It’s just a little white lie. Fib. Exaggeration. A bit of fiction. Honestly, it could just be called total bullsh_t. How easy it is to say what you think people want to hear versus what you really are thinking or feeling. Whichever word/words you use to describe the name for the response you give to someone, at any moment, on any given day, when you don’t want to say what you’re thinking is still, well, wrong. My auntie, God rest her soul, thought differently.
Years ago, I attended a family reunion in Bay City, Michigan and had a chance to sit and visit with my aunt (let’s call her Evie), who changed my life by telling me that sometimes it is wise for a woman to fib . . . just a little (wink, wink). She sat across from me in a tri-colored webbed folding chair supporting a paper plate laden heavy with food that she picked at but never really ate. Of all my aunts, she was the most beautiful and charming. I listened when she spoke – she could do no wrong by me. On that humid July day, with her long suntanned legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles, she proceeded to explain why one might need to tell a white lie.
All of the noise surrounding me seemed to disappear as my ears tuned in to her soft and gentle voice. She explained to me that white lies are a necessity and that every woman should know how to tell a believable lie. I must have had a very strange I-don’t-get-what-you’re-saying look on my face, for I knew, from personal experience, that telling lies got you into loads of trouble. She smiled at me, reached out and put a hand on my shoulder and proceeded to tell me more.
Aunt Evie told me that being truthful isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. “Sometimes a person isn’t prepared for the truth, and it can destroy the trust and good will between you and that person. A white lie comes from your sense of compassion. You don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings. Do you?”
Once again, my forehead scrunched up as I gave her a look that said I really don’t see you point . . . yet. As a young child, my siblings and I would get spanked or grounded for telling lies. Lies are hurtful, bad, dishonest, insulting, naughty . . . these words from mom’s lectures still ricochet in my brain. So how was telling white lies a good thing?
“For example,” Aunt Evie continued, “What if someone asked you if you liked her (bad) haircut, (unflattering) new top, or wanted you to go someplace that you really had no desire to go? Would you just flat out tell her the truth? Or would you think fast on your feet and say how much you loved her new haircut, how gorgeous she looked in her new top, and that you would really like to go with her but have a prior commitment?”
I thought for a moment about what she was saying. She was basically telling me that she doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings; that some relationships are important enough that it isn’t worth telling the truth. Ugh! White lies simply cushion us from ourselves!
“You see,” she turned to look at her husband, my Uncle Oliver, and said with a smile, “He thinks is God’s gift to women. I did that for him. I always tell him what I think he wants to hear and our marriage has never been better!” As Uncle Oliver caught her smiling at him, he he-manned up and pumped his arm muscles at her, pursing his lips and kissing the air. Aunt Evie giggled like a little girl who just snuggled with a new puppy. We spent the next half an hour talking about different scenarios – the when and how to tell white lies.
To this day, I believe my aunt’s world was a better place because of the white lies she told, but I also know that she felt measured up by other people’s benchmarks. That need for external validation, I think, kept her from truly being able to share her innermost feelings and thoughts about herself and others. I’ve really had a struggle with this, even though I believe I should not fear the judgment of others if I tactfully deliver what I believe to be the truth. Telling the truth can help cultivate the kind of genuineness that leads to greater well-being, improved relationships, quality of life and lower stress. Who likes to remember who you told what to? Is it still sometimes wise to fib just a little as my Aunt Evie once told me? What do you think readers? For now, I am going to work at keeping it real.