white lie

How to Know When to Tell a White Lie

To avoid hurting someone’s feelings, telling them something harmless or inconsequential that isn’t fully true is often a good course of action.

There is a huge difference between blatantly lying to someone to deceive them, and telling what’s commonly known as a “white lie” or a “little white lie” to keep from hurting someone’s feelings, keep the peace, or avoid an unnecessary confrontation. Every day, people tell small fibs to each other out of compassion, usually regarding their opinion on a small matter. Everything from whether or not your mom looks fat in her new swimwear to your thoughts on a friend’s performance in a community play are prime targets for lying to help their potentially fragile emotional states.

Often, these white lies are so inconsequential that no one will ever remember they were said. Few would consider prying for a more detailed reply. And even if you were caught telling one, you’d probably be forgiven; after all, you were trying to be nice to someone you probably care about.

To Tell a White Lie or Tell Full Truth?

So much depends on the person to whom you are speaking. If the person in question is a family member, friend, colleague, or anyone else you would prefer to remain on good terms, white lies become an immediate option. One must also consider the weight of the situation, for instance: telling someone a white lie saves you face but causes them harm in the longer run. Such a situation might include you telling someone you think their cover letter looks great, when in reality it’s awful and will prevent them from getting a job.

What better way to navigate these tricky situations than with some role playing. It’s time for you to be the judge! Here are a few scenarios where the person in question can choose to tell the truth or tell a white lie. It should be obvious which scenarios work out best with a harmless fib being told.

Wife’s Makeup
Your wife bought some new makeup and lipstick. As she studies herself in the mirror, she turns to you and asked, “Sweetie, be honest… does this lipstick make me look whorish?”

  • Truth: “Yes, it really does. I’d honestly just go ahead and wash that all off. I’d prefer you wear a catcher’s mask out over this clown makeup. It’s a really, really awful look for you. ‘Whore’ actually sums it up pretty well.”
  • White Lie: “Get out of here! Are you kidding me? No, no way. It’s a fun new look.”

The truth would have likely resulted in a very angry wife. The argument could carry over several days. You’d be right to lie and keep the peace.

Deb’s Toast
Deb, not known for her cooking skills, has been a nice girlfriend, serving you breakfast in bed on your 50th birthday. “Well, how was it?” Deb asked.

  • Truth: “Umm… really? It was half a loaf of plain white toast, burned to a crisp! I scraped so much black char off the toast I literally couldn’t figure out how to eat what was left. The second you walk away I’m going to the toilet and vomit.”
  • White Lie: “You’re so good to me, Debbie. I can truthfully tell you that was the best breakfast in bed I’ve had served to me in at least nine years.”

Deb’s spirits would be shattered if you told the truth about the breakfast. This truly is a moment where it’s the thought that counts.

Jared’s Play
After the actors took their bows and the crowd filed out, Jared asks you what you thought of his debut coming-of-age drama that he had written, casted, directed, and starred in himself. “Well, man? Was that good or was that good?” he asked.

  • Truth: “Neither. I didn’t like any of that. Everyone just stood in a circle screaming over the top of each other for 90 minutes. I have no idea what I just watched. I would have rather been stuck in an MRI machine for those 90 minutes. You should probably close the show before you do your name any further damage.”
  • White Lie: “Given those two options? It was good. The lighting was perfect. The set looks amazing. Well done, sir.”

At some point, someone will have to tell Jared the truth about his atrocity of a show, but it shouldn’t come from you, his close friend, and not today, after his very first performance.

Nick’s Swim Suit
Nick bought a new Speedo for the summer, and wanted his best friend’s opinion. “I know, I know, it’s really skimpy, but that’s how these are supposed to look. What do you think, can I pull this off or not?”

  • Truth: “Bud, your testicles are both popped out the sides. I don’t think you’re actually allowed to dress like this at the beach. You’ll probably be arrested for indecent exposure. I have to be honest with you here, and tell you to not make this purchase.”
  • White Lie: “Yeah man, looks great. If you think you can pull it off and you feel comfortable, you do you!”

In this instance you’ll probably want to tell the truth. We’re talking about poor Nick maybe getting arrested due to his private parts showing on a family beach. The white lie should not be an option in such a situation.

In the end, it comes down to a scenario by scenario basis. You should have a pretty good sense immediately who to lie to, when, and how. The average person should be able to decide within a second or two which path to go down.

My Hot Take

You’d be surprised. I don’t think I tell that many white lies. I tell a lot of bigger lies to completely change stories to be funnier, or cover my tracks on my whereabouts, but I generally try to be honest to friends if I have a real opinion on a matter. There are some friends with fragile emotions that can’t handle truthful responses, but I think generally, if you ask for my opinion, I’ll give it to you straight, even if it hurts a little.

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