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Telling White Lies: When It IS And When It ISN’T Okay

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There are some out there who truly believe that any kind of lie is wrong. To be perfectly honest, I think they’re a little deluded.

Telling lies is an integral part of human nature, and often makes life a little easier for everyone.

If you think back over your day today, can you honestly say that everything that came out of your mouth was 100% true?

Was the dinner someone special cooked for you really that delicious? Did you actually like your best friend’s haircut?

Maybe not, but you wouldn’t dream of telling them the truth. After all, in a situation like that, what would be the point?

We all tell tiny lies every day without even realizing we’re doing it. We often do it unconsciously, to make either the person we’re lying to or even ourselves feel better about a situation.

These white lies we tell every day are a big part of life, but there are times when the truth needs to come out on top, and you need to be careful that telling what you think is a harmless lie doesn’t snowball and get you into a tricky situation.

If you’re struggling to figure out when these lies are acceptable and when they aren’t, here are a few examples to guide you.

They’re Okay When…

1. Someone Asks You How You Are

When we greet a general acquaintance by asking them how they are, the only answer we’re really expecting is “Fine thanks, you?” If someone actually started telling you how they are, you’d be pretty taken aback.

The person that asks is probably just being polite, and odds are that they don’t have the time or the interest to listen to your problems.

This is an example of how white lies are an integral part of our culture.

2. When Complimenting How A Friend Looks

When you get a noticeable haircut, you’ll expect people to comment, so if your friend has a bizarre new look, they might take your silence as disapproval.

In this case, it’s perfectly fine to tell them you like it, because, let’s face it, there’s really nothing they can do about it.

The same goes for an outfit someone is wearing. Feel free to make a positive comment even if you think it’s a pretty odd choice.

The time and place for your honest opinion on someone’s outfit is when they’re deciding whether to buy it, or when they’re deciding what to wear for an occasion.

Beyond that, it’s best to lie, as, for example, if they’re already at work or at a party, they can’t exactly go home and change.

3. When Father Christmas Comes Up

There are times when telling harmless lies can create such magic that telling the truth would be nothing short of cruel.

Remember the excitement you felt at Christmas when you were a child? All a result of little white lies told with your best interests at heart.

Believing in the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny will do any little people in your life absolutely no harm, and quite a lot of good, encouraging their imaginations.

This also applies to conversations that they’re not ready for to protect their innocence, like where babies come from or why Mum and Dad don’t live together.

4. When You Want To Cancel

If you need to cancel plans and you don’t think people will understand that you just need some alone time and would be terrible company, then feel free to make something up so you both feel better, blaming it on work or illness.

Your best friends might understand your real reasons, but other people might not. Just be sure to cancel ASAP so they aren’t left hanging.

5. If You’re Late For Work

Or for class, or any situation where your turning up late might cause a problem.

If telling the truth – such as your alarm didn’t go off – won’t go down well and something as important as your job is at stake, a carefully crafted white lie is definitely worth telling to save the situation.

6. To Avoid Becoming Fuel for the Office Gossip

Is your gossipy co-worker trying to pry into your love life? In any situation when you’d rather not share personal things, it’s often better to come up with a white lie rather than telling them straight that you just don’t think it’s any of their business.

The same is true for any situation when someone is being nosy.

7. To Deflect Unwanted Interest

That guy at the bar just won’t leave you alone? Whilst it’s ridiculous that often a plain no just won’t be accepted without an explanation behind it (but HOW could you NOT be interested in him?!), you might find it makes your life easier and your night more fun if you save yourself with a lie.

8. When Someone Needs A Boost

If a friend has been having a tough time with stress or illness and it’s written all over their face, just telling them they’re looking better might be what they need to actually start feeling better about themselves.

If they’ve been working out and on a diet and you can’t see much of a difference, they don’t need to know that. Tell them they look fantastic.

9. When Someone’s Done Something Nice For You

If you’ve had a meal cooked for you or you’ve been given an ‘interesting’ gift, it’s no skin off your nose to tell them it was delicious, or that you love it.

They’re showing their love for you and they’re trying to make you happy, so it really is the thought that counts, and being negative could really hurt their feelings.

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They’re Not Okay When…

1. You’re Just Delaying The Inevitable

Is it something you’re going to have to come clean about eventually? There’s nothing worse than telling a small lie that can then lead to a whole chain of lies, as you’ll eventually get caught out.

Although I mentioned above that it’s fine to tell white lies when cancelling plans, you do need to be careful.

If it’s just a one-off occasion when you don’t feel particularly sociable and you’d love to do the same thing another time, then feel free to spin a white lie.

If, however, it’s a thing you really don’t want to do or a person you’d rather not see, then it’s best to be honest from the outset so you don’t keep getting the same invitation.

2. When You Want To End A Relationship

Romantically, if you’re just not interested in someone who’s asked you out or who you’ve been seeing, that needs to be communicated (kindly) ASAP.

You don’t want them thinking there’s a chance of something happening between you as this will only drag things out and make it awkward.

Whilst there’s no need to be brutal, you should make sure things are clear.

This applies to any kind of relationship, even business ones.

3. Someone Needs A Few Home Truths

If you think there’s something that someone really needs to hear as it will benefit them in the long run, you should tell them, even if it might upset them initially or make you feel uncomfortable.

Whilst it should always be framed positively, if you think someone is lying to themselves about a situation, it might be time for you to get real with them.

4. If It’s Money-Related

Anything to do with money is best to be approached as honestly as possible, particularly when it comes to your relationship with your partner.

5. In the Fitting Room

They haven’t bought it yet, and they’re genuinely asking for your opinion, so don’t lie when your friend or partner is trying something on and you think it looks terrible.

Someone at some point will make a negative comment about whatever item of clothing it is, and then you’ll look bad.

You’re not commenting on them, just the clothes. Just be sure you do it in a positive way and make constructive suggestions.

Why The Lie?

If you’re unsure as to whether honesty is the best policy in a particular situation, ask yourself what your motivation is for lying, and if that lie could cause more harm than good in the long run.

Make sure you’ve got your own and everyone else’s best interests at heart.

About The Author

Katie is a writer and translator with a focus on travel, self-care and sustainability. She's based between a cave house in Granada, Spain, and the coast of beautiful Cornwall, England. She spends her free time hiking, exploring, eating vegan tapas and volunteering for a local dog shelter.