Are white lies acceptable?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:10 am

"A white lie would cause only relatively minor discord if it were uncovered, and typically offers some benefit to the hearer. White lies are often used to avoid offense, such as complimenting something one finds unattractive. In this case, the lie is told to avoid the harmful realistic implications of the truth. As a concept, it is largely defined by local custom and cannot be clearly separated from other lies with any authority."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie#White_lie


So are white lies acceptable?
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby PeterB » Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:13 am

A white lie is not always about the speakers best interest as they see it. What would you do if a Nazi officer asked you in 1942 if you had any little girls called Anne Frank in your attic ?
I hope that you would tell a big whopping lie in recognition of a deeper truth.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:18 am

Let me give an example. Someone gives me a gift for my birthday which I don't like. A white lie would be to say to the giver that I like the gift. Is such a lie acceptable according to the Dhamma? Isn't telling him "Sorry but I don't like your gift!" offensive, in which case the white lie is the better option?
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby PeterB » Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:28 am

Yes. With all of the precepts we have to ask what is the principle they are pointing to. Not just a literal interpretation of translations of terms pertaining to guidelines laid down 2500 years ago.
This requires thought, calm rational thought to tease out those principles. To assess whether our words are conducive to a greater truth. In the case you have just described the important issue is not a literal voicing of mere facts, but an expression of gratitude that someone has given us a gift at all. The important issue is not to please some imaginary clerk who is recording our actions in the Big Book of Kamma, its to act with an eye on that which is our and others real best interests. And that is not always clear. It requires thought and reflection.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:33 am

You don't have to say that you like it, which is obviously not truthful.

You could say:

"Oh, how nice of you!" :smile:

It IS nice of the giver, to give you a gift, right?

He/she is giving up money and time, for you. That is nice...

Just speak about the kindness of the giver, of the consideration, and not about the gift and you then don't have to fake anything.

It's something we can practice. Find the one true good thing you can say. Say it. Don't say the bad things, which make the giver sad.

Five keys to right speech

"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."


We don't have to say everything that is on our minds on the spot, just because it is 'true'. If the other 4 factors are missing, it is not well spoken, according to the Buddha.

Was that helpful, Stefan? :smile:

With metta,

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 14, 2010 11:51 am

Yes it was helpful Anna.

I was just giving an example. Another example: a woman asks her husband "Do I look alright this evening?". If he thinks she actually doesn't, what should he say?

See, I'd like to know whether white lies are ever acceptable. :smile:
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Alexei » Wed Jul 14, 2010 1:05 pm

Here someone, abandoning false speech, becomes one who abstains from false speech: when summoned to a court or to a meeting or to his relatives' presence or to his guild or to the royal family's presence, and questioned as a witness thus, 'So, good man, tell what you know,' not knowing, he says 'I do not know,' or knowing, he says 'I know,' not seeing he says 'I do not see,' or seeing, he says 'I see'; he does not in full awareness speak falsehood for his own ends or for another's ends or for some trifling worldly end.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nymo.html

Stefan wrote:I was just giving an example.

There is possible to say something objectively and isn't necessary to answer in direct way.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Anicca » Wed Jul 14, 2010 1:21 pm

Howdy Stefan!
Stefan wrote:a woman asks her husband "Do I look alright this evening?"... what should he say?


The truth. Been married over 30 years - works for me. She asks - "Do these jeans make my butt look big?" I reply - "No, dear, your butt makes those jeans look big."

Last couple of threads you've started have contained questions about honesty in marriage. My advice is to be brutally honest - your future wife should function as your very best friend - and vice-versa - do you want to spend the rest of your life with a friend you could not trust to be honest?

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 14, 2010 1:29 pm

Ah, so.

Well, in the case of the husband, I would be elegant with her and tell her something like:

"Please don't ask me how you look, because I am biased. I think you look stunning in everything." ;)

But you asked about general white lies.

Like I said before, a harmful truth is not good at all.

