The other day my friend lied to me. As far as lies go it was pretty banal, but it bothered him enough that he let me know later. The following exchange provides a parallel of the kind of lie committed by my friend.
Fred: “Hey Bill, how much did you pay for your new motorbike?”
*A couple hours later*
Bill: “Hey Fred, I have to confess something.”
Fred: “What’s that?”
Bill: “I actually paid $5000 for my bike, not $4500.”
Like I said, the lie was pretty banal. But immediately several things struck me about my friend’s lie. First, there was no benefit to it. In the illustration there is a negligible difference between $4500 and $5000. No doubt Fred would not have thought less of Bill for paying a few hundred bucks more. So why’d he lie in the first place?
Second, while the lie yielded my friend no benefit, it still did give him a moral stain. Now I’m not saying if you’re going to lie then you might as well get your money’s worth. Rather, I’m saying there is no benefit to lying in the first place.
Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Twenty years ago I went to Subway with a friend. He asked for a cup for water. He then took the clear plastic cup and filled it up with about 70% water … and then topped it off with a splash of orange soda. The soda was just enough to discolor the water but not enough to add any flavor. And so he was left with all the culpability of stealing soda without any of the benefit. That’s what I’m talking about here. A dumb lie.
My third observation was that dumb lies are surprisingly common. People often spin the truth slightly in their direction, not enough to reap any discernible benefit but just enough to reap the culpability. And I must admit that I am prone to do this too. For example, I recognize that it is a perennial temptation to embellish stories for greater dramatic effect, but to do so with such a minimal touch that I incur the culpability but draw no discernible dramatic benefit.
I’m not sure what to say about dumb lies except that they are indicative of the fact that fidelity to the truth is, for most human beings, a work in progress.