Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

When Is It Okay to Lie?

While we’re on the topic of breaking the ten commandments, here are a few thoughts on lying …
Experiments have found that ordinary people tell about two lies every ten minutes. I don’t see how that’s possible, as I’ve been alone the last hour writing this piece (oh dear, am I making it up as I go along?). However, the half-hour before that, I averaged about fifteen per minute.
“What are you eating, Mom?” (I’m shoving chocolate-dipped macaroons into my mouth at an ugly pace)
“Carrots, want some?”
Robert Feldman, a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts found that liars tend to be more popular than honest people (think politics). Because social skills involve telling people what they want to hear (things that aren’t, um, true). The more social grace a person possesses, experiments say, the more willingness and ability he has to deceive.


But some lies are meant as acts of love. Truly. Parents lie to protect their kids from distressing or harmful facts (your uncle crosses his eyes because of a vision impairment…not because he’s a sloppy drunk; daddy went on a business trip…not down the road to a hotel because we can’t figure out whether or not to divorce).
Ever since I got summoned to jury duty a month ago, I’ve been paying attention to lies. More than a few people said to me, “Just say something racist. You’ll get out of it.”
Um. Yeah. I could do that. But I have something inside me called a Catholic conscience (and it’s overactive during Lent). My conscience makes a dinging sound every time I approach the danger zone: where my depression is hovering like a hawk to feast on all the guilt (and I’ve given up trying to feel less guilty).
So, these are the lies my Catholic conscience condones:
Perpetuating myths of Santa, the Easter Bunny, and all kinds of fairies (Tooth, Diaper, Binky); fibbing to the kids for reasons of discipline (“Your teeth will rot if you don’t brush”), nutrition (“Mommy’s eating carrots, not frozen Kit-Kats”), health (“The shots won’t hurt”), or recreation (“Barney will make you stupid and unpopular”); deceiving for the purpose of surprise birthday parties or similar ocassions (my aunt Kay can’t even do that, God love her); “forgetting” certain details of my mental health record (when dealing with bureaucratic crap like renewing my driver’s license or background checks for a part-time job); and telling falsehoods for convenience matters (“Yes, this luggage has been with me the whole time,”…except for when the stranger next to me watched it so I could change my babies’ diapers with two hands.)
Of course there are also those forced compliments (the ugly baby dilemma): including reactions to artistic expressions by people who shouldn’t hold a paint brush or a microphone but really like to (“I love it!” I say to the novice artist who shows me a portrait of moi that resembles Michael Jackson with Hillary Swank cheek bones; “You sounded great,” I say to my sister who sings the national anthem when she gets drunk); feedback on attire (“Yes, the pants are flattering,” I say to a friend who has just bought a ridiculously expensive pair of pants which add at least ten pounds to her butt); and weight matters (“No, you don’t look heavier,” I say to a sister who has gone up at least one size).
Then there are the deceptions that set off my depression alarm: lying for a co-worker who is having an affair (can’t do it, get someone else); hiding something from Eric that he deserves to know; ignoring a pretty serious breach of trust in a friendship; denying that a friend’s statement hurt my feelings when it did; pretending I’m okay with a neighbor whom I’ve very pissed off at because he stole my babysitter.
But what do you do when the truth hurts? When “honesty bumps up against other values”? asks Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who once conducted a study in which she asked people to recall the worst lie told them, and the worst lie they ever told. Many young people said that the worst lie was told by a parent, but DePaulo found that the parent thought that lying was the right thing to do, that they weren’t deceptions but acts of love.

  • blanchert

    Therese, I would say that the lying that sets off your “depression alarm” really doesn’t have much to do with depression, but rather that you’re a righteous human being.
    I believe that deception concerning a child to provide comfort can be an act of love, depending on the circumstances.
    Sorry for sounding like a politician, LOL

  • Tiffany

    I really like this blog, it’s very interesting.
    Today im going to see how many lies i tell every 10 minutes.
    Its really nice to read something so entertaining and interesting.
    Tiffany McDowell

  • Johnny Mike

    I have a question for Ms.Borchard, but I’m not sure if I’m using the right venue for it. I’ll ask anyway just in case I am in the right spot.
    I read your piece on lying this morning and it got me to thinking. Your thoughts reminded me of when my two girls were much younger and began to notice belief systems (some would label them religions) that were different than the belief system they came to know as their own. This was when they were at an age when they could observe a lie being presented as truth, even within the confines of their own belief system, but they had not developed their reasoning ability to the point where they could define, in words, what the lie was, or just what lying, or telling a lie, was. In other words, they knew it when they saw it, but they couldn’t articulate to me what it was they noticed, see? They just knew it was askew of their belief system. Their observations that I always found hardest to articulate back to them, with a reasonable explaination, always involved an authority figure in their little lives who was connected to their belief system, and who was observed by them to have presented a lie, or lies, as truth. I’m really interested in what you, in particular, and any others in the blogosphere could say as to how you explain to your kids the lies they observe being told by people that their belief system presents as figures that do not tell lies? Thank you in advance, Johnny

  • Barb

    Hi. Aha, I would point them to an epitome of truth as a model,Jesus, and I would encourage them to do good works to enable them to correspond with graces sent. Set the example, and if necessary, use words.

