I got this question the other day:
My son, who is 20, has a thing about apologizing. He refuses. I can’t quite figure it out. Sometimes I think he is overwhelmed with guilt/shame and other times I think he is stubborn and callous, which upsets me. Obviously, this is a much more important issue on some occasions than it is on others. For instance, recently, he called his friend’s pet a “little rat dog.” (We have a large dog who, of course, we think is beautiful).
His friend was offended by this and told him so. He refused to apologize, saying to me, “Should I LIE?” I took this opportunity to explain that the answer to that question is a resounding “YES!” I went on to explain that a little white lie is less important (in this case) than preserving a friendship and, in fact, people lie all the time, sometimes with very good reason. It made me think about the circumstances in which I would happily lie and the situations call for the gentle truth. Where do you draw the line?
You’re wearing that?
This was my answer:
Dear You’re wearing that?
What a great question! As a completely conflict-averse person, I lie ALL THE FLIPPING TIME. I think most women do, as they are praised for being “nice,” and not making waves. I’m constantly working on the fine balance of being polite and supportive, while not selling yourself down the river Styx.
There are other factors in this calculus also, like how well do you know this person and how likely are they to be offended by the truth. For instance, my father never took anything personally, and you could say anything to the guy. The more you gave him shit, the more he laughed. On the other hand, my mother took everything personally, and you often had to walk on eggshells around her.
Timing is important as well. When you are dating someone, you are more likely to say, “the new haircut looks great!” vs. 10 years into a marriage when it may sound more like, “Jeez, was Daffy Duck your stylist?”
You don’t really have time to do a lot of thinking about what to say in these situations, as they can pop up unexpectedly. So, my personal fallback is to lie to preserve people’s feelings. I do have a few friends – actually only one – who is a master at being honest but also gentle and supportive. And I LOVE it. I would much, much rather hear the truth, regardless of what it is. But that’s me. I strive to be more like her.
As for your son, I believe you did the right thing by using this situation as a teachable moment. Hopefully, someone will come along that he cares enough about to rethink his “no apology” policy. I think it’s worth your gentle but honest counseling, which you’ve done so well. Kudos!
This fascinates Gabby and now she wants to hear from you.
On what occasions do you think it is OK to tell a white lie?
When was the last time you told one, and what were the circumstances?
When has being a little too honest gotten you into hot water? What happened?
What is your honesty/white lie policy for yourself?
Gabby wants to know!
Dear Gabby appears in the RoundTable every Monday. Yes, Gabby is an advice columnist – but not just any advice columnist. Because that would be boring! Gabby combines wisdom with wit. And a pinch of snark. She is not a trained therapist by any means, but has seen and loved many in her day. Her aim is to make you think while she makes you laugh. Gabby welcomes all questions and queries and is only too happy to hear your opinion, no matter how much it may diverge from hers. Write to Gabby at email@example.com.