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Truth or Deception: Exploring the Gray Areas in Communication

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In my book Before You Hit Send (How To Speak Your Mind - 2024 re-release), I wrote, “Some contend that it is okay to say things that are untrue as long as we believe it is spoken out of necessity and kindness.” Does this describe you? Do you “categorize” different types of lies and attempt justifying some to be okay? Perhaps you agree that it is always wrong to lie to the police officer who just pulled you over and asks if you have been drinking. But what about when your spouse calls you on their way home from work and asks if you cleaned the bathroom like they asked? If you get off the phone and immediately clean it before they get home, is it okay to lie in order to avoid an argument or risk causing hurt feelings?  

To stimulate your thinking about asking, "Is this communication true?" please weigh in on the eight episodes below. Which have you observed personally? In your opinion, how often do such things happen?

Lying When Doing So Advances Your Self-Interests

“Hey, Mom, I can’t make dinner on Sunday. I am running behind on a paper due this week in psych class and need to work on it. Sorry." 

This is a lie. On Sunday she plans to hang out with her girlfriends at a party and drink. She lies to advance her self-interests and to prevent her mom from knowing the truth. Besides, her mom would tell her dad, who would threaten to stop funding her college education since there has been a pattern of irresponsibility and this could be the straw that broke the camel's back. Dad has been very displeased. The daughter says to herself, “If they knew, they definitely would get mad at me, and who knows what might happen? Why upset them? What they don’t know won't hurt them. And why make things worse for me? I don’t have the time or energy to deal with them telling me how I ought to live. I'm an adult. I don't need babysitting."  

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed another person of a change of plans. Yes or No? If yes, how often do you intentionally misinform another of a change of plans?

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why do you intentionally misinform another? Why do you tell untruths?

If another lied to you like this daughter lied to her parents, what would you feel when you discovered her lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying to Avoid Hurt Feelings

After talking to his sister on the phone for a few minutes exchanging pleasantries, Guy, who is back at school after Christmas vacation, says, “It was great seeing you over the holidays, and again congratulations on getting that job at the computer store. I am proud of you. So, I know I said I’d go in on those gifts to the family, but honestly, I don’t have the $200 that I promised you. I can give you $75 and pay the rest later. Would you make up the difference for me? You are the best sister in the world, so I hope you can cover for me. And, we need to get on the calendar when you can visit me some weekend, but I’ll get back to you on this." 

In sweet-talking his sister, he withholds the truth about having the $200. There’s a new girl he met on campus who he wants to take out to a nice restaurant. He sees spending $125 on this attractive girl a better use of those funds, and he knows his sister would lecture him on being creative in his dating and coming up with something that doesn't cost much money. He thinks to himself, “Why get in an argument with my sister, especially since things are going so well between us right now? I don't need to make her mad, and I also don't have time to debate this since I need to get to the gym to play basketball with my roommates." 

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed a person that I could not do what I promised to do. Yes or No? If yes, how often does it take place when you intentionally misinform another that you cannot do what you promised you'd do?

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally misinform another? This brother wanted to spend the money he owed his sister on a girl he wished to date instead of pay the money back as promised. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like this brother lied to his sister, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying to Cover Up the Dark Truth

The husband reassures his wife as they snuggle in bed that all is okay with him and between the two of them, but the pressures at work weigh him down, which is why he has been withdrawn and has a headache. “I don’t like working late any more than you like me working late. This week will be another pressure cooker with several deadlines I have to finish. There should be a break soon, though another big job looms on the horizon. I don’t know what else to do. My boss has been piling it on." 

What he withholds from her is that he is having an affair with his co-worker. He uses his work pressures as a cover-up to allow for another rendezvous and to protect himself from his wife's wrath, which he doesn't need right now. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, but he doesn't need her to tell him that. Besides, why hurt her?

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed another by using my work pressures (or pressures from other areas of life) as a cover-up to mislead the other person. Yes or No? If yes, how often does it take place when you intentionally misinform another by using these pressures as a cover-up to mislead the other person? 

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally lie and use these pressures to cover this up? In this husband's case it was his adulterous affair. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like this husband lied to his wife, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying by Falsely Giving the Impression of Not Knowing Something 

Receiving a phone call from her neighbor Patricia, Jenny listens to her complain about the troubles she is having with her teen son. Because Jenny’s own boy goes to school with him, she knows that Patricia’s son is into drugs. But Jenny does not have the courage to tell Patricia straight up what her son is doing behind her back. Instead, she reassures Patricia that he is a great kid and thinks all is well with him. As the conversation closes, Patricia expresses her deep appreciation to Jenny for listening and reassuring her that all is well with her son. Jenny tells herself that it is not her responsibility to tell Patricia about her son’s drug habits. Others need to do that. Besides, she doesn’t want her own son to experience negative repercussions at school if it was discovered that Jenny had outed his classmate.

Getting Personal:

I am aware of a situation when I intentionally misinformed another that I did not know something when in fact I did know something. Yes or No? If yes, how often do you misinform others about not knowing something when in fact you do know something? 

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally misinform another about not knowing something when you did know something? In this instance, Jenny knew of Patricia’s son’s involvement in drugs but left Patricia feeling all was okay with him, and actually said all was okay with him. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like Jenny lied to Patricia, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying When the Truth Inconveniences You

Ready to go on vacation, Jacob has a sales presentation to make to his boss. In that meeting he states, “The sales projections look promising based on past performances. If all things remain equal, we should have a year comparable to last year." 

