‘Honesty,’ Hercules Poirot remarked ‘is certainly the best policy, but is not always desirable.’ He summed up an age long debate. When we lie to protect someone from harm or pain isn’t that a higher good than the immorality of dishonesty? Many people argue that there is no case to answer. The end justifies the means. Others claim that the issue falls into the remit of justice, which should never be a private matter, but exists in the world of absolutes where a lie is a lie is a lie.
Regardless we humans lie constantly, for all sorts of reasons, some of which would seem to be justifiable, others not so much. Studies show that most of us lie several times a day. The lies vary: stretching from ‘Yes, I like your dress,’ right through to ‘No, I am not having an affair.’ Ultimately it would appear that our natural environment is not truth but deceit.
Why do we propagate beliefs that are not true? In lying we negate our expectations. Put this way it would seem a very odd thing to do because our expectations, of both ourselves and eachother, lead us to be better people. Lying, big or small, demolishes part of ourselves. Lying costs; so if we lie to protect another from harm, perhaps we are being courageous; hurting ourselves for the benefit of another. The danger lies in justifying, or rationalising, all of our lies. And it is inevitable we will find it difficult to tell a good lie from a bad one. It would be best to avoid lying altogether, for in doing so we deny the harm that they do. But a small, and rational, part of ourselves, still clings to the idea that the true price of a lie varies as much as the lies do themselves.