I'm forever thankful to a doctor who, when I asked her if I can leave in 2 weeks, for my birthday, she hesitated for a moment, but then said:

"Yes.".

I lay back down, happy, smiling, and thought:

"I can hold out for 2 weeks longer, but not for 3."

Had I known it would be 9 weeks, I would have been crushed, and that would have harmed my healing process.

This was one of the few times when people lied to me, and I was thankful, because they didn't lie for their own gain, but for mine. They gave me 'medicine'.

Forgive me when I quote the Dalai Lama in a Theravada forum once again, but he said something to the effect, that a white lie, if it avoids harm, is allowed, and then he laughed, and said:

"You gotta know the rules very well, so you know where you can break them." ;)

:heart:

Hope that reply was helpful, Stefan.



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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 14, 2010 2:05 pm

Anicca wrote:Howdy Stefan!

Last couple of threads you've started have contained questions about honesty in marriage.


It's pure coincidence! I'm not planning to marry. I just want to find out what is morally right and what is not. :smile:

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby OcTavO » Wed Jul 14, 2010 3:51 pm

I used to find "white" lies acceptable but the further along in my life I get, the more I find truthfulness to almost always be the best course of action. But I think Annapurna's reminder that the other facets of right speech must also be in alignment is invaluable. If a nazi asked if a girl was hiding in your attic during ww2 for example, it's clearly not beneficial nor with a mind of good-intention that you reveal her presence.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby SDC » Wed Jul 14, 2010 4:15 pm

Stefan wrote:Let me give an example. Someone gives me a gift for my birthday which I don't like. A white lie would be to say to the giver that I like the gift. Is such a lie acceptable according to the Dhamma? Isn't telling him "Sorry but I don't like your gift!" offensive, in which case the white lie is the better option?


To add to what Anna said:

In my opinion, if you are given something, you should only judge the fact that someone took the time to do so. Whether you specifically like that should not come into play. So if you they ask you, "do you like it?'", you can comfortably say "yes". And you wouldn't be lying that you like the gift, you'd be being honest that you like the fact that someone took their time and money to do something in an attempt to make you happy. When would you ever not like that?

Of course there are certain situations in which you will be flat out asked if you "don't like" or "don't need" something you were given. If the giver is brave enough to ask those questions then you should be able to answer honestly.

Stefan wrote:Another example: a woman asks her husband "Do I look alright this evening?". If he thinks she actually doesn't, what should he say?

See, I'd like to know whether white lies are ever acceptable. :smile:


This one gets interesting. When asked these questions we always judge according to our own selfish standards that we have been fine tuning our whole lives. Unfortunately we think ourselves bound to those standards because we think those standards are a part of us. Therefore we struggle to answer in a way that will not hurt another’s feelings. But do we really have to do that? Is there another way we can look at the situation? Maybe we should look to see if they look happy or confident, and sacrifice our selfish standards. That is an opinion that will do far more than a superficial judgment of taste.

But sometimes a spouse wants to know if they still meet the standard that attracted you to them in the first place, thereby coaxing you towards a past viewpoint regardless of whether you want to be or not. You do so because you want to be accurate with their request. So it is not always easy to avoid answering. I agree with annica - a standard of brutal honesty is very important between a husband and wife. So when these situations arise either spouse will not be shocked or angry when they hear the opinion of the other.

Bottom line - we should not feel so bound to our standards and settings for what we like and dislike. And if we loosen their grip on us we can answer more freely.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Sobeh » Wed Jul 14, 2010 4:33 pm

I wonder if white lies are a form of attachment to rites and rituals, in this case 'social lubrication'.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Mukunda » Wed Jul 14, 2010 5:38 pm

Sobeh wrote:I wonder if white lies are a form of attachment to rites and rituals, in this case 'social lubrication'.


All too often, this is the case, and when we indulge in telling them, we reinforce delusion in ourselves and others.

