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Yes, you do look fat in that dress September 24, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Ethics.

In a new essay entitled “Lying”, Sam Harris argues that lies are “the social equivalent of toxic waste”, and that we must commit to avoiding them — even so-called “white” lies:

When we presume to lie for the benefit of others, we have decided that we are the best judges of how much they should understand about their own lives — about how they appear, their reputations, or their prospects in the world. This is an extraordinary stance to adopt toward other human beings, and it requires justification. Unless someone is suicidal or otherwise on the brink, deciding how much he can know about himself seems the quintessence of arrogance. What attitude could be more disrespectful of those we care about?

Moreover: even seemingly harmless lies undermine trust, foreclose opportunities for deepening relationships, and generally have unforeseen and unintended consequences. Hard as it might be, we must learn to tell our friends and loved ones when we don’t like a gift, when their spouse is cheating on them, when they can’t act or sing, and when they look fat.


1. yossi - September 26, 2011

What if the person asking the question knows in advance that I am going to tell a white lie? For example, my wife asks me if she looks good in her dress before we set out for a wedding. She expects me to tell her she looks good no matter what she looks like. She’s just looking for a little emotional support. In that case, I would undermine the relationship of trust I have with her if I told her the “truth”.

Ezra Resnick - September 26, 2011

If you’re certain that when your wife says “Do I look good in this dress?” what she really means is “Do you love and support me?” then I suppose you should answer the implied question. But I usually assume that a person really means what he or she says, and if asked for my opinion I think (tactful) honesty is the way to go.

(By the way, Harris explicitly discusses the scenario you mentioned, so I recommend you read his essay.)

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