Ask many people and they will tell you that the one thing they can’t tolerate is lying – not in their partner, not in their friends and not in their children. But what kind of world would it be if no one ever lied? The confidence of our children would be shattered. Friendships would be destroyed. Relationships would be put in jeopardy. Obviously it would be just as intolerable if all we ever did were to lie.
Many people disagree with me on this, but I believe that there are times when telling a white lie is kinder than telling the truth. Telling a friend that you love her new house is kinder than admitting you don’t. Raving about your child’s painting is kinder than admitting you didn’t recognise yourself in amongst all that colour. Complimenting your partner’s delivery of his mother’s eulogy is far kinder than admitting that no one could hear him in the church.
And what about the trickier situations? Admitting that you have a passing crush on a workmate could have a devastating effect on your relationship with your partner. Surely it’s better to keep that piece of truth to yourself (and not act on that crush). Telling a friend that you can’t stand their partner may affect your friendship. Surely it’s better to deny not liking him or her and just limit the contact you have with them as a couple to protect your friendship.
My rule of thumb is this. A white lie is a lie that if your friend, partner, parent or child found out about, they would understand why you told it. They would be able to see that you were trying to protect their feelings and protect your relationship with them. A dangerous lie is one we tell to protect ourselves, to stop anyone thinking badly of us. And if our friend, partner, parent or child found out that we had told such a lie, they would not understand. They would feel hurt and betrayed.