What Jacob withholds from his boss is the knowledge that two of the leading salespeople appear to have lost several key accounts, which will severely change the trajectory. But because Jacob wants to leave town on vacation and because it is not absolutely certain those accounts will be dropped, he says nothing to his boss lest it prompt an emergency meeting into the night to create an alternative budget based on those revenues not coming in. Jacob isn't interested in telling his boss the potential problem, so he lets him think the projections are solid. If it comes out later that he knew, he need only say, "Those accounts were still in play and I did not wish to be Chicken Little screaming, 'The sky is falling.'"

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed others regarding something that might have left me in a predicament had I told them the entire truth. Yes or No? If yes, how often do you misinform others in order to avoid a bad situation? 

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally misinform others about the situation? Jacob did so in order to go on vacation and had an excuse ready to spew out in the event his boss questioned him. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like Jason lied to his boss, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying in Opposition to God's Direction

Just after meeting a couple of girls at the new church she visited, Lisa receives a text from them inviting her to the Bible study next week. She knows attending such a study is a good idea, but she is in a relationship with a non-Christian from work and doesn’t want to break it off, not yet anyway. She texts back, “That sounds great. You are so kind to think of me. But I have another commitment over the next several weeks, and maybe months. I am so sorry to say no, but try again later and maybe my schedule will be freer. Thank you." She knew that information was misleading. She knew the Lord was speaking to her about changing course and ending this relationship that had no common ground spiritually. She also sensed God directing her into this Bible study and that He was behind this invitation. Even so, she steeled herself against the invitation and pursued the relationship with this guy from work, which did have a damaging ending.

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed others about something I knew God was directing me to do but I refused to obey Him. Yes or No? If yes, how often do you misinform others about something you know God is directing you to do but you refused to obey Him?

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally misinform others about something God was directing you to do but you refused to obey Him? Lisa lied to enable a romance with a guy who did not love God like she loved God. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like Lisa lied to these two girls who invited her to join their Bible study, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying When Doing So Is Profitable to You

Zack, who sells cars, tells the Ferguson family over the phone that he has the used Town and Country van they are asking about. If they come in tomorrow, they can pick it up. An hour later another customer offers $1,000 more for that vehicle. Zack takes the higher offer, though he promised the Ferguson family they could buy the van. So, Zack calls Mr. Ferguson and says, “I misspoke. I think that van might have been in an unreported accident. I won’t sell it to you. But I can find in the next couple of weeks what you need. I apologize, but let me go to work on this for you, okay?” They agree and express their appreciation to Zack for protecting them. 

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed another by coming up with an excuse about the earlier deal I made with them because someone else made a better offer. Yes or No? If yes, how often do you misinform another by coming up with an excuse about the earlier deal you made with them because someone else made a better offer? 

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally misinform another by coming up with an excuse about the earlier deal you made with them because someone else made a better offer? Zack reneged on his verbal agreement with the Ferguson family because another customer offered him an additional $1,000. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like Zack lied to the Ferguson family, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

Lying When the Truth Embarrasses You

Joey buys a chain saw from the local hardware store. Because he forgets to mix oil in with the gasoline, the engine locks up. He ruins it. Not wishing to tell the owner of the hardware store about his irresponsibility, Joey comes to the counter in anger saying, “I want this replaced. It won’t work. It is a piece of junk. I want to keep giving you my business, but this stinks. Here’s the receipt.” The owner asks about the oil mixed with the gasoline. Joey reacts with annoyance. "Look, I did what the instructions said. I don't know why this thing won't work. Are you going to give me another chain saw or just give me my money back?" With other customers around and holding to the business philosophy that the customer is always right, the owner gets him another chain saw. 

Getting Personal:

I know of a situation when I intentionally misinformed the retailer about why I returned a product. Yes or No? If yes, how often do you misinform a retailer about why you are returning a product? 

Never  •  Rarely  •  Every Once in a While  •  Sometimes  •  Almost Always

If "rarely" or more often, why did you intentionally misinform the retailer about why you were returning the product? Joey did not want to tell the retailer the truth about failing to mix oil with the gasoline to prevent the chain saw from freezing up. He feared he'd not get a replacement or his money back. Why did you tell an untruth? 

If another lied to you like Joey lied to the retailer, what would you feel when you discovered the lie? Why would you feel this way?

May I ask you several questions? 

Of the eight episodes, did you answer all of them with a "never"? If so, I salute you. I would strongly suggest that you have resolved to be a person of truth regardless of circumstances. In fact, people who have resolved to be truth-tellers do not find themselves needing to lie in order to advance their self-interests, to avoid hurt feelings, to cover up the darker truth, to give the impression of not knowing something, when the truth is inconvenient, in opposition to God's direction, when doing so is profitable, or when the truth is embarrassing. These things do not sneak up on the truth-teller, whereas the liar lives life in selfish pursuits believing that in order to get what he wants he may be forced on occasion to lie. Truth-tellers find themselves outside of this moral dilemma. 

If you found yourself being honest about your lying (which is not easy to do) and realized that you do in fact lie, how did that make you feel? Did you feel that it really wasn't a big deal, or did you conclude that it is a big deal to lie? Why?

If it bothered you that others would lie to you in the way you lied to them, did it strike you that you live by a double standard? Asked another way, does it make you uncomfortable to be the very hypocrite you can't stand others being? Have you ever really thought about being the hypocrite that repulses you? Have you ever thought that you'd not like you given you met yourself without knowing it was actually you? 

Why should you resolve moving forward to live by the standard you expect of others to live by when they communicate with you? 

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider