Moral Relativism: How I taught my son to tell a lie.


The Truth is not always clear.

Yesterday I sold myself out.

The Caboose had a concert last night, the “final exam” for his chorus class. It was at 7:00 P.M. at a church about 30 minutes from home.

My Mother-in-Law (who lives with us) has been having some medical issues this week, and my husband and I thought it best that she stay home and have her visit with the home health nurse. Knowing she’d be upset if she found out he was performing and we weren’t taking her, I did something I’ve never done before.

I told my son to lie.

I wrapped it around an explanation that, albeit true, was justification to disregard one of the standards I hold highest. At least I did until yesterday.

Since we’d be leaving the house just a few hours after getting home from school, she was bound to ask where we were going. And in his chorus uniform (dress clothes with a tie) a casual explanation wasn’t plausible. I suppose I could’ve just sneaked out the back door in stealth mode, but there would have to be an explanation of why the sitter was staying late. I felt trapped by The Truth. So I made a judgment call. And I lied.

We all tell lies. We really do. “This is the best cake I’ve ever tasted.” “I can’t make it in to work today.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t get the message.” We rationalize the lies we tell by pretending they’re harmless. We justify their use by the goal we’re trying to achieve.

As adults, we live in a world where things are not always black and white. We rely on experience and outcome to make judgment calls at times. And we sometimes lie in the process.

But at eleven years old, he doesn’t yet have that body of experience, or the understanding to make those calls. I told him that it was OK to lie because the truth would hurt her feelings. I packaged it up neatly in a way that would make it easy. Then I engaged him in the process, we told the cover story, and left.

On the way to school this morning, he was the first to bring it up. “It felt weird lying to Grandma last night.” I told him that I thought so too, and that we shouldn’t do it again. But the fact of the matter is that we will have to do it again, because she can’t do everything we do. I’ll just have to make sure I have a better plan, one that doesn’t require his participation.

And I’m now left to wonder where else he’ll apply this new standard of relativism.

“If it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’ll be OK.”

“She’ll never find out, so why not?”

“I’m only lying because I don’t want to hurt her.”

So The Truth, which I used to hold in such high regard, is now reduced to a standard I’m willing to sacrifice for a greater good in my son’s eyes. I sure wish I could get a do-over on this one.

___________________________________________

What do you think? Is it OK to tell a lie in certain situations? 

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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Moral Relativism: How I taught my son to tell a lie.

  1. Aw, Lisha, that’s a tough one. I won’t pretend I have an answer, because I don’t. But I do know I am going to be in similar situations with my girls someday, and I thank you for your honesty. :-)

    PS – I have been thinking of you and your MIL a lot lately. Been wondering how you are doing. It’s funny, I don’t even know you in real life, but I still think and worry about you and your difficult situation. Hugs!

  2. amyrenepowell

    oh man I don’t envy you for that one… now it’s got me thinking what my parents made me lie about!

  3. Whether or not it’s OK, I do agree it’s inevitable. I wish I could say more at this exact moment, but I’m busy thinking myself around in incoherent circles now.

    • It is inevitable. Now that it’s in the front of my mind, I’m realizing just how often I’m faced with this paradox. Ugh. I guess the people who don’t worry about this are the people for whom dishonesty isn’t a problem.

  4. Life is complicated is my conclusion! Never lying would be great but as you say there is a relativity and a need to protect, complicated, very. And no real wrong or right. :)

  5. That’s a tough call. I want to say that lying is never the right thing to do. As you said, though, we all do it when the situation seems appropriate. Yeah, I think I would have done the same thing in this case.

    Stopping by from Write on the Edge. I hope you are having a great weekend!

  6. thetwistingkaleidoscope

    Ouch! That’s a tough one to navigate, and something I have a lot of difficulty with. The Man is uber-honest–and sees most things in just black and white. I tend to see a lot more gray than maybe I should. The Maiden is also really honest and has a keen sense of fairness. If we’re not square with her and in front of her on everything, I fear she won’t trust us in the future. On the other hand, things ARE gray sometimes, and sometimes honesty is trumped by compassion or something else. It’s a struggle. Good luck to you!

    • I’ve always thought of my compassion as a good thing, but I have to learn to be stronger when it comes to situations like this. Christine’s words below hit the nail on the head.

      ” I’ve seen him struggle horribly with trying to wrap the truth with as much tenderness as possible, knowing that the other person was still going to be hurt by his words.”

      Telling the truth can’t possibly tear me up as much as this lie has.

  7. Lisha, I have nominated your blog for the Liebster Blogger Award because I think your blogging rocks! See what I have to say about you in my nomination: http://keynoncoaching.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-liebster-blogger-award/

  8. Oh dear, life does get messy at times, doesn’t it? My first instinct is to say “I tell the truth. Always. No exceptions. Except for maybe getting someone to a surprise party.” But then I think of the times I spin things just a little to make myself look better. Or exaggerate a story to make it funnier. Or shrug the shoulders and say “No clue,” when I know exactly what they’re referring to. As a matter of fact, I’m involved in a situation right now where I can’t be gut-level honest with a friend because it would harm her attempts to reconcile with her husband. So I choose to support her efforts rather than telling her I don’t believe the changes in him are real, and then I pray that God would reveal the truth and change my heart.

