Understanding the differences between harmful lies vs. white lie - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Understanding the differences between harmful lies vs. white lies

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A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including "The Confident Writer" a grammar-based college textbook. 

"Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week," said Anita E. Kelly. "We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies and that, in turn, was associated with significantly improved health."

Wearing a no-nonsense business suit, he stood straight and true behind the pulpit in one of several small churches I attended when I was still in the dewy-fresh world of youth. He was our Sunday school superintendent and someone we trusted. Dedicated to his church and faith, he was a good man. When he told us of his close relationship with the Lord, he wept, wiping tears of joy from his round rosy cheeks. Many times he warned us of the evils of alcohol and tobacco. Living on Brickyard Hill, my friends and I sat in the golden oak pews and listened. He told us we should never, under any circumstances, tell a lie. Even a little white lie was sinful, he declared. He worked hard to lead us young attendees upward to the moral high ground. We struggled to meet his expectations, but sometimes little lies would creep in, and we had to carry the heavy burden of guilt. 

We were soon to learn a valuable lesson about the difference between spoken words and human behavior, as well as the difference between a big, bad lie and a little white lie. One sweltering summer day, my friends and I boarded a red city bus that transported us from North Charleston to the capital's business district. Once there, we stepped down from the bus, crossed the street, and entered a drug store. We walked to the counter and each ordered a Coke. I looked to my right, and there he stood. Our Sunday school superintendent was leaning on the counter. He had a long-necked brown bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Between us, pale gray smoke drifted toward the ceiling. I cannot remember a more awkward few seconds as we stared at each other. A deeper shade of red spread over his rosy cheeks, and he then he quickly looked away. That moment was one of several that helped to shove my friends and me out of the door of innocence and into the wide world of experience. We gradually learned that a person's character should be ascertained more by actions than by words. 

To equate a lie, the kind the superintendent told us, with a little white lie I believed even then was ridiculous. 

According to an online dictionary, a white lie is minor or unimportant, especially one uttered in the interests of tact or politeness. On the one hand, we want to be honest, but on the other hand, we want to be considerate. Is it, then, better to tell a little white lie or is it better to hurt someone's feelings? One study, conducted by a psychologist, claims telling fibs will alter our behavior. After telling a diplomatic lie to someone, we later want to make up for the lie by doing something nice for the person to whom we lied. Have you ever done that? I have not. See, I felt I was already doing something kind by not telling the truth, for the truth could not set the person free in the case of a little white lie. Instead, it could crush the person. If I were to talk to any of the scientists conducting these studies on white lies, I would probably tell them their studies were interesting. If I were talking to you about those studies, I would probably say they were flapdoodle. I would, then, tell the conductors of those studies a little white lie. You see, I agree with David Allen of Clarksburg. As far as I know, he doesn't conduct studies, but here's what he has to say about little white lies: "White lies are an interesting part of communication. We demand them. Facebook may just be the latest template for white lies. From Santa to the Tooth Fairy to ‘I love what you've done with this room' all make life bearable." 

Many years have passed since I sat in that church where I trusted the Sunday school superintendent. Now, I sit in another time. Talking to a friend recently, she said she did not believe in telling lies of any kind. I asked her about little white lies, and she insisted we should not tell lies, big or little. I then explained what I thought was the defining difference between the two kinds of lies. Still, she held her ground. Then, I used a hypothetical example. I said if we were living in Germany during World War II and if I were hiding Jews in my basement and if the Gestapo knocked on my door, I would lie. If I did not lie, I told her, the people hidden in my home would be tortured and killed. We are all connected, and if we have to tell a lie to save someone or to be merely tactful, we should, for being protective and kind are two of our finest human traits.