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White Lies and Deception

Lying is typically viewed as immoral, and yet it’s a continual practice amidst our population. The very existence of “white lies” implies a designated immoral allowance. “White” lies, though, are those that, in moral terms, aren’t lies. But is this allowance justified? Or, is it simply the human tendency to opt for convenience and comfort over morality?

I believe it’s both: Human nature isn’t as simple as good and evil. Leading your boyfriend to believe that your mother thinks he’s the best thing since grilled cheese may seem like sparing feelings—but what actually lies behind that decision is probably far from selfless. Maybe the decision is made because you dislike confrontation, or because one of the parties won’t handle the truth well. Maybe it’s because you’re trying to avoid the fact that two parties you care for aren’t compatible whatsoever. There are a myriad of reasons why lies take the place of the truth; moral explanations aren't sufficient to explain all of them.

But the question of white lies, or even lying itself, is an oversimplification of a much more prominent and vague concept: deception. We’re constantly deceiving and being deceived by one another, purposely and incidentally. Regardless of the degree of intent behind the deception, we experience and further deception continually within our daily lives. It’s easier for us to wrangle ”lying” into moral schemas than into a concept as slippery as deception. White lies are additional attempts to fit these schemas. Nevertheless, in the end, we’re talking about deception. And everyone makes acts of deception a common practice.

The morally dichotomous interpretations of deception imply that we should all know the same things. We should all be privy to the same, single truth. We should hinder deception. The moral perspective on deception, or even simply on lying, gives us a handle on a vague concept. Organizing our world into simpler terms is a natural tool of human processing, so to a certain extent, it helps us remain sane. We can’t constantly consider all of the variations in situations regarding deception, because our minds also have millions of other stimuli to manage and translate. But if we always understand deception (even in the supposedly more simplified subset of lying) within a moral lens, we fail to recognize the reality of its benefits. Deception has occurred for centuries, and it’s still very popular today in its many forms. We need to examine the more complex reasons behind the endurance of deception.

The act of deception naturally occurs in human interaction. We misunderstand each other constantly. Both a result and a cause of this deception is our individuality. We each experience life differently, which means that we will understand one another and communicate ourselves to one another through multitudinous and infinitely varied lenses. In these differences of perspective, we create deceptions, which in turn further differences. Deception itself isn’t wrong; it perpetuates identity.

Behind every act of deception rests this unconscious belief that there should be some degree of separation between ourselves and others. Deception helps us to preserve these boundaries, so that we have some control over the identity that we present to others. Deception is a matter of demonstration, and what we choose to show will naturally influence how others perceive us. Having the capacity to show ourselves in certain lights of our choosing, as well as opting to do so, is a continuance of our individual identity. If we were all privy to the same “truth,” and no one edited or monitored what he or she said, then our expression of individual differences would be limited.

I don’t think that deception, and in particular lying, should be practices that people take up consciously and continually. It’s difficult to trust people who lie constantly, with an overwhelming lack of concern for how their actions will affect others. But I do think that in some cases, lying isn’t entirely a matter of selfishness or immorality. Sometimes lying helps us to preserve necessary boundaries, preserving some measure of peace and separation within our relationships. Deception and misunderstanding are a fundamental part of life and human interactions; condemning every instance of it creates the burden of an unhealthy and unnecessary judgement.

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