Reality Check: Fluffy, Revisited

A few posts ago, I presented this classic quandary: Is it appropriate to deceive someone if you believe the deception is kinder than the truth?

Here’s the scenario: Maria’s beloved cat, Fluffy, went missing. Maria responded to the reality of not knowing Fluffy’s whereabouts with distress. Wanting to reduce his wife’s misery, Martin was torn—should he deceive her into believing that Fluffy was found and buried? Or should he stick to the truth: Fluffy is missing, whereabouts unknown?

You know, of course, that I don’t tell anyone what they should do; I only offer information! So here are two general principles that you may find helpful when faced with tough decisions.
1. What’s best for the relationship? Let’s say that Martin chooses the lie. He tells Maria that Fluffy is buried in a beautiful plot in the garden. Maria feels comforted. Martin is pleased.

Now, what if Fluffy shows up? Even worse, what if a “friend” feels the need to inform Maria about Martin’s deception? How will she view her relationship with Martin then? Yes, he had the best intentions. But if you were Maria, would you ever believe him again?

Trust is so important. No matter how kind the intentions, a loss of trust is destructive in a relationship.

2. Are you trying to control someone? Martin’s proposed lie—essentially an attempt to shield Maria from reality—implies that Martin knows what’s best for Maria. However, just because he believes it doesn’t make it so.

Deceiving Maria about her loss is essentially an attempt to manage (or manipulate) her response.

Whether you manipulate to attempt to control another’s emotions, actions, or thoughts, those attempts at external control will ultimately disconnect the two people in the relationship, even if done with the best intention.

Think of it this way: If you were Maria, what would you want? Would you prefer to be deceived? Or would you prefer the truth, even though it really hurts right now?
Use your own feelings as a guide. That is, treat others as you would like to be treated (aka the Golden Rule.)

One objection that could be raised is, “But I’m stronger than Maria. Sure, I would want the truth, but I don’t think she can handle it.”

Perhaps that’s so. Then again, that objection shows a lack of respect for Maria’s capabilities, doesn’t it? And in the spirit of choice theory, “Do any of us really know what’s best for someone else?”

I want to say thanks to the folks who took the time to respond to the quandary. In this scenario of two grownups in an important relationship, the general view is that Martin needs to stick with the truth. However, if the relationship is between people in very different emotional states, for example, parent-child or where someone is particularly fragile, you might choose differently. Not everything is simple.

When the choice is not cut-and-dried, having fundamental principles can help. If the decision is difficult, ask yourself,
• What choice is better or worse for the relationship?
• How can I avoid trying to manipulate or control the other person?

What do you think of those two questions?

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