Out in the Open

When lying is more ethical than telling the truth

Out in the Open producer Lisa Bryn Rundle explains her struggle with the ethics of lying.
Is lying ever the right thing to do? (Carmella Fernando)
Listen7:27

Out in the Open producer Lisa Bryn Rundle says her journey to become an ethical liar has been complicated.

In Grade One, she told her mother that she had been assigned the entire math textbook of exercises to be done that night.

Her mother met with her teacher the next day because she was furious about Lisa being overworked.

Lisa doesn't recall why she told that lie or why she allowed the lie to escalate until it mortifyingly unraveled the next day.

"I think that deep down I might have just been trying to break the pressure of having to be good all of the time."

Lisa's experience caused her to begin telling the truth at all costs.

However, she says chronically telling truth felt like it only unburdened herself while potentially hurting others around her.

"So for me, learning when and how to lie in ways I feel good about has been part of becoming a better person."

Lisa still believes there are times that telling the truth is vital, despite having to push through discomfort or the potential for pain.

She says saving someone from getting hurt is key.

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania academic Maurice Schweitzer agrees with Lisa and suggests lying can be ethical at times.

"People actually don't care that much about deception. We find that the aversion to lying, when people say 'don't lie to me', they mean, 'don't be selfish.'"

Schweitzer's colleague at Wharton, Emma Levine, advises people to lie sometimes.

"The key takeaway is to understand when we should lie, when does honesty actually harm trust, and when can deception actually breed trust and be seen as moral."

Lisa says she still strives for honesty in her life and very much so in her work, but she doesn't see it as her ultimate goal.

"I say we should all try to be the most ethical liars we can."

The effect of deception can sometimes be avoiding needlessly hurting someone's feelings.