Do I look fat in these pants? If someone you care about asks and you say “No”—even if you don’t find the pants especially flattering to their figure, would you call this a justifiable lie? If you did, you would not be alone. As much as we decry lying, most of us tell a certain number of lies we consider to be permissible.
Writing in The New York Times Gerald Dworkin, distinguished professor of philosophy, emeritus at University of California, Davis posits that, ”we could not lead our lives if we never told lies — or that if we could it would be a much worse life.”
Dworkin lists ten examples of lies he believe to be either permissible, or, in some cases, obligatory, and invites readers to weigh in. His scenarios include:
While aware that not everyone will agree that all the lies he deems permissible are in fact so, Dworkin’s larger point is that—even though “it is usually a bad thing for people to come to believe false things”—the range of permissible lies is broader than we might have considered.
We want to hear. Can you give examples of types of lies you consider to be permissible, even beneficial? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.
1/24/2016 05:10:10 pm
I'm not sure any of those example justify lying. I admit to lying but if I think about it most was done because I was too impatient to think through a more appropriate response. I think lying undermines both trust and communication.
1/25/2016 09:14:42 am
Appreciate your input on this, Alison. A disturbing aspect of the "justifiable lie syndrome" is that even very young children notice and learn this as a life habit. Agree that trust, communication and truth are inextricably bound.
1/25/2016 01:28:30 pm
Appreciate your nuggets, Susan and Peter. On this topic, your community might appreciate Dan Ariely's book, The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.
1/26/2016 10:52:46 am
Thank you for this, Don. Appreciate your sharing your insights with our community.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.