A white lie is easier than the telling the truth, but is it worth it?

"There's no such thing as a white lie!" said my girlfriend, Kate, from the top of the stairs.

"It's a bullshit concept, created by you, to avoid confrontation!"

"That's absolutely untrue," I hit back, from the bottom of the stairs, increasingly aware of the obvious power imbalance.

"I mean, I can't take credit for creating the white lie…"

Now she's really unimpressed, storming towards me, half dressed for work, with one eye mid-mascara and the other looking directly into my soul. So much for avoiding confrontation.

"Oh, you think you're so funny don't you, well here's a white lie for you - I just LOVE your jokes, they're hilarious. Put THAT in your next column then."

Punch lines

And here we are. For a little context, the previous night Kate recreated a dish from one of our favourite restaurants. Eating it, I was reminded of online shoppers who order designer clothes off the internet only to be heartbroken when they arrive. Expectation vs reality.

To make matters worse, there had been a running commentary from the chef, "I can't believe we pay for this when it's so easy to do at home!"

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With so much dialogue around the dinner, I felt the best way forward was to pretend that I enjoyed it when I did not. Two bites in, the inevitable question arrived – "So, what do you think?" 

'Honestly, it's unreal,' I white lied. 'This should be one of our regular meals!'

Pudding's proof

Unfortunately, a friend had texted me separately to see how it was going (word had spread) and I had replied with the green spew face emoji – rookie error. The following morning, when using my phone to check the weather, my girlfriend stumbled across my offensive emoji and boom – the great staircase debate of 2019.

The problem seemed to centre around the benefit of the white lie mostly. My girlfriend saw none, to her, lying is lying is lying, whereas I was born and raised on a steady diet of white lies.

An example

For the first ten years of our lives, my siblings and I believed we were going to The Royal Easter Show when, in fact, we were going to the Bankstown Show in Sydney's western suburbs.

For those who never attended the Bankstown Show in the mid-to-late-90s, it was mainly an ethnic food market with around six stalls and zero Bertie Beetle show bags.  Because we weren't exactly flush with cash and, crucially, didn't own a car, our father told a white lie which helped him and protected us. No harm was done.

It was only years later when comparing memories about the Easter Show with friends that it all fell into place. They were raving about dagwood dogs; I was reminiscing over lamb kofta.

Context vs intent

Having found myself accidentally swept up in the #WhiteLiesMatter movement, I got in touch with my dad to see if he remembered the intention behind his lie.

'I wanted you to feel good,' he explained. 'But I didn't want the truth to make you feel bad, you know what I mean?'

I did; a white lie, when deployed correctly, can be a helpful way of saving everyone a little bit of hurt. Far too often we trot the truth out as some all-conquering trump card.

The truth will set you free; honesty is the best policy; the truth always prevails.

Solid foundations

While that's great for the big picture things – love, relationships, cheating, career – when you're significant other has spent hours slaving away over a possibly poisonous dinner, the truth is the last thing anyone wants to hear. Instead, the saviour is a white knight, in the form of a white lie.

If I look around, I see successful relationships built on mistruths. Feigning interest in a sport, pretending not to hate your parents-in-law, rewatching a Netflix show you've already seen. We live in a world that requires mutual sacrifice and a small amount of fibbing to keep things steady.

"But if you'd just told me that you didn't like it, I would've been fine with it," said Kate.

The words hang there because we both know they're not true. This isn't even a white lie; it's just a lie. From where I'm standing, the biggest mistake was sending the spew emoji; if there's any take-home lesson here, it's that white lies must exist in a vacuum, no paper trail pointing to the truth.

Eventually, we meet in the middle of the stairs (symbolic, no?), kiss and I promise to never to white lie again. I figure one more can't hurt?

After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.

Follow Thomas on Twitter.

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