In preparation for a unit on The Cay , I provided my seventh grade class with a belief assessment list. They had evaluate each statement and decide whether they agreed. One of the statements was “True friends never lie to each other.” It was fascinating to watch my group of fourteen students select opposite sides of the room, almost equally. Many felt that it was necessary to lie either to protect another’s feelings or to keep personal situations private. The other group felt it was never acceptable to lie in any situation. True friends did not do that.
I do believe telling a white lie is acceptable in some cases, but I chose not to take part in this discussion with my students. Remembering that the opinions of my young students are borne from the limited life experience they carry, the belief that one must always try to do the right thing is appropriate, and in their black and white world, right means never lying. One must always consider the source when evaluating opinions, and in the world of preteens, black and white works. It did get me to thinking about my personal feelings on the topic. My gut reaction is that everyone at some point, at some time lies. What makes it “right” or “wrong” is the motivation behind it.
My motivation never comes from a place of evil intent, but rather in an attempt to be a supportive friend. In most of my daily interactions, I chose to lie if that means sparing another’s feelings. Yes, I love that (hideous) sweater you gave me. There are also lines I won’t cross. My transgressions would never rise above a white lie. If a situation calls for absolute truth in order to facilitate my friend’s safety, I will sing like a canary.
I might also be guilty of lying by omission. Life is messy sometimes and there are details I don’t always feel comfortable sharing. If a friend asks how things are going in my life, I might answer positively even if things are falling apart around me. I must agree with my students on this. There are some things too personal to share with even a close friend. I don’t think either scenario makes me less of a friend. Those white lies are sometimes the kind response.
I do have one exception to my practice. My sister, Maureen, and I have always been truthful in every situation, even in sticky circumstances. We are brutally honest with each other. Everyone needs that person who consistently reflects the truth, no matter how harsh it may be. If there is a covenant between two people that promises truth supersedes all else, it works. If the covenant is broken, that unique relationship breaks and morphs into something else. The relationship itself becomes a lie.
Comparing my beliefs with those of my young students reminds me that who we are and what we believe is shaped by our own, unique journeys through life. Robert Brault has a great blog that covers this extensively. He states “Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.” That is a philosophy I can believe in.