There seems to be an assumption that we MUST respond to every question put to us. We don't have to respond at all if we think a truthful answer would harm others, and the Buddha quite often refused to answer questions when he believed the asker wasn't ready for the truth.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Mukunda » Wed Jul 14, 2010 5:53 pm

PeterB wrote:A white lie is not always about the speakers best interest as they see it. What would you do if a Nazi officer asked you in 1942 if you had any little girls called Anne Frank in your attic ?


Respond with "Why on earth would you think such a thing?" Of course, if he really did ask the question as you posed it, chances are very good he already knows she's there, so where's the benefit in lying?
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:01 pm

SDC wrote:But sometimes a spouse wants to know if they still meet the standard that attracted you to them in the first place


What a good observation! And what were those standards?

Just looks....? Then we have a problem, because looks will wane.

But if a relationships was based on inner values, then we don't, because inner values increase as we age, together. Not just one of the two.


a standard of brutal honesty is very important between a husband and wife.


Ouch....! :o

I hope fate will never give me a husband that is brutally honest, much rather one that has loving kindness...!

5 factors of right speech...
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby kc2dpt » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:08 pm

Stefan wrote:Are white lies acceptable?

Acceptable to whom? As we have seen in this thread, some people find them acceptable and some people don't. :shrug:

Are you meaning to ask a dhamma question? If so, do you mean "Are white lies ever wholesome? Or is any kind of lie unwholesome?"
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Annapurna » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:27 pm

Mukunda wrote:
PeterB wrote:A white lie is not always about the speakers best interest as they see it. What would you do if a Nazi officer asked you in 1942 if you had any little girls called Anne Frank in your attic ?


Respond with "Why on earth would you think such a thing?" Of course, if he really did ask the question as you posed it, chances are very good he already knows she's there, so where's the benefit in lying?


:tongue:

I would have said:

"Dozens."



Bluff... :tongue:

Speaking of....I was once controlled by the police when I had 3 intoxicated guys in the car with me, who had illegal substances with them. (Which I was not aware of, until they tried to hide them when they saw the police.)

They asked me, the driver, if everything was ok, which was of course sweet.

So I said:" yes", smiled a really big smile, and said, with a strict look at the guys: "Sure. If you enjoy a drunk boyfriend and 2 of his friends, meowing pathfinder songs, you're having a jolly good time."

The policemen grinned and backed off, while the guys were in cold sweat...

:rofl:
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby Stephen K » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:36 pm

Peter wrote:
Stefan wrote:Are white lies acceptable?

Are you meaning to ask a dhamma question? If so, do you mean "Are white lies ever wholesome? Or is any kind of lie unwholesome?"

Exactly.
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Postby SDC » Wed Jul 14, 2010 8:36 pm

Annapurna wrote:
SDC wrote:But sometimes a spouse wants to know if they still meet the standard that attracted you to them in the first place


What a good observation! And what were those standards?

Just looks....? Then we have a problem, because looks will wane.

But if a relationships was based on inner values, then we don't, because inner values increase as we age, together. Not just one of the two.


a standard of brutal honesty is very important between a husband and wife.


Ouch....! :o

I hope fate will never give me a husband that is brutally honest, much rather one that has loving kindness...!

5 factors of right speech...


Well it depends. Some women/men want there husbands/wives to be attracted to them sexually more than intellectually or spiritually. So its going to vary greatly person to person. Sometimes partners depend on each other to tell them how they see them so there is an idea how the rest of the world sees them. You have to know each other. The better you do the better you both choose your words.

As far as the brutal honesty part, that depends too. My wife and I made an agreement soon after we met about 11 years ago, that we would not hesitate to tell each other what we think of the other person. Although its helped, its definitely created some nasty arguments along the way. So we've had to be careful with that and learn what helps and what hurts. I just think that since we chose to live our lives together, we need keep everything in the open.

I guess using the word "brutal" may have been misleading. There is no goal of harming the other person. In the end you want everything that you choose to say to benefit both parties. That being the goal, there are definitely things that don't get said.

Sorry for taking the discussion a bit off topic.
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