i read sam’s essay, “lying”, last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. i found myself agreeing with almost all that he had to say. there is one example in my own life, though, that i can’t see any better way to deal with than by lying - so i’d like to share it and see if anyone has any thoughts or comments.
i’m a 25 year old male and i work in a very social environment where i see about the same 30-40 faces per day of varying ages (from early 20s to mid 60s). we all do the same job and have much in common and like to socialise together regularly. (i don’t intend to give too much away as to the job itself or my location but i can clarify any specific questions about this if deemed necessary)
by the way, if you’re a prude then you might not find this scenario particularly to your taste, but if you can set that objection to one side and consider the actual dilemma (or polylemma) for what it’s worth then proceed:
recently, on one particular social occasion, a group of us went to a local bar after work on a friday and i met a new young female employee that i had not met before. one thing led to another and we spent the night together. in the morning she told me that she has a boyfriend so i’m not to tell anyone about what we did as it would undermine her professional integrity if anyone at work found out, and potentially jeopardise her relationship (the boyfriend does not work with us). this was a surprise to me, but i wasn’t heart-broken, and we haven’t done anything like this again since.
gossip and rumour-mongering is rife in our place of work, and the first question on peoples’ lips on the monday following this was, “what happened after we saw you leave together?”. i decided to lie and say that we happened to leave at the same time but each went to our separate homes.
now i know one way of answering that question without lying or dropping her in it would be to say, “that’s none of your business”, but that would only leave people assuming that either we obviously did sleep together, or that i’m not an interesting person to spend time chatting to. obviously i don’t want to former outcome, and unfortunately being a good socialiser is an important aspect of the job so it would not be in my interests to have the latter outcome.
interestingly, if i told everyone that asked exactly what happened, my station would probably go up in this social microcosm, although hers would be lowered and she would be practically forced to confront her own relationship problems against her will. but i don’t want to disrupt her life over this one-off incident, and who am i to decide for her that she should fix her relationship in this way anyway?
isn’t the lie the solution which causes the least misery for everyone? to simply kill the rumour-mill before it starts, therefore not being labelled a bore myself (as would happen if i told people to mind their own business) or having her labelled a whore (as would happen if i told people what did happen)?
obviously i’ve left out the boyfriend in my calculations, but in this situation i don’t know anyone else that he knows apart from the girl in question - no matter what i do it is still up to the girl to sort it out herself. in the real world, i see it as none of my business how the girl wishes to treat her boyfriend. i don’t know how that figures exactly in the context of the “lying” essay but that is my opinion based on personal experience.
having read and enjoyed sam’s essay, “lying”, i can see two ways in which he might describe the best solution to this scenario.
firstly, this may be characterised as lying in self-defence. in this particular microcosm it is essential to maintain a fun and sociable persona so the whole “none of your business” answer would only be to shoot myself in the foot in the long run. to admit what happened would be to her detriment, so it is essential to lie in defence of both of us.
secondly, it could easily be pointed out that the gossip- and rumour-culture of this microcosm is negative by its very nature and the only way to change that would be to start a trend of answering “none of your business” to personal questions that we don’t want to answer. overall, the microcosm would be better off if people would learn to respect others privacy a bit more, so that should be the best answer. after all, if we continue to lie to maintain this culture then when will it ever change?
on this occasion i prefer to see it as lying in self-defence for the reasons stated above. on another occasion, eg. if i were starting to go out with someone i really did like and with whom i wanted to start a proper relationship, then i probably would answer “none of your business” - but then that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it?
leaving aside the smuttiness of the particular subject at hand, i would welcome any comments or thoughts anyone would like to share.
I need to re-read “Lying” to really get the Harris perspective on this, but here’s my take.
Some lies might be beneficial to tell in certain circumstances, provided that nobody finds out you were ever lying. It seems to me that lying isn’t actually what causes problems in a lot of cases, it’s being found out that causes the problems - not to mention the lengths that you might need to go to protect that lie (i.e., more lies).
Harris might say that, while telling the truth right away might have caused a net negative effect, and maintaining the lie a net positive effect, to lie and then be found out will cause the initial negative effect you were trying to avoid, plus the additional negative consequence of having lied in the first place. You may be convinced that you lied to protect the reputation of the woman, and you may convince me of that, and even your co-workers, if it came to that. But if they did find out, they would be unlikely to look at your falsehood strictly in the light of your protecting someone else. They may see that, but they may also choose to see you as someone who lied because you have a hang-up about sex. This would likely be both untrue and unfair to you, but that’s beside the point - it one of the possible consequences of being someone who told a lie.
The #1 problem with telling lies is that we often can’t control whether we are found out.
My reading of “lying” was that Sam was inviting us to consider lying as immoral. Not in every circumstance, though, for example lying in self defence.
To argue that this situation is dire enough to rightly describe it as self defence might be going too far. I just don’t see why a prohibition on lying should extend to the abolition of a right to privacy. I could answer “none of your business” but to answer in that way in this situation would only result in increased speculation and rumour mongering…
You’re right that I don’t know what effect the discovery of this lie might have, but I would hope it is so trivial in the grand scheme of things that it wouldn’t cause too much difficulty. Some lies will obviously lead to ruin if discovered, but I can’t see how this is one of them.
Thanks for your input, by the way. I’m not expecting anyone to try and tell me what I should do, of course, but I thought this situation was a bit different and was worth sharing in case anyone had an opinion on when a lie might be justified?
Sorry for the lateness of this reply, I just stumbled upon your post.
I think that society has set you up in this situation to fail. And, our approach to human sexuality.
Say that the scenario went a bit more like this.
Boy: I fancy that girl, I want to sleep with her.
Girl: I fancy that boy, I want to sleep with him.
Girl to boy: I have a boyfriend, however, he does not own me.
Boy to girl: Ok. I just want some sex.
Girl to boy: I just want some sex with someone different from my boyfriend.
The two go off and have sex. The next morning…
Boy to girl: That was fun, thanks.
Girl to boy: Yes, great time.
Girl goes off to boyfriend…
Girl to boyfriend: I had some good sex with a boy last night. I love you, but I fancied him.
Boyfriend to girl: I love you, too, and I hope you had fun.
If we could just take our egos out of sex and realize that humans aren’t really monogamous, we could then tell the truth. We wouldn’t have to lie—so in this sense, where we see scenarios where lying appears to be the appropriate strategy, we are in fact illuminating areas of our culture and society where there is a big problem. Same with the Anne Frank scenario but on a much bigger scale. If we have to life in a situation, obviously the situation is the problem.