Tell White Lies (Occasionally)
Protecting from Unnecessary Hurt
By Donald W. McCullough
In the article “Tell White Lies (Occasionally)” author Donald McCullough surprises us when he tells us it is sometimes good manners to tell lies. He describes a time when he told the truth. He realizes now that a lie would have saved a lot of grief and prevented a lot of trouble. He also recommends that we lie to certain kinds of people, for example people who end to distort the truth, misrepresenting what they hear. McCullough makes it clear he is speaking about white lies: social lies, lies we tell to spare someone’s feelings. The author does not approve of more serious lies, which he calls “gray” or “back” lies and finds morally unacceptable.
The author begins the text with a short reflection over the past incident. Once Verna asked the author how her baby was. The author remarked in a very insensitive way by commenting that her baby wasn’t cute. He tells us that we cannot simply judge a new born baby. A new born child is neither ugly nor beautiful, or all of them are beautiful in some aspect. It requires time to pass judgment like this only when the child grows up.
After thirty years, whenever the writer visits Verna she reminds him that her baby ugly. Had he not passed such insensitive judgment at that time, her daughter would have became Miss Universe or perhaps she would be spending the last fifteen years in psychoanalysis working on low self-esteem. He regrets for saying her baby ugly. He wishes he had lied. It would have saved all of them from being grieved.
The author mentions the above anecdote in order to support his claim that sometimes it is better to tell lies than to tell the truth. He says that white lies are sometimes needed for the sake of courtesy. As Aristotle had said honesty doesn’t mean telling everything to everyone. Rather, it is speaking the right truth to the right person at the right time in the right way for the right reason.
We should not tell truth if hurts another. Some people distort what they hear, and use fats to hide important truth. It is not always appropriate to tell the truth; sometimes remaining silence is considered golden rule. Some expressions of “honesty” demean and undervalue another person. The author considers a white lie more important than insensitive “honesty” the author admits that it’s not that easy to tell the difference whether a person is telling the lie to protect the other person or himself. For whose benefit is the person telling the lie matters? On the surface, a lie may appear to protect another person from unnecessary pain; on closer examination, however, it’s actually an attempt to save him from uncomfortable exposure. For instance, in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, a police officer in s West African colony during the war has an affair with a local woman. He hides the truth from his wife in order to protect her from the pain of the truth which eventually brings his disaster. Greene’s story may be fiction but it’s a profound truth that happens in everyday.
But just because it’s difficult to tell the difference between an appropriate lie and a morally unacceptable lie does not mean we give up the attempt to make the distinction. Though we need to be committed to honesty, we sometimes need to tell white lies.