Here I’m talking specifically about the white lies you tell to protect someone’s feelings. The “Your new haircut looks great,” or “No, I didn’t think the cake tasted burnt,” or “I loved the present you chose for me,” kind of lies.
A quick Google search left me more confused (yes, I use the internet as my moral compass. And what?). Some people believe that protecting someone’s feelings is paramount, while others take a hardline approach – all lying is bad because it presents the recipient with a false or distorted representation of reality.
I kind of get this, but I also know that some of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard were said by someone who was “just being honest”. To me, when honesty becomes an excuse for cruelty, something has gone horribly wrong.
In terms of the yogic principles I try to live by, ahimsa, or non-violence comes before satya or truth. Therefore it is as important not to do harm with your words as it is to be truthful. Perhaps my Nana was onto something all along when she told us, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
It’s also worth remembering that your opinion is not the same as the truth. My opinion might be that you should not have cut your hair, but that’s not to say that this is true. It’s just my perception, based on my personal preferences, experience and ideas. Is my opinion in this case particularly useful to you? No. So maybe I don’t need to share it.
If someone directly asks you what you think of something, particularly if it’s something personal to them, it’s worth trying to work out what they want from you. Are they actually asking for your opinion or just looking for affirmation that they are good enough? Once you know that, you can figure out how best to support them with your answer.
That’s not to say that you should never speak the truth for fear of hurting someone. Sometimes it is important to give someone constructive feedback for example. But I do think this can be given with sensitivity and kindness if the ultimate intention is to help them.
So to sum up, I’m still working this out, but I reckon if you are tempted to tell a white lie, consider…
Is it necessary? Would it be better to say nothing at all? Or can you find something to say which is honest? What will ultimately help the person most in this situation?
But my final thoughts on this are summed up by this quote, which I love…
“If you have to choose between being kind and being right, choose being kind and you will always be right.”