Today I told a lie, without missing a beat
Is it okay to tell a little white lie? Ordinarily I’m a fairly honest person. I don’t cheat, steal, write anything that’s untrue if it’s not labeled fiction or say I’m going to do something without following through.
But today I told a lie. Without missing a beat. I was walking through the gauntlet at Sam’s Club.
I was in Sam’s strictly for the food; giant bags of tortilla chips, mega packages of chicken, 15-pound bags of potatoes. But before reaching the well-stocked freezers that feature things like microwave-ready charbroiled burgers and family-size frozen lasagna, I had to pass the hungry, desperate, eager young salespeople.
They lurk in front beside the door so they can snag you before you duck out of sight, and they sell things I am totally uninterested in, like energy-efficient windows, siding, new roofing and satellite dishes.
Merely saying “I am here for the food!” doesn’t work. They counter with, “How long have you owned your house?”
If I tell them truthfully, “Thirty years,” I’ve had it. A thirty-year-old house is bound to be a prime candidate for a new roof or energy-efficient windows.
One time I said, “I don’t want to buy anything for my house! I don’t need siding or satellite dishes!”
That didn’t work. The persistent, smiling, eager salesperson replied, “These new windows will save you hundreds of dollars in energy efficiency!”
Another time I snapped, “I’m not interested in a satellite dish! I don’t have time to answer your questions! I was immediately remorseful. The young guy looked crestfallen, and his freckled face haunted me during the rest of my shopping. That poor guy, having to earn a living selling satellite dishes to Sam’s customers who are only here for the food, I kept thinking.
Deciding to make amends, I walked all over the store until I found him so I could apologize for being snappish. You would have thought I had told him he won the lottery.
“That’s so nice of you! Nobody’s ever done that before! I can’t believe you apologized!” He said with utter joy. I thought he was going to follow me home, like a stray pup that’s been given a treat after being kicked around all its life.
So today, in order to avoid being rude or getting into a long conversation about how I don’t need new windows or a roof, I told a lie.
“How old is your house?” asked an eager girl with a toothy smile and a clipboard.
“I just moved in three months ago,” I lied. “My house is brand new.”
“Then you don’t need new a new roof yet! Did you have your house custom built?”
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” — Sir Walter Scott
I became more deeply embroiled in my lies. “Yes, custom made. It’s just been finished.”
“Is it one of the homes in the new subdivision down the street?” She was really perking up at the mention of a new house.
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“Do you have those great new cedar shingles?”
“Ah, yeah, cedar.”
“How exciting! Congratulations on your new home! Have a blessed day!”
Extricating myself from this uncomfortable conversation, I loaded my car with giant bags of tortilla chips, mega packages of chicken, a 15-pound bag of potatoes and some cheese that will take my husband and me six years to eat unless we have company.
My husband, who had used his free time in a worthwhile way by giving blood at the Red Cross blood drive, got home twenty minutes after I did.
“Do you think it’s ever okay to tell a white lie?” I asked as he came in the door.
“Never. I always believe in being truthful. What have you been doing all day?” he said as he collapsed on the couch, a little dizzy from the bloodletting.
“Nothing much. Just lying around,” I said.
Little White Lies
This whole episode got me thinking about little white lies. Are they any different from big dishonest ones? Should you always be truthful, no matter what?
My husband says yes, be truthful in every situation. I say it all depends.
What if your friend says, Do I look fat in these jeans? Should you answer with an unqualified yes? The completely honest person would say, Yes! You do look fat! Maybe I would say that, too, if my friend had just emerged from the fitting room and wanted my opinion before buying the jeans.
But what if you’re already on your way to a concert, there’s no time to change, your friend lacks confidence and you don’t want her to be unhappy and self-conscious the whole night?
I wouldn’t say No! They make you look thin! But I wouldn’t say Yes, they make you look huge, either. I would probably say something like, You look beautiful no matter what you wear, or I love your blouse.
What others say about being honest
There are plenty of articles telling you honesty is the best policy. One quote goes so far as to say this:
“Telling the truth and making someone cry is better than telling a lie and making someone smile.” Paelo Coelho
I don’t believe that quote for a minute. There are just as many articles, like the one in Pschology Today, that claim honesty is not always the best policy.
“The truth is, there are some advantages to lying and they aren’t always for self-gain. Sometimes people choose to lie to protect others and spare their feelings. Because let’s face it. The truth hurts.” Anna Chui
I’m more in tune with Anna Chui than I am with Paelo. But being a Christian, I decided to turn to the Bible for an answer. I found some straightforward quotes like this one:
“God can’t stomach liars; he loves the company of those who keep their word.” Proverbs 12:22
The gray area of lying
But wait a minute. If I remember the Bible correctly, there were some biblical heroes who told some whoppers. Abraham, father of all three monotheistic religions, lied and said Sarah was his sister instead of his wife because Abraham was afraid the king would kill him in order to steal Sarah. Spare me but take this woman! She’s just my sister!
Jacob deceived his poor, blind father by pretending to be his older brother so he could win the father’s inheritance blessing. And the whole scheme was his mother’s idea!
Rahab the prostitute told a bold-faced lie to the king when he asked her where a few Israelite spies were hiding. She hid the spies in her house, then sent the king in the wrong direction on a wild goose chase. Her reward for lying to the king was that she married an Israelite and is one of only five women mentioned in Jesus’ geneology.
This tells me there is some gray area. I’m a strong believer in integrity, defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” I would never lie on my tax forms, do anything dishonest for financial gain, or deceive those I love. I would rather lose money than cheat and I’d rather fail if the cost of success is dishonesty.
But I wouldn’t tell my friend she looks fat in her jeans when we’re on our way to a concert. And I don’t feel too guilty about telling the salesperson in Sam’s that my house is new.
Well, maybe just a little guilty. I probably won’t do that again.