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.