Believe or Deceive: Why It’s Better to Lie
You might think that lying is bad but there’s more to the truth than meets the eye. Find out when it’s better to lie than to be honest
Published 22 Oct 2019
Did you know that adults lie in approximately 20% of their social interactions?
The truth is that we lie more frequently than we realise. But while we’ve been told it’s bad to lie, sometimes, lying can be beneficial to build and maintain relationships. In fact, Professor Maurice Schweitzer from the University of Pennsylvania, who studies lies and deception, believes that we should be teaching employees, students and children when and how to lie.
Sounds ridiculous? Read on to find out when it might actually be better to lie!
#1. When you want to be polite
So, your housemate has spent hours slogging over the stove cooking dinner for the both of you, only for you to find that it’s not to your liking. Do you criticise the meal and tear it to shreds or politely say thank you and express how much you enjoyed it?
More likely than not, you’ll pick the latter and resort to a white lie, often viewed as the least serious of all lies. This is more socially appropriate as it spares the person from getting unnecessarily hurt and may even strengthen your bond.
#2. When you want to maintain privacy
If you’ve just met someone who keeps pestering you for your phone number, be it a salesperson or a random stranger who’s up to no good, it’s probably a good idea to initiate a lie to get the person off your back. In such situations, withholding your personal information, which is a form of mild deception, makes sense as it’s important for your safety.
This can be extended to other situations where you may want to use deflective answers, especially if it’s from new acquaintances or nosy relatives.
“What’s your Instagram handle?” “Oh, I’m not on Instagram much.”
“Why are you still single?” “I’m just focusing on my studies right now.”
“So, how much do you earn?” “Not much; enough to pay the bills.”
Just because you’re generally an honest person doesn’t mean that you always have to answer truthfully all the time.
#3. When you want to avoid peer pressure
“Are you coming to the party tonight? You’re not staying home like a loser, are you?”
You’ve probably encountered situations in college where you were asked to do things you didn’t really want to, whether it’s partying all night when you have an assignment to finish or taking a drag on a cigarette when the smell makes you choke. It can be hard to say no. After all, who doesn’t want to fit in and be accepted by their circle of peers?
In such circumstances, it may be easier to lie compared to turning your friends down directly. Using excuses such as “my parents are going to kill me if I skip our family dinner” can get you out of sticky situations without getting into your friends’ bad books. But it’s not something you want to do often though. If you find yourself having to constantly lie to your friends, you probably need new ones.
#4. When you want to boost someone’s confidence
Did you know that most lies are prosocial lies (falsehoods meant to benefit others)? When you say things like “I love your new haircut”, “that was a great presentation” and “the pasta was amazing” when it may not be the whole truth, you’re essentially telling a prosocial lie.
You may think that this form of lying can harm your relationships but research has shown that this can actually build trust between people. The key here is the intention and whether you have the person’s best interests at heart. If you are lying to be kind (e.g. telling a friend that she looks great before a presentation to boost her confidence), it can actually be beneficial instead of being honest (e.g. the dress she’s wearing is too flashy).
Even though lying has always been portrayed negatively, there are times when lying can be favourable to build trust and relationships, especially when there are no selfish intentions towards others.