Should we tell a white lie to save face and protect those around us?

Pinnochio’s nose is a symbol of our conscience. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had a physical cue to remind us of the right thing to do?
Pinnochio’s nose is a symbol of our conscience. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had a physical cue to remind us of the right thing to do?

On Monday morning I woke up to the jarring realization that I had completely forgotten my friend’s baby shower on Saturday. It completely slipped my mind. Thankfully, this sort of thing does not happen to me very often because I am usually working very hard to avoid the feelings of guilt and shame that began to wash over me.

When I am ashamed and I am concerned about hurting my friend’s feelings, I often have an inner conversation where I consider telling a small white lie. I could tell her that I forgot to let her hosts know that I was going to be out of town or that something came up that I had to attend to, but the truth was I failed to write it in the calendar and I forgot. By telling a white lie, it would both save face for me and also protect my friend’s feelings.

When I was a kid, my parents told me, If I always told the truth, I would never get in trouble. They held true to this promise (even when I was riding my sister’s too-big-for-me bike and and I rode it into the taillight of the car). Now, on these occasions when I am considering the white lie, I can hear a voice in my head repeating this phrase while I gather up the courage to tell the truth. It turns out my parent’s had found a way to nurture and develop my conscience.

By telling the truth we not only give our conscience a break but we also build up the bank of trust with those around us. If you tell someone the truth about something that you are ashamed of, it builds their trust in you that you are going to tell them the truth no matter what happens. And, by giving them an opportunity to forgive you, you are also building your trust in them that you can tell them anything and your friendship will survive it.

It was tough to call my friend to apologize not only for not being there, even worse that I had completely forgotten about it. I am thankful for her friendship and that she could forgive me. In this small way we have both given our friendship an opportunity to grow. It can be tough to make the decision to tell the truth, and sometimes we may choose not to, but the true benefits of building trust certainly outweigh the false benefits of saving face.

Have you ever been tempted to tell a white lie? Did you tell it? Why or why not? 

4 thoughts on “Should we tell a white lie to save face and protect those around us?

  1. It’s amazing how easy it is to rationalize a tiny, little, seemingly insignificant white lie. I have done it too many times to count. It may be difficult to explain why you forgot to write down an appointment on a calendar. But, it is much more difficult to explain why you chose to stretch the truth about it in the first place. The “right” thing is not always the easy thing. However, even in the face of a potentially negative situation (or perhaps because of it), you truly have given your friendship an opportunity to develop and grow. Kudos to your parents for instilling such a positive character trait and to you for following through on it and passing on the reminder to the rest of us … no white lie at all there … thanks! 😉

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  2. I’ve been tempted several times in my life to “tell a white lie”…and have been successful at a few which makes me realize that the “white lie” was simply a real lie and that I was only kidding myself. As my mother used to say and Melissa’s Nana used to say “it always comes out in the wash” which immediately came to mind, of course, immediately after I had told the “white lie”. All in all “honesty is the best policy” and it’s weird that I came across this blog this evening. We were driving downtown on the Gardner to to to the Jays game. I was “checkin out” all of the flashing billboards coming at me like thunderbolts and one happened to be flashing “honesty is the best policy” as we were bolting down the the highway…..not sure what the advertisement was even about or why I saw this tonight. Lies are lies….that’s the bottom line, no matter what colour we paint them.

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    1. Hi Auntie Ann, thank you for leaving this comment. It seems we have that little voice in our heads that was instilled by our parents to do the right thing and be honest. And really…it is so much easier that way in the end! How exhausting it would be to keep track. Thank you for sharing your story.

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