Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Post No. 143e: 27 Situations Where People We Respect Claim that "Lying" is Appropriate

Yesterday, we attempted to explore the issues of deceit and truthfulness in the context of the Mark McGwire steroid use story. 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 what happens when we separate the issue of honesty from the issue of steroid use.

© 2009 and 2010, 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 and 2010, 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 found myself lying recently, and it surprised me. A friend of mine died within the past few months. Another mutual friend and I were discussing his death, and I was asked whether I was aware of the cause of the death.

    Since I had been around the deceased fairly frequently, I knew that there was a high probability that the death may have been due to substance abuse.

    However, not wanting to tarnish the name of the deceased, I found myself suggesting to the other person that the deceased may have died from natural causes, because the deceased actually had a serious illness some years ago which potentially could have reared its head again.

    This clearly was deception and a lie on my part, and I was surprised that I engaged in such a deception.

  2. Since you have recycled a post, I will recycle a comment:

    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.'"

  3. Great stories Douglas, both the first time around and recycled. Most of us could debate for as long as the day is long about the first story. As for the second, did that constitute deceptive conduct on your buddy's part, and if so, was it tantamount to lying?

  4. Inspector, I was aghast to learn that Carter could be deceptive. And then I started to pay attention. That lad was clever in his deceptions and, yes, that is exactly what they were. Of course it was tantamount to lying! But clever... devilishly clever. We all admired his guile.

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