  • Barb

    Guide them and set the example.

  • Larry Parker

    I think the only time it’s “OK” to lie is when the only thing worse than lying is NOT lying.
    An occurrence which comes up with disarming frequency in this world …

  • Margaret Balyeat

    I agree with Larry on both counts. (Big surprise…LOL)
    As for Johnny’s question, my thirty years of experience teaching children tells me that they DO recognize lying and probably the most damaging thing we as adults can do to them is try to defend the lie; that confuses them even more and undermines their faith in us.try t acknowledge and vaidate their observation without damning the one guilty of the lie if at all possible (Tricky, but ultimately doable) That will bolseter their self-image and yet perhaps give the guilty party the benefit of the doubt so that you child doesn’t lose a valued role model unless it’s absolutely necessary. One og the greatest things about kids,IMO is that they DO tend to spak the truth as they see it. It’s sometimes disconcerting for us as adults, but God love ’em, they “call it as they see it.” It may be humiliating to be asked hen you’re having your baby when you aren’t expecting, but it can also be a needed “reality check” (And yes, I’ve lived that one–more than once!)

  • Mandi

    Why are the ‘social’ lies ok to tell? Whatever happened to honesty is the best policy? I know I tell lies occasionally and I hate it. I try to be as honest as possible. Sometimes I mess up. Does these pants make me look fat? They don’t look the best on you, but I bet if you could *blank* (fill in something they could do) it wouldn’t be as bad. I don’t want people lying to me about anything. I have a strict rule about honesty for the people I have in my life. Don’t coddle me and make something up. Tell me how it really is. I’m gonna find out the truth eventually anyway. Then I’ll be more upset than if you had told me the truth to begin with. What goes around comes around and I don’t want lying to come around to me.

  • Mel

    I loved this article…
    I read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People about 8 years ago and wrote out principles I I try my hardest to live with intention. But I never addressed where to place my boundaries on ‘little white lies’ and ‘ginormous fibs’.

  • Lynne

    Wellllll…I do tell white lies. The ones you say to protect someone or even yourself from the scary truth. When I see no benefit to being critical. I may be completely wrong but I dislike anyone being needlessly cruel. Are you listening Simon Cowell ?

  • David

    Ms Borchard
    I am sorry but I must ask, what is a Catholic conscience? and does it mean that those of us who are not (active/professing) Catholics (or not necessarily protestant. either but still deeply believe in Jesus) either do not have one or have a different one? I am sowhat miffed with that phrase and you used it several times.
    Forgive an old fool. But shouldn’t we, who follow Christ, simply have a christian conscience?
    I know this might sound crass, but it is not meant to be that way, and again I apologize for it sounding so! I just feel we need ot move beyond those ‘forms’ that tend to separate us as the followers of the Shepherd. As I said in another post: how would Jesus phrase it, he or his followers were simply christians, and not catholics or protestants or any other name we might apply to our modern day ‘church’.

  • Sean

    Hello, Beyond Blue. What a great
    post! Lying, in my opinion, is not a bad thing unless it hurts someone.
    According to the textbook Ethics in Communication (2008) by Johannesen, R., Valde, K.,& Whedbee, K., “Lying is [morally] wrong except to save a human life or to spare hurt feelings over unimportant matters” (pg. 103). I completely agree with this statement. As you have stated, lying to kids to protect their emotions is an okay thing to do. You make a great point about the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth
    Fairy. Of course those are fictional holiday characters, but we lie and tell
    our children that they are real so they can live childhood to the fullest and
    develop a sense of imagination. I mean, think back to when you were a child.
    Those characters absolutely made every holiday. Overall, lying is not a bad
    thing when you are protecting the emotions of others. Some may call lying
    sugarcoating; however, I believe that sugarcoating is not a bad thing in the
    right circumstances.


    Johannesen, R., Valde, K., & Whedbee, K. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication (6th ed., pp. 220-221). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

    • kathleen smith

      (How i got my husband back with the prayers of Dr Akim )I remember lying in my room when I was in high school ancd writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor ( who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (

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