Little White Lies

Imagine that something you had believed in very dearly, something that you’d put your faith, hopes, and dreams into, turned out to be a lie.

Believe it or not, this happens to people more often than you’d think–one might say we’re even conditioned to accept it as a reality. Think about being a kid…remember Santa Claus? Santa Claus was such an in-depth lie that they even have a website tracking Santa and his sleigh! Your parents probably put out cookies and milk in front of the fireplace, all the while you watched countless movies about Santa and his elves in anticipation of the big day. Some parents even dress up as this fabled jolly man to make the illusion more realistic.

Or, think of the tooth fairy.  A riskier job for parents, sneaking in to replace a tooth with money. The Easter bunny? I was convinced I saw him once when I was a kid, right after my parents had filled my bedroom with tasty treats that I had to hunt down like a mini egg hunt. After all, I had no reason to believe that anyone would lie to me about an EASTER BUNNY. I mean come on, who would do that?

The answer is pretty much everyone. But why?

Because telling a child something grandiose and amazing makes a holiday much more special, and since it’s NORMAL to tell these things to a child, why not? These are deemed lies that are acceptable by society because they create special memories. Children are usually able to block out the disappointment that came when they discovered the truth and focus on the memories that came from them instead. As an adult, we’re able to understand that it was only to make us happy.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just your parents who have lied to you in the name of making you happy. Friends do it on occasion, significant others, family…”little white lies” have also become acceptable in our society as a way to be sensitive to the feelings of those we care about. Lying has become commonplace in our world, because sometimes it’s much nicer to hear what we want to hear than the truth. No one stops it, because on some level I think everyone is okay with ignoring some of the truths about themselves, right? On some level, I think many people are aware of their ugly flaws and appreciate that they can be overlooked by people that they care about. We can breathe a sigh of relief and use the validation of a white lie to tell ourselves, “Whew. See, I’m not so bad!” or “Whew. Even though I’ve gained/lost weight, I still look good. Okay.”

But what happens when a “white lie” turns into a bigger lie? What do we even consider a bigger lie? Where do we as people draw the line between saying “I understand why you did that” to saying, “No. I trusted that you would tell me the truth, and you have betrayed my trust.” Humans are interesting…we assume that people will tell us the truth about certain things, always (for example, when you ask someone whether or not they like sour cream, why would we assume anyone would lie about that?), but we deem it appropriate and acceptable for people to lie to us about other things.

When someone is consistently lied to, however, even about the small things, and they begin to catch on that all isn’t what it seems, suspicion grows and we change the way we see a person who has deceived us. I remember how disappointed I was the Christmas after I discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real…it was still an exciting holiday, but it was…different.

I knew that there would be no special gift from Santa. I knew that there had never BEEN a special gift from Santa, and it was very disappointing. I remember how deeply I’d wished that I could still believe in Santa, but I couldn’t! I knew, despite the years of being told how very real he was, that it had been the truth when my parents confirmed my suspicions. When younger kids talked of Santa, I scoffed at them in my head. How stupid they must be, I thought, for believing in such a thing (even though I hadn’t found out Santa wasn’t real until I was 11). I covered up my embarrassment at falling for such a lie with the knowledge that 90% of other kids had fallen for the same one. My parents meant well and were following a tradition, but regardless, the disappointment was there, and I felt silly that I hadn’t seen the signs sooner.

And such is the case when we are lied to and disappointed as adults. We wish so badly that we could believe the way we did because it made us happy, but in our hearts we know that we’ll never look at things the same way again. And, we’ll never look at the person who lied to us the same way again, either. Growing up gave me a healthy dose of skepticism that maybe my parents weren’t always truthful, and I would have to decide how I wanted to deal with that.

In a world where lying has become second nature for many people, I do my best to stay honest and open, especially about the big stuff. Being deceived feels awful; not only do you question the integrity of the person who lied to you, but you also question yourself (how dumb was I to believe that?). You put less faith in your decision-making (am I a good judge of character?) and less faith in other people who haven’t breached your trust (if someone I cared about this much lied to me, who’s to say that this stranger isn’t going to deceive me too? I must be careful). Being deceived can feel degrading, humiliating, upsetting, and confusing. I do my best to be honest because I would hate to be the person who made someone feel this way.

Though no one is a stranger to the business of telling a “white lie” (No, you don’t need to go on a diet! Are you kidding? You look way better in that top than I do.), it’s something to think about. What would happen if this person were to discover the truth…would they not trust me anymore, and would the impact of this be worse than simply telling the truth? Sometimes lying is well-intentioned (but sometimes it’s just easier), but we must always think of the feelings of those we’re communicating with to make sure that we aren’t causing harm to the ones we love with good-natured deception.

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