Are there any good lies?

For some reason—possibly I didn’t pay attention at the right time and in the right place, or perhaps I heard only a paraphrase of the original, or had a teacher who went straight to the punchline—but I remember the phrase “thou shalt not lie”. The Old Testament says “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”. Broadly speaking don’t speak falsely in any matter, lie, equivocate or in any way devise or design to deceive your neighbour. 

To equivocate—say that a few times and see how it rolls off the tongue. Apart from the feel of the word in your mouth, its meaning packs a punch—”to use ambiguous language to conceal the truth or avoid committing oneself”. I can already picture the complications if one of my characters equivocates at a critical moment.

Telling the truth is a value shared across countries and cultures. So, in a phrase used by politicians, preachers, poets and researchers—there are more things that unite than divide us as people on this planet.

Research also suggests a significant proportion of the population thinks it’s okay to tell a lie to avoid social conflict; that it’s acceptable to lie to spare someone’s feelings. In this scenario the most common lies include:

  • I’m fine, nothing’s wrong
  • I didn’t get the message
  • I’ll call you right back
  • Thanks, it’s just what I always wanted
  • I have no idea where it is.

That’s not the kind of lying which hits with the force of an out-of-control dump truck and leaves you battered and sobbing with quiet desperation under the doona.

“Thou shalt not lie” has stuck to me from my misspent youth. I didn’t really have a misspent youth. I was confused, anxious and often living in my own head. But I was absolutely certain “lying is a sin”. I’d discover a deception, and in my head the words would form—“THAT’S A SIN”—always in neon-flashing capitals. 

A sin? Whoa—that’s super heavy stuff I absorbed as a child. Calling a lie a sin makes it “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law”. Milder definitions talk about a crime, a misdeed or wickedness. Confession time—I think wickedness is a delicious word. See how easy it is to take me down a vocabulary rabbit hole.

But putting it all together, lying—not the “you look good in that outfit” variety—is a big no-no for me in a close or intimate relationship. In fact, intimate relationships struggle to survive in the presence of lies, making it the perfect source of conflict in a romance novel. You forgot to mention you:

  • had an affair with his brother
  • deliberately broke a promise to your ex-lover
  • have a child from a previous relationship
  • didn’t win the lottery, instead you stole your best friend’s identity
  • are bi-sexual.

Then again—some people have secrets. And I think I should stop here and return to my current manuscript …

Send me a message with your example of a good lie.

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