Reality Check: Own It!

Have you heard any white lies lately? Maybe even told one or two of your own? We sometimes tell tiny falsehoods to avoid hurt feelings; fibs intended to be virtuous, not evil.

However, just because we have positive intent with our white lie doesn’t mean it will bring a positive result.

Wilson wants to avoid the family reunion. He has little in common with the extended family. He’s forced to overeat. It’s boring. Basically, he just doesn’t want to go.  

Wilson’s mother has pestered him for weeks to commit to attending.  She needs to plan! Wilson can’t bring himself to say he won’t come. That would kill his mother (or at least hurt her feelings).

So he’s hemmed and hawed. He’s avoided her phone calls and even stooped to disabling his voice mail. Finally she reaches him and he blurts out that he wishes he could attend but he has to work that weekend.

What does Mom do? At great effort and inconvenience for everyone, she rearranges the whole darn thing for another weekend. Good grief; why would she do that?

Wilson said he wished he could attend. Mom didn’t want him to be disappointed.

May this be a lesson to us all.

By not wanting to hurt mom, (but also not wanting to attend) Wilson made a lose-lose choice. Now what? His options are limited and unpleasant. He can (unhappily) attend on the date revised specifically for him. Or he can finally be honest and tell Mom that he won’t be going, no matter how she accommodates him. How well will that work now?

So how do you decide whether to tell the whole truth, some of the truth, or avoid the question altogether? One factor to consider: what’s helpful for the relationship?

What if Wilson had said from the start: “Thank you for inviting me. I love you and I love the family, but I won’t be attending.” While it may hurt Mom’s feelings, is it better or worse than the pickle he’s in now?

Or, with some creative thinking, Wilson might come up with win-win alternatives.

For example, Wilson could agree to attend for a few hours, and then be polite but firm about leaving. Or, he could choose a purpose for going such as: choose to have a good time, choose to speak to 3 people he doesn’t know well, choose to eat only food he enjoys.

If those options aren’t appealing, he could tell mom that he wants to spend time with her, but not with the whole family. Then, spend that time.

Trust is essential in a good relationship; even a trivial lie can erode trust. If found out, one wonders, “If s/he would lie to me about this tiny thing, what other lies would they tell me? How can I ever believe them?”

Owning your choices can lead to more trusting, satisfying relationships. If Wilson wants a trusting relationship with his mom, telling the truth (tactfully) will be more effective than telling a white lie that could worsen the relationship.

What do you think of white lies?

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