Monday, January 28, 2013

Post No. 186c: 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that Lying is Appropriate

We previously attempted to explore the issues of deceit and truthfulness in the context of the Mark McGwire steroid use story. More recently two other sports figures, a former Tour de France cycling champion and cancer survivor, and a college football star who claimed that his girlfriend (who he had never met) died from cancer, admitted that they deceived their fans and the public.

For some reason, the theoretical and practical attitudes of our readers toward cheating (which arguably is a form of deceit, of which "lying" is a subset) differed dramatically from the responses we received during our prior effort to delve into the issue of honesty. Consequently, we are re-visiting our original post on the subject to see whether athletes are held to a different standard than other members of society.

© 2009, 2010, and 2012, 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 one would expect people to 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 male buddies have since said that all he had to do was to simply say, “Yes.” (Coincidentally, as have his female friends.) But he didn't.

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

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

The Logistician never managed to provide 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 has 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 recollection of what you previously said.”

And so it was with a great deal of consternation that the Logistician recently found himself in a heated conversation with a valued 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, and promptly supported the position of the first friend.

It made him wonder whether there are ends sufficiently important to justify out right lying. He also 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?

(Frankly, we’ve reached a point in our society where many aren’t quite sure what to believe from some purported news sources 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. But is it really?

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? (Apparently one can not lie if one is using performance enhancing drugs in a competitive athletic sport.)

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? What about the case of a patient who has terminal cancer, with only a short time to live?

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, 2010, and 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Should you desire to examine the comments from our readers the first time that we broached this subject, click here.


  1. I tried reading the comments of two years ago and found that Disqus seems to have made a mess of them. Oh well... Lying in some situations seems warranted, lying in others might be mandatory or inexcusable. Lying to a girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse is always acceptable unless you get caught. Politicians are adept at lying, as are actors (by trade), lawyers either do it as required or out of willful ignorance. We all lie to children at times for what we always believe are the "right reasons."

    Honesty may be the best policy but it has consequences.

  2. Thanks Douglas:

    You brought up both the theoretical and pragmatic approaches to this issue.

    The Logistician's stance was not far removed from your "Honesty may be the best policy but it has consequences." Being an engineer by training, it looked at it more from a probabilistic perspective, espousing "Telling the truth has a much higher likelihood of getting you through (even with the consequences) than pursuit of deception which is always a tangled web.

    What occurs to us is that different people will take different positions depending on whether the theoretical or the practical wins out. And then there are the situational ethics folks.

    Just the other day, we read a piece by "Catholic Christians" criticizing Andy Griffith of the Andy Griffith Show (which is generally regarded as a wholesome, family values show) of repeatedly lying to Opie in explaining life issues.

    As a practical matter, have we arrived at a point in society (or perhaps it's always been that way) where everyone makes up their own rules as they go through the day and encounter situations, and there are no absolutes which we can teach to our kids?

  3. I think the answer to that last question could be a post of its own, don't you?

    For myself, I would say there are but then I believe there are absolutes. Others might disagree.

  4. There is a Leonard Cohen
    line that I keep kind of deqr to me. It says “The truth is tiny compared to the
    things you will have to do”.

    I don’t’ think this gives anyone permission to lie, but it does give you a
    mandate to stand guiltless in front of things you can’t do anything about.

    With regards to the Logistician, it brings back fond memories of my brother Don,
    USMA Class of 1964.

    My older brother Don never said anything that he could not back up with facts100%.
    At the same time, he may have had the quickest wit and surest smile I’ve ever

    I can remember going to the lawyer with him after my mother had died. My mother
    died before some fairly important papers had been signed, and so my aunt signed
    them instead. Don explained this to the lawyer, saying “This may fall into a
    grey area, but I thought we should lay out our dirty laundry for you.”

    The lawyer agreed that it was indeed in a “grey area” but we never heard
    anything else about it.

    So, yes the truth is tiny compared to the things we have to do, and I’m so glad
    that Don was there to do that bit of business so well.

    We lost Don to cancer back in 1997, but his son and I talk just about every
    week. Davy told me that when he was a boy, he had asked his dad, Don, what
    music was.

    Don explained that vibrations in the air created sounds that our ears could
    pick up, and that some of the vibrations came from the needle being in the
    groove of a record, and the vibrations were transferred into electricity, then
    amplified when the vibrations were transferred into the speakers.

    This may have been 100% true, but it was not the answer Davy was looking for.

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  6. Bulletholes:

    Your comment provides much about which to think. Someone once said that the truth is rarely plain, and it's never simple. Thanks again for visiting.

  7. There is a book discussion on Book TV at 11:15 am EDST about lying. Here is the information from the Book TV site:

    Book TV at Duke University: Dan Ariely, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves

    About the Program

    Duke University professor Dan Ariely sat down with Book TV to talk about his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. In the book, Prof. Ariely discusses different examples of dishonesty and looks at how dishonesty plays out in our society. This interview is part of Book TV's College Series.

    Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He is the author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. For more, visit:


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