Compassionate Lying: The Truth Hurts

Sometimes lying is good. When taking first aid courses and dealing with people who have sustained massive trauma you’re encouraged to lie to them in order to give them hope, and to keep them calm. Dr. Thomas G. Plante argues in Is lying for the Greater Good Ethical?  “…while one can argue if lying is ethical from multiple angles, I might suggest that if white lies help to manage healthy relationships and nurture others then lying could be the ethical thing to do after all.” I agree and consider this compassionate lying.

You see it in movies and hear about it in books, especially tales about war. When a soldier is severely wounded and his comrade is holding them close, promising everything will be alright even though one knows well enough that the wounded person will be dead shortly. It’s better to deal with terrible situations in a calm fashion rather than in a panic.

I recognize a time in my life when I came to the conclusion that I was able to compassionately lie to keep a situation calm. As a teenager I used to walk my dog through a field behind a cul-de-sac. As I was walking my best friend Patch the Jack Russell Terrier, I noticed a kid riding his bike. The bike wasn’t assembled properly and right in front of my eyes, the front tire of the bike popped off without warning.

The front end of the bike plummeted to the ground and the kid fell very hard, reaching out to brace himself for a hard landing. After a sickening noise the kid was on the ground panicked, dazed and frightened.

Patch and I ran over to him to see if he was alright. It appeared that the child had broken his arm very badly, his Ulna bone was sticking up pressing against his skin almost bursting out of his forearm. He could not move his hand or fingers. The child was rambling on asking how bad it was and if it looked alright (which it was not).

I ended up telling the kid that it was fine, it looked great and it would be healed in no time, but I needed to take him home right away for his parents to inspect the injury. If I had of been in his situation I probably would have passed out due to the grotesque scene but he didn’t know any better.

He walked with me to his home without shedding a single tear and remained calm the entire way, until I rang the doorbell and his father answered. His father did not possess the skills I had recently learned.  All the screaming and yelling that man did eventually set his child off and the poor kid found out the hard way that his injury was a rather severe one, resulting in him crying and eventually fainting.

To reiterate, as Max Pemberton says in his article The truth is, lying can be a kindness, the type of lie described in the above narrative is a “brief reassurance intended to pacify and ease…They are rooted in compassion.” I used emotional awareness to gauge and manipulate a situation for the well being of the child.

 

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