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Can Lying Make You a Better Person?

Psychology Today's Elizabeth Svoboda presents an interesting argument on the merits of no holds barred truth telling versus the social sensitivity involved in telling little white lies. Svoboda poses that while truth tellers may rest easy at night, brutal honesty can have negative emotional repercussions for others.

Example: "Straight shooter Brandon Mendelson started a band with some friends several years ago, he confronted them about their failure to pull their weight in promoting the band. 'They were slacking. At one concert, I was working the door, I was emceeing, and they were just hanging out. I told them, 'This is B.S.'' The other band members didn't react well to his candor. 'I haven't really talked to any of those people since then,' he says."

Mendelson is the classic no exceptions truth teller ("I think it's a moral imperative to tell people the truth," he says), but some social scientists think a degree of omission or white lying may render certain situations more favorably. In fact, some psychologists find that liars are more attuned to the feelings of others.

Can Lying Make You a Better Person?

Morally blurry? Svoboda offers a few guidelines to responsible truth telling (and lying):

  • Weigh the specifics. "Ask yourself whether telling the truth has real potential to improve a less-than-ideal situation. If someone you know is engaging in self-destructive behavior, for instance, airing your opinions might be more helpful in the long run. On the other hand, if you detest people on your team at work but know there's little chance of getting reassigned, it's probably best to keep mum."
  • Zero in on the other person's motive and address it. "If an acquaintance blindsides you with an inquiry like 'I'm your best friend, aren't I?', don't resort to the quick fix of telling a lie. Instead, parry with a reply that teases out the questioner's true intent: 'Are you feeling lonely these days? Should we get together more often?'"
  • Tell the truth to build rapport. "Should you confide to a friend that you've had plastic surgery or that you once lusted after your ninth-grade science teacher? You don't have to, of course, but DePaulo says people willing to disclose slightly embarrassing truths are likely to have deeper, more intimate personal relationships."

Read the whole article here.

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