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When is a white lie okay?

Posted by on May 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm

“Remember,” I often say to my daughter, “saying something you know isn’t true is lying.” And she nods and looks solemnly at me and eventually repeats the same lie she said to spur my little lesson.  Sometimes, she says, “ I’m not lying. I’m tricking you. “  How to explain the difference between a lie and a trick to a three-year old?  I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that kids of a certain age (which I can’t remember) don’t actually know “truth” (or lying) per se, as they actually believe that whatever they say might have actually happened.  They are in the bathroom with the toothbrush and toothpaste and then get distracted and head out to the kitchen and they actually believe they did brush their teeth because they were this close to getting the task done.  (Of course, I wish I remembered the age at which they should recognize the difference between actually did and intended to do, as my husband sometimes seems to exhibit the same dilemma:  “Yes, I did put the milk back in the fridge/put the seat down/read the 3-page email you sent me about your parents’ visit…”)

Slipperier slopes, however, present themselves with my 5-year old.  He’s pretty good on the difference between lying and tricking, but I would like to broach the subject with him on the beautiful possibilities that a white lie offers. Of course, I’m sure such a subtle concept will never work with him but sometimes his capabilities surprise me. (If you’re one who thinks white lies are just as bad as “real” lies, we’ll have to agree to disagree. OR you can just click away!)

Sometimes, I believe a white lie simply moves the conversation along in a much nicer way.  For example, if you said, “I look so haggard. I should get Botox but I can’t afford it.” And I said, “I think the lines between your eyes are actually very dignified,”  I don’t think you are harmed because you can’t get the little plump-up shot anyway, and maybe you feel a little better about your haggard-ness.

Another perfect example presented itself last night, when the kids and I were lucky enough (really) to get to go to a party hosted by Hershey’s Kisses. (Kind of dreamy for this pregnant lady: the room was teaming with Hershey’s Kisses, even a new one that isn’t available yet. I’m still chocolate drunk.)  My kids never get to go anywhere and were particularly excited about going to a “candy party.” They played games (the event’s focus was “Family Game Night,” which seems like a fun way to hang out a little more together), ate pizza and hot dogs and popcorn and we probably ate a hundred pieces of candy.  We were playing the board game Sorry and my son started chatting with a very kind woman from the Hershey’s Corporation. She was not just a brand lady, she was a product lady and I bet she eats, sleeps and breathes Hershey’s Kisses.  I knew where we were headed the second the conversation started…

Kiss lady:  How old are you?

Jake:  Five.

Kiss lady:  Are you having fun?

Jake: Yes.

(here it comes)

Kiss lady:  Have you been eating a lot of candy?

Jake:  No.

Kiss lady: (nodding)

Jake:  No, I haven’t had any because I don’t like them. I hate chocolate.

I’m pretty sure I heard a collective gasp move across the room. Jake had the same conversation four more times with other’s Hershey’s people before we went home. Of course, everybody was lovely and as incredulous as I that someone doesn’t really like chocolate. And I don’t want Jake to lie, but I’m not sure how bad it would have been if he had said, “I haven’t had any candy because I’m not hungry.” Or “I haven’t had any candy because I’m saving it for later.” Just nicer, no? He also suggested to someone that perhaps a chocolate-less Hershey’s Kiss might be a good idea. I’m certain that was sent right to the development folks in Pennsylvania.

We can’t wait for the Twizzler’s party.

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  • On May 9, 2011 at 6:31 pm Jen {at} take2mommy said

    I have a very outspoken 6YO son, so I am currently attempting to instruct him in the fine art of the white lie. I don’t refer to it as a white lie… I just say, “let’s think of a more polite answer that won’t hurt his/her feelings.”
    I will laugh if Hershey’s ever comes out with a non-chocolate kiss!
    BTW, just stumbled upon your blog today. Love it. I’m a fellow NY-er…swing by for a visit sometime:


    • On May 9, 2011 at 8:07 pm jill said

      Yes, we have to work on “smoothing our edges,” that’s for sure! (Operative word there, I’m sure, is the plural pronoun!) Thanks for reading.


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