Nobody likes to be deceived. However, according to an experiment realized by psychologists at the University of Massachusetts, 60% of people are able to say an average of three lies every 10 minutes of conversation with a stranger. Of course, it generally consists of little lies and simple omission of the truth, but the fact is that many people would also be willing to say “white lies”.
White lies are deceptions apparently justified because they aim to prevent another person from suffering. Someone decides to hide the truth because another would not face a too difficult reality. However, often white lies are not good and have second motives.
Five truths that hide white lies
1. Imply a condescending judgment. A white lie always implies that someone has decided for us that we do not have the necessary psychological resources to deal with the truth. When someone decides to hide the reality for the “good” of the other, it assumes that that person is not able to take certain consequences. Therefore, these kinds of lies always imply a judgment about our capabilities, an assessment that is not always adequate. In fact, to many people it hurts much knowing that someone believed they were not up to the truth or simply don’t deserve to know it.
2. Prevent to decide consciously. Resort to a white lie means to quit to someone the opportunity to decide, perhaps even of his destiny or an important event in his life. Of course, deciding without knowing the reality isn’tt good as well. When someone lie to us or hide us a part of the reality, we are condemned to live in ignorance, an ignorance that can be very harmful and can have consequences that we can not anticipate. Thus, tackling the problem, we find solutions exclusively to a part of the reality, ignoring the rest. Of course, in these conditions, the solution we find will be a simple patch that will not help to stop the bleeding.
3. Suppress the feelings. There are situations that hurt. We can’t deny it. But no feeling is useless. Throughout life we suffer and cry for many reasons, all those feelings don’t fall on deaf ears, but are part of our emotional baggage, we become stronger and sensitive people, they allow us to know us better and help us change our route for heading to a place where we’ll be better. In fact, the most curious aspect of many white lies is that sometimes they conceal a truth that we already suspected, so in reality we continue to suffer, victims of hardship and uncertainty.
4. Prevent from growing. Innocent lies usually hide a problem. But the truth is that they rely on a wrong concept of the word “Problem”, whose etymological root (from ancient greek) actually means “Project” which is the same word but with latin roots. In fact, problems aren’t negative themselves, but are indeed an opportunity to grow and develop new psychological tools that we hadn’t before. Therefore, in many cases, hiding a problem or liyng about it, implies denying to someone an opportunity for change and growth.
5. Hurt deeply. Even if accompanied with the adjective “White”, it continues to be a lie. And lies can do much more harm tan the reality that supposed to hide, because the person feels deeply betrayed. As a result, there is a loss of trust and the relationship suffers. In fact, there is nothing more heartbreaking than a lie, especially if it comes from people we love and esteem.
White lies are used to protect others or ourselves?
Sometimes we say white lies to avoid conflicts. After all, we believe that the person is not prepared to understand or accept our point of view, so we prefer to lie.
In these cases, with white lies we’re not just protecting the others, but also ourselves, we protect ourselves from a discussion and avoid damaging an important relationship for us. In fact, in many situations it is more convenient and faster to say a lie rather than be fair telling a truth.
In fact, an experiment conducted at the University of Amsterdam revealed that people tend to lie when they can justify the lie to themselves. This way it doesn’t produce cognitive dissonance; ie, they may lie and, at the same time, continue believing to be honest people. The use of the term “white lies” is more or less equal.
In this regard, a group of psychologists at the Harvard University found that at age 7 children are already able to tell lies, and say them when they perceive that will make feel better the other person.
Interestingly, this ability appears at the same stage of the prosocial behaviors, suggesting that white lies are also an adaptive social mechanism. However, the truth is that we should not be forced to lie.
Sincerity does not hurt, what it hurts is reality
The truth is that sincerity only hurts people who live in a world of lies. The sincerity itself does not hurt, what it hurts is reality. And we can not change reality, just hide it.
Obviously, there are people who prefer to live in a world of fantasy and falsehoods to not have to deal with reality. In these cases, even if we do not share their attitude, we have to respect it. However, we must also be aware that it is very dangerous to get drawn into their world.
Maintaining a relationship with these people, whatever the emotional bond that unites us, it is very complicated, because we constantly feel on the edge, on one hand there is the lie that we do not want to say and on the other the truth we do not want to hear . Obviously, these relationships are stressful, as well as false.
Truth builds, the lie destroys
We all have different psychological tools, some have a very complete toolbox, others have yet to prepare it. But if we take away from them the opportunity to address the problems of life, we will be preventing to them also the opportunity to grow.
In any case, reality exists independently of our desires and doesn’t fit our best intentions, so we do not have the right to decide which part of reality tell and which to hide. We must remember that, even if it hurts, the truth always builds while lying, when discovered, destroys.
Warneken, F. & Orlins, E. (2015) Children tell white lies to make others feel better. Br J Dev Psychol; 33(3): 259-270.
Shalvi, S. et. Al. (2012) Honesty Requires Time (and Lack of Justifications). Psychological Science; 23(10): 1264-1270.
Feldman, R. S.; Forrest, J. A. & Happ, B. R. (2002) Self-presentation and verbal deception: Do self-presenters lie more? Basic and Applied Social Psychology; 24(2): 163-170.