Unexpectedly Intriguing!
September 25, 2007

I lie every second of the day. My whole life is a sham.

George Costanza on Seinfeld

While George Costanza's whole life may be a sham, odds are, your life is isn't. George Costanza is a fictional character and you, for what it's worth, are a real person. Or so we're led to believe....

No matter what though, the subject of lying brings up an interesting question: Is it ever okay to lie?

The topic came up a while back in a discussion forum at Bressler.org, from which we've excerpted the following interchange, misspellings and all, below:

Dave: "Lying...it''s a no no, but sometimes it seems better to fib then to reveal the truth and hurt people's feelings.

We lie to our kids from the time they are born (Santa Claus).

"I know I have to bend the truth from time to time in my occupation, I don't like to but I don't always have a choice....for example, I had a voice mail first thing this morning from a client who told me his wife would be calling with questions about their tax return. She is going to ask about things that he doesn't want her to know about...I hate being put in this position.

"I don't like to lie, it doesn't make me feel very good about myself.

"What situations is it okay to extend the truth, is there any situation where it is okay??"

shotglass: "You're putting yourself at risk if you lie in a professional situation. I would let Mr. know that if she asks, you are going to tell her the truth. You might lose the business, but you keep yourself out of a much more expensive lawsuit further down the line."

Dave: "In this case, I am exepcted to avoid the issues he doesn't want her to know about, not really lie but play dumb.....if she directly asks...then I don't know what I will say because I feel like you do Shotty."

shotglass: "However, when you get home at 4 am, drunk as a skunk, some woman's lipstick and fingernail scratches all over you, somehow spent $200 or so, and can't remeber where you left your car...you'd not only better lie about where you've been, but it had better be a damned good one, too.

"You're still gonna get the skillet upside the head, but you sure as hell can't admit where you've been. Especially if you can't remember all the details..."

To paraphrase that last comment: "It's okay to lie when you can't remember the truth!"

The discussion brings up several other good questions. If it's not okay to lie in a professional situation, what circumstances make it okay to lie in a personal situation? How guilty will you feel if you lie? What are the consequences of lying? What are the consequences of telling the truth?

Surely, there's a better way to decide whether or not you should lie! And if you've read down this far, you know that:

  1. Yes, there's a tool you can use to help you answer this question, and
  2. Geek Logik's Garth Sundem worked out the math to help you answer it.

We've taken Garth's math and magnitude measurement scales and built the tool below to help you answer this question - just enter the indicated data that applies to your situation below and we'll see where that gets you....

Things to Think About Before Potentially Lying
Input Data Values
At this moment, how far are you up the proverbial creek?
(1-10 with 10 being "already salvaging clothing thrown in driveway.")
Hypothetically, how far up the proverbial creek would you be if the truth came out?
(1-10 with 10 being "without a proverbial paddle.")
Chance of eventual discovery
(1-10 with 1 being "finding Jimmy Hoffa's body.")
Your level of guilt in telling a lie
(1-10 with 10 being "I'm getting an ulcer.")
Is the question of whether or not to lie related to an aspect of your girlfriend's personal appearance?


Your Lie Index Score
Calculated Results Values
Lie Index Score
Should You Lie?

In the tool above, the numerical threshold at which the tool will tip toward either lying or telling the truth is 1, with values greater than this suggesting that lying might be an option you consider. As always, we point this out so that you can play with shading the truth in the tool before you attempt to do it in real life. (And if you're going to lie, or tell your girlfriend what you really think about some aspect of her appearance, please take this opportunity to familiarize yourself with our tool that's designed to help you answer the question that will soon become very relevant in your life: Should You Apologize?)

More seriously, back in 2001, Jamie Walters focused on the "innocent, everyday lies" that people tell to avoid conflict or hurting someone's feelings and offered advice for how to approach the situations that might otherwise result in lies being told, arguing that avoiding the impulse to lie is key to building a stronger character. Walters' approach relies on the individual having a solid self-awareness that takes a lot of time and effort to develop. He recommends first answering the following questions to dig into why you might consider lying:

  1. What triggers your decision-making process to discern that a lie is the best route?

  2. What fear is behind this choice? For instance, your fear of being wrong, or that you'll be perceived as being unlikeable or cruel if you speak truthfully, or a fear that you lack the skill to speak the truth in a kinder, more respectful way that may be better received by someone else.

  3. In any particular situation, why do you believe that the lie will have the better outcome, and for whom?

Answering these questions may help you better recognize the situations in which you might go straight into "lie mode", rather than carefully considering your actions. If nothing else, doing so will help you avoid those unintended consequences from following your instinct to lie that could otherwise derail your life.

Assuming, that is, that you're a real person. We still have our doubts....

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