Little white lies, sometimes called the glue that holds society together, can often help alleviate the drama in a conversation. These shoes were on sale. This stuffing is the best I ever had. Those pants aren't too tight on you. No, you don't look fat.
Unacceptable or detrimental? This week's clergy delve into the concept of "little white lies."
Thomas Carey, evangelist, Times of Refreshing Ministries, an outreach of Word of Jesus Worship Center, a Pentecostal congregation, Holbrook:
Little white lies are the door to deception. They are neither helpful nor fruitful. One should tell the truth in all situations. Don't put someone's feelings before truth. When he spoke, Jesus showed compassion but was never concerned with the response of those listening. We all would be less concerned about what others thought of us if we knew how seldom they did think of us.
Not only are little white lies wrong, but they're not good for the teller or the receiver. One cannot just tell a little white lie. It will come back and require more and more explanation. I saw an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" where eventually the whole family became involved in what started as a little deception.
Avoiding lies takes prayer and practice. We need to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider our responses. A person who trusts you and values your opinion wants an honest answer from you.
But that doesn't mean you don't have to be tactful in your response. Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have them look forward to the trip. We're wired to want to be accepted and approved of. We have a tendency to anticipate the expected response, rather than an honest assessment. I've been married 33 years and have five daughters. I've learned an awful lot about tact. And not all questions need to be answered.
The Rev. James Barker, Bible Baptist Church, Elmont:
All lies are sins, so little white lies are also sins.
There are some cases where lying would seem to be acceptable: military intelligence, undercover police work. But, as a general policy, honesty is the best policy.
The Bible doesn't differentiate between white lies and black lies. Little white lies are neither acceptable nor necessary. Every day we read about politicians and business people who lie and suffer because if it.
Here's how I think of it. When Jesus died on the cross, he not only delivered us from the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin. When people say, "I can't help it," they're saying they're enslaved to sin. Not just lies, but whatever vice you may have: lying, drinking, stealing, etc. But, if you are saved and trust in Jesus, he'll help you to get over these sins. So, don't make the mistake of thinking little white lies are OK, or not as bad as other lies. Lies are lies.
Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov, Sinai Reform Temple, Bay Shore:
In researching this question, I found a study that says the average person lies about 150 to 200 times a day. That seems like a lot, but those are the little white lies we tell.
I have to start by saying the concept of sin within Judaism is obviously different from other faiths where every lie is automatically a sin. For me to say all lying is a sin is somewhat inaccurate. Just using the word sin in this instance gave me pause.
This is an especially poignant question with the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) coming up. We're supposed to be evaluating our sins and repenting.
I do want to state clearly that in Judaism lying in general is strongly discouraged. There are many prohibitions against lying, particularly those dealing with business. We are constantly told how important it is to be fair in our business dealings. In the book of Leviticus in the Torah it says that one shall not go up and down the street as a talebearer among the people, meaning you should not go about lying or gossiping.
That said, there are times when lying is permissible, particularly the little white lie. It is permissible when it saves a life, for the cause of peace, to spare another person's feelings and to provide comfort. Ultimately, the value that Judaism places on life is of the utmost importance. If saying a small lie will preserve life, that may be the right thing to do.