I saw a question on Answerology.com the other day that asked if white lies were okay. What I took from that question was that the asker was looking for some kind of permission or justification for an act which ,in my judgment, is questionable at the very least, regardless of the circumstances. I even know of people who believe that a lie is only a lie if they get caught in it. The truth is, for me, that any act designed to conceal the truth, by commission or omission, intentional or by mistake, is a lie and to call it white or something else is irrelevant. Now I know that many psychologists argue that sometimes a sugarcoating of the truth to a child might be justified for the emotional well-being of that child, say as in the death of a beloved pet or family member, or for me to, let’s say, tell a friend whose birthday it was that we were going to a restaurant to celebrate when, in fact, I was taking that person to a surprise party instead, this is not the question I am addressing in this article. What I am addressing here is the fact that any choice to lie is not a question of being good or bad, okay or not, it is about standing or not standing in my integrity to be accountable for cleaning up any messes that arise as a result of my actions. This raised the question for me as to whether the question the person is really asking about white lies is really about whether or not that in the telling of the white lie, he or she will be accountable for the consequences of the telling, that is, for cleaning up any messes that arise as a result of their actions. Then answer to that question for me has to be, “only if that person chooses to be accountable.” In the same way, I can’t make white lies okay for another or even for myself, which is to say that I can’t hold another person accountable for their words or deeds, although, in ordinary practice, I might often try to do so as if I could. And while I can’t make white lies okay for me, I can make myself accountable for them.
How then do I resolve this question for the asker? The answer is “I don’t!” There may be agreement in the world that telling a white lie is justifiable in certain instances, such as those I mentioned earlier, but, without accountability after the fact, the world becomes untrustworthy and unworkable, and that to me, can never be justified, for any reason.