“Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.”  Samuel Butler


Is it ever acceptable to lie?

I aim to tell the truth. If I compliment you on something you may be assured that I mean it. I will not praise things simply to please you. If you ask me a question, I will attempt a truthful, if tactful answer. (Do not ask questions where you cannot cope with the answer!) But what this means is that if I do feel it necessary to be ‘economical with the truth’, I can generally do this successfully. People tend to believe me. Also I do not lie very often.

But sometimes it is inadvisable to tell the truth. People ask hostile questions that they have no business asking, and if you give an honest reply, you or someone you care about, will suffer loss.

You are not obliged to surrender private information about yourself . Commercially, if you were to tell the whole truth always, it would be very bad for business. However you must be truthful enough that your word can be trusted.

Still when facing hostile questioning it is better not to lie outright. One can withhold information, or mislead without actually lying.

As for the taking of oaths, I resent the practice. People of low principle will not care if they break their oath. I feel that being required to take the oath suggests that without the supervision of the oaths ceremony, it’s assumed I’d be lying in my teeth. Given that I intend to tell the whole truth it’s quite insulting.

But lying is a serious business. When Jonathan Aitken stood up before journalists and declared: ‘If it falls to me to start a fight with … bent and twisted journalism with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play,’ I was fascinated and horrified. I knew he was lying, and more than that, I knew he would go down, because he had picked up the sword of truth to vindicate his lie; he had mortally offended the goddess Athene . People being so bold as to take up the sword of truth had better be absolutely certain they are in good order. Otherwise the sword will turn on them.

In less dramatic cases, holders of positions who are proved to have been lying, should be dismissed.

Some lies are worse than others. If you deny emptying the biscuit barrel, when you know you did, that’s naughty. To invent falsehoods to damage someone else’s reputation, that’s wicked. Not to speak out when someone is falsely accused of crimes you know they didn’t commit because when you witnessed what actually happened you were doing something you shouldn’t have done – that’s sinful.

If your country goes to war, you’ve abandoned all normal standards of behaviour and your one objective is win. Of course you’d have to lie if necessary. The French resistance hadn’t worried too much about its lying. In some cases – for example if facing the unprincipled representatives of a corrupt authority that enforced improper laws – persecution of minorities, slavery, apartheid etc then lying to protect the vulnerable could be a civic and moral duty.

So, once again, you’re on your own. There’s no one set of rules you can apply that will cover all eventualities. You’ll have to come to your own conclusion.

When I was in primary school I got a new pencil. These were not easily come by, for me, and I got my father to flick a little bit of the paint off at the base and carefully wrote in my initials. Sitting near me was a girl with similar initials. She took my pencil and refused to give it back. I raised my voice in protest. The teacher came. “What’s all this racket?” she demanded. My neighbour got in first. “She says this is her pencil, but it’s mine,” says she, bold as brass. To my amazement she then added in great detail how she had gone to the village shop with her Aunty Irene who had bought her a cinnamon potato and the pencil. There had been a choice of red or green pencils and she had chosen red to match her pencil case. I wondered, since she was so swift and vivid in her creation of this myth, why she was so thick at her school-work. The teacher turned to me. “What’s your story?” The other girl smirked at me. I could not out-do her story. I said, “She is a thief and a liar, and you know that I am not.” The teacher handed me the pencil without another word.

Can lying ever be justified? Yes, but try not to be in this position too often.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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