Why sometimes, good people are found lying?

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Categories: Ethics, Human, Leadership

Why sometimes, good people are found lying? 

It is a very pertinent question because of the general assumption that liars are not good people, and that everyone must tell the truth at all times. This is what we learned during our school daysor even earlier and continue to believe till today. Despite this fairly universal belief, we sometimes find good people lying and find ourselves thinking that it might be fine to do so.

Good people sometimes tell lies to people they care about. In many cultures, we are told about the selfless mother who tells her kids she is not hungry so the children get a higher share of food. Also, we often read about leaders telling their staff they are doing a great job to keep them motivated despite knowing well that the work done is far from being great. We have all learned about entrepreneurs who are warding off bankruptcy but keep telling their buyers that business is good and can get even better in days or weeks to come. We salute the veterans who were captured and tortured to divulge positions of their platoon mates but misled the captors. Many of us “fake it till we make it” often lying to our own-selves to improve our prospects of success. 

So the mother who is in fact hungry but sacrifices her own needs for her children, leaders who are trying to keep their staff motivated to keep trying, entrepreneurs who are taking great personal risks to generate money just enough to pay salaries, the officer relying on deception to protect his soldiers, people who keep themselves energized through fantasies of being on the right track – actually telling lies? If these people are indeedtelling lies, how do we treat such false assertions? Is this type oflying good or bad?

It seems there are lies which are told for personal gains and lies which are told to protect others from harm. I have always advocated the universal belief that lying is unethical under any circumstances, but I also wonder why well respected people are found telling lies. Your thoughts on this seemingly controversial question are welcome.

Posted by Mohamed Hassan on: November 11, 2018 03:08 PM | Permalink

Comments (33)

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Thanks Eduin for your comment

As you mentioned, there are different kinds of lies. The unethical lies are the ones told to give an advantage to the liar. Those that are told to benefit others who are at a disadvantage are not generally considered unethical. Finally, those things we tell ourselves to give encouragement may not necessarily be lies, provided we achieve our goal in the end. Language is a very subtle and powerful tool, which can be used for both good and ill. To me, ethical behavior urges us to use this tool to build others up.

It is definitely something to ponder. I guess truth could be put to the same scrutiny. Such as the example of the person who always tells it like it is. This type of person usually justifies their words as being truthful; although, they often do more harm than good to others. In this case, should we call this person truthful and honest, or a thinly veiled mean spirited person? More often than not, it’s usually the latter. So I would tend to think that intentions do count for something when it comes to lying or truthfulness.

In some cultures lying even in business is expected sometimes, for example when saving face. It's a slippery slope though and can't really end up in anything good. We tell our kids that santa claus will deliver gifts and Christmas, the tooth fairy will put some money under the pillow when they lose a tooth, and some fluffy bunny brings chocolate eggs at Easter. Humanity has been lying since the dawn of time. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone, provide us gain over someone else's loss, or violates some contract/agreement/promise, then it usually gets a pass.

Fear is the biggest factor in lying as we were working with many foreign exchange students on projects and foreign cultural differences in the workplace, they feared most of all a lack of social acceptance. Company goals require them to reveal their playing cards, and to some groups this is unacceptable until they believe they are able to achieve a successful end. However they can't do that alone, and that interdependence on the whole of the project or company is something that needs to be fostered. Commonality of the human work experience and friendship helps to put that tendency away.

Fact of the matter is life is a gray area, so “lying” is in eye of beholder.

I put my boss in a conundrum where he didn’t know that I knew something; exposing him as a liar. From his point of view I am sure he didn’t think so.

It’s not as simple as black and white and being too honest will get you into as much trouble as too much dishonesty.

It’s not my rule, jus5 a fact of life

Mohamed, what an interesting blog you have shared! Is a courtesy statement considered a lie? Is an encouragement considered a lie? And are there degrees of lies? Honesty is critical for building trust and influence. However, honesty doesn't need to be brutal nor offending, it can be delivered with respect, preserving dignity aiming for positive influence, encouragement, resolving problems and creating harmony.

Mohamed, Great posting. This begs the question: what is a lie? It is such a harsh word. Is a half-truth a lie? Is partial, incomplete information a lie? What about saving someone's feelings--- is that a lie? What if an individual has been asked not to share sensitive information and someone asks that person directly for the information? Similar to Amany's response, are there degrees of lies? It seems to me that the way that a statement is made and the intent of the statement are key. Thank you for sharing... and keeping the open discussion going.

Another question is "are all lies created equal?"

Thanks Valerie for your comment, and really it’s diffecult question when we ask : When do we consider lying as a moral act?
May be When it is used for reconciliation between the two friends and may be in the courtesies between the husband and his wife and may be when it’s preserve the lives of innocent people.
In some cases lies may build not harm, that’s why sometimes good people are found laying.
We can’t say telling half true is a lie, but If it is impacting the decision, then it’s not an ethical behavior.
Your questions are very interesting and I hope to hear more answers from our friends here.
Thanks again

Thanks Rami Kaibni for your comment

Thanks Glenn for your comment and I do agree with you “Language is a very subtle and powerful tool, which can be used for both good and ill. To me, ethical behavior urges us to use this tool to build others up”

Hi Mohamed, in my own cultural background, there is a proverb which says that in fact, "It would be better a helpful lie than a devastating truth". It is an assertion in which I personally don't believe. People must say the truth in any circumstances.

Hi cheikh,
Thanks for your comment,
I do agree with you, No one can say lie is good thing, for sure telling the truth is the right thing.
But we see sometimes good people found lying and still we consider them good people like for example the soldier who get arrested in a war and he start telling lies to the enemy army to save his friends and country. People consider him as a hero .. what do you think?

Mohamed, You bring up an excellent point. Telling the truth is the right thing. Are there situations where withholding limited information is the right thing to do. I think taking time to go through the decision process and understanding the implications of full disclosure vs. partial withholding is the key. It would be great to be able to say ALWAYS tell the truth. That is certainly the goal.

Cheikh, Interesting proverb. There are times where that might be appropriate, but I agree that telling the truth and having full disclosure is the goal.

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