I recently finished Sam Harris’s long form essay titled, “Lying” and thoroughly enjoyed it. The essay made me think about my tolerance for lying, from others and myself, and what I define as a lie. It has also provided great conversational fodder for my friends and I.

I try not to lie. I typically find it to be not worth the effort. The truth may be harder to vocalize, but it is much simpler in the long run: there is no continued tax on having to remember who you told what to and when. As they say, “the truth shall set you free.”

I also noticed that I tend to hold other people to a lower standard than myself when it comes to lying. I believe this comes from a perceived difference between my standard and the societal standard (I perceive mine as higher). The people closest to me I do expect the truth from, at least to my own standard.

One interesting idea from within the essay is defining a “white lie.” If you tell a version of the truth, but not the complete truth, is it a lie? I think many people classify this under a “white lie”, but I want to draw a distinction. By definition, a white lie must contain a lie, and if everything you say is accurate, then you have not told a white lie.

You could argue that half truths are “lies by omission”, and I see merit in that argument. However, I would argue that intent must plays a role. If your purpose in telling a partial truth is to put an end to the line of discussion and move on, then I would not call that a lie by omission. But if you are intentionally misleading your audience with a partial truth, then that would be a lie by omission.

One test could be to consider what would happen if the person you are speaking to asked you a clarification question. Would your reply continue to mislead, or would you reply with the complete truth, or even a simple, “I would rather not say.”

That last statement was another insight from the essay. Sometimes I feel pressure to take a stance on a matter and what comes out is misleading, possibly intentionally. At the very least it downplays my opinion. I would have been much better off in those scenarios stating, “I would rather not say,” or “is this really the best time to get into this topic?”

Statements such as those that are functional and accurate are underused, and I plan on using them more. My goal going forward is no white lies nor misleading statements.

Pick up a copy of “Lying” and let me know your thoughts.

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