    Wishing you had a do-over is fine, but don’t be too hard on yourself. I think my children have learned the most from me when I have humbly gone to them and confessed that although I took what seemed at the time to be the noble road, I really messed up. Hearing a parent say, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” sends several profound messages to your child: My mom is not perfect, so I don’t have to be so hard on myself; my mom doesn’t expect perfection from me either; and humility is important–men and women of integrity are not afraid to admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

    • Still teaching me… :-)

      I seize every opportunity I get to apologize in front of or to my kids. I want them to understand that we’re all flawed. And the lessons about truth — and not telling it — are ones I had hoped he’d learn a little later in life. But learn it now we shall. Thanks for the wonderful words.

  9. Before I met Mister, I would have said, “Yes, it’s okay to tell those lies.” I did it all the time. I had to, to avoid conflict with the parents, which led to lots of emotional guilt-tripping and pain on my part. Something I needed to do without, because I couldn’t handle the stress.

    However, having met Mister, I have come across a very different way of thinking. He doesn’t lie about anything. Ever. His views on that are that in the end you end up letting someone believe something that isn’t true, and it’s hurtful to them and you. I’ve seen him struggle horribly with trying to wrap the truth with as much tenderness as possible, knowing that the other person was still going to be hurt by his words. After having spent the amount of time with him that I have, and observing this about him, I have seen how much better it is to not give those little white lies… even when that’s easiest.

    My inability to always be completely honest, and heir inability to let me express myself honestly without guilt-tripping repercussions, is why there is a severed relationship with my parents. That’s the rub. If we could be honest, and have people accept that honesty knowing we aren’t trying to be harmful or hurtful, there would be no need for those “little untruths”…

    • For clarification purposes:

      The “something I needed to do without” was the emotional guilt-tripping and pain I mentioned in the sentence before.

      • What a gift your Mister is! To have someone love you so completely that deception is not an option…

        My MIL does not come from that school of thought. To have told her the truth would have opened a Pandora’s Box, and I guess none of us were ready for that. I can only dream of a future where my sons (and their families) can have with us the kind of security you have with your Mister. That real love doesn’t judge. And that disagreements and differences don’t mean criticism.

        Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your story. Again, you set the shining example. <3

  10. Donnell Jeansonne

    It’s true we all do lie to spare the feelings of others, especially loved ones. But I don’t think it makes us less morally sound. As parents we have to make difficult decisions in what lessons we teach our kids not just through what we say but how we act. I don’t think you’ve taught him a lesson in being deceitful as much as a lesson in protecting a loved one from feeling hurt.

  11. Oh, my….I’m am NOT looking forward to crossing this bridge. What a sticky situation. Truth is high on the moral compass for me, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t given this one as much thought as how to make a perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Why? I don’t know. I guess I have always assumed that my child will be perfect and honest without my assistance. I will be pondering this thought all day now….

  12. Hey sweetie. So sorry that you are in such a difficult situation with MIL. I think it is complex. You do have to take into account whether the lie is motivated by the wish for self-aggrandizement or to protect someone else’s feelings. In this case, you were trying to protect the over-sensitive MIL. That doesn’t make it morally optimal but for sure it doesn’t make it as bad. And while honesty is one of the paramount virtues, it is not always possible or perhaps even best. I don’t know. In the case at hand, I don’t know why it will be necessary to always lie when you need to leave MIL home. I know it is hard to set boundaries but this is your home, your family, and y’all still need to put the interests of the children first, and you are not doing that if you are engaging in caretaking duties at, say, a concert, you know? Well, I could go on and on, but mostly I wanted to lend you my love and support. xo.

    Oh, and yes, sometimes I lie and sometimes I feel bad about it and sometimes I don’t–it just depends. But honesty matters and I would prefer not to lie if possible.

    • Thanks for the kind words, El. It is a bit of a sticky wicket. And each day seems to be a new and different, so figuring out how to handle may be moot, as tomorrow will likely bear no resemblance. I don’t know.

      I keep coming back to the fact that I was motivated by love. So even if I made a mistake, I can present the lesson to my son as such. Your support means a great deal to me. Thank you.

  13. Thanks for being so real with this situation! It’s when we start to move away from the absolutes that life gets really gray, doesn’t it? Though you wonder what else it may have taught your son, you taught him that sometimes a kindness to others is worth everything and that is a great lesson!

    • I hope that’s how it plays out in his mind. I know that’s how I’ll present it when we chat. I’m going to let it sit for a few days, then revisit it when there’s less emotion. I keep reminding myself that there are few absolutes in life. And that he probably is old enough to handle this topic.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words.

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