative only makes things worse, never better. And being positive can be done without actually lying so that should not be an issue.

    There is one thing I have not seen mentioned yet. What about the person who lies by habit? Some call these people "pathological liars". I call then ex-wives. Just kidding. But I have met a number of these people. The embellish their lives, tell stories of dubious veracity to "top" what another relates, and take credit for work they did not do.

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  61. Ibteresting Douglas: "Set the tone." Does that reasoning also apply to company executives? Should the CEO of a major, international corporate, or the owner of a mom and pops business, portray the positive image about which you spoke, when the business is actually going down the tubes?

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  62. Log, I would say that applies to anyone in a position to exert influence and form public opinion. Or even private opinion in the case of employees of a firm in trouble. If you speak negatively, morale suffers and employees' production goes down and quality suffers which, in turn, creates more problems for the company, does it not? Now, if the situation is so dire that the company cannot be saved then there is no point in doing anything but helping people find new jobs. But for a company going through tough times that has a chance of coming out of it? Certainly, the execs should be positive.

    You are, by the way, (deliberately, I suspect) distorting a situation. Or maybe you believe we are headed for a Depression of the magnitude of The Great one and there is nothing anyone can do about it. If so, we differ quite a bit on that. This economy is not as bad as it was presented, it will recover, and the only reason to badmouth it is to increase political power.
    I am not going to change that opinion, not without facts that have yet to be evident.

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  63. Right now as we type this, C-Span2 Book TV is airing a book discussion involving a former New York City schoolteacher who has written a book entitled, "Weapons of Mass Instruction." He contends that the mass education systems in the US actually hurt us from an educational perspective.

    http://www.booktv.org/program.aspx?ProgramId=10280&SectionName=Politics&PlayMedia=No

    However, we keep thinking about a point raised by Brenda several days ago. Should a teacher, with let's say 30 kids in his or her class with different levels of capability, tell all the kids that they are capable of learning something when he or she is reasonably certain that certain ones can not?

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  64. In my opinion, the author is wrong. However, that is based upon the description you provided of his premise and not on the book.

    Should a teacher lie to the student(s) who she feels are incapable of the work? Maybe. But not to the parents.

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  65. Someone please define for all of us, "When lying is justified," other than to save one's life or the life of another, or to provide "comfort" for a ailing senior citizen or someone about to die. By the way, would one be justified in lying to save the life of someone on death row?

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  66. Why are these moral questions popping up in your head, Log? Moral Right and Wrong are like pornography, as described by Justice Potter Stewart, you may not be able to describe it but you know it when you see it.

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  67. I think justified lying is an individual concept not appliciable to broad, sweeping definitions.

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  68. Agree with Holly that lying is not given to broad, sweeping definitions. However, if pressed to create a rule:

    LIE when it benefits all parties, and either (a) does no harm, or (b) mitigates the damage which could be effected by telling the truth.

    TELL THE TRUTH if the lie benefits only one party, or is used for self-fulfilling reasons.

    (even the above are subjective, but at least it's a template)

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  69. Thank you Holly for summing it all up. It appears that you have accurately described the "collective sentiment" of those who chose to provide comments.

    Two other things come to mind: How do we teach this, if at all, to our kids? And, by what reference point are people to judge their statements to others, if there does not appear to be a universally accepted standard?

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  70. Thanks for the effort MVD. At least it is a starting point with which people can work, and adjust as necessary. Thanks for the distillation.

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  71. I think it's OK that the title to your blog is a lie. You got me to read the article, and that met your goal. Other than that, I can't find one other instance where it would be appropriate to lie. More pointedly, sometimes it is best to say nothing at all, especially when it would injure others.

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  72. Sometimes we just can't help but laugh at some things on TV. On a re-run of Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle," the Father, Hal, tells one of his kids that their Mother and his Wife, Lois, will probably ask where Hal sent him. He thereafter said, "Make up something good."



    “In the mean time, Lois is in one of the kid's bedrooms with a sexually active female teenager who she has caught in the act. After the kid provides some convoluted, psychobabble, Lois stands stunned, and says, "That was pretty good. Did you make all of that up that fast?

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  73. At this moment, the Bravo Channel is showing the 1995 film, "Outbreak," about the rapid spread of a killer virus. During the course of the film, we see every imaginable type of lie and deception. The soldiers descending on the infected community lie about the extent of the control that they have over the virus. Doctors lie to patients and assure them that they will recover. Announcements (which contain lies) are made to town residents so that they will not panic. Are these lies acceptable?

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  74. In response to our tweet on Twitter providing a link to this article, someone replied that responsibility requires that a corporation tell the truth. Out of curiosity, should a corporation tell the truth when it would help plaintiffs in lawsuits recover more damages which would adversely affect the corporation´s bottom line? Is this another instance where lying is justified?

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  75. Sometimes we just can't help but laugh at some things on TV. On a re-run of Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle," the Father, Hal, tells one of his kids that their Mother and his Wife, Lois, will probably ask where Hal sent him. He thereafter said, "Make up something good."



    “In the mean time, Lois is in one of the kid's bedrooms with a sexually active female teenager who she has caught in the act. After the kid provides some convoluted, psychobabble, Lois stands stunned, and says, "That was pretty good. Did you make all of that up that fast?

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  76. "she'd want to believe that her son had truly changed his mindset,"

    or not. We cannot know this.

    If this were me, I have been trained too long to see when the behavior and the words do not match I believe behavior.

    so we cannot know that she would believe it.

    and either way, this does not answer the question of right or wrong for telling this lie.

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  77. "If the mother is lucid, she has had years of consistency in the child holding his/her own views, if she is not lucid why would the child try to change things then?"

    People believe what they want to believe. Oftentimes, these beliefs suspend logic.

    If Mother was lucid, she'd want to believe that her son had truly changed his mindset, perhaps in deference to her dying wishes. Yes, the abrupt embrace of religion is completely illogical. But emotion and logic run at opposite ends of the spectrum.

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  78. Thanks Douglas for your contributions. What are the principles or constructs which we as readers should take away from these examples? Once again, we'll defer commenting on the underlying reasoning until others have had an opportunity to comment. Thanks, as always.

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