“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.”
-- or when I reiterated the view in this line:
“When a friend needs consolation, nothing will keep so well until tomorrow as the truth.”
But twice I have seen the first line debated in internet chatrooms, the verdict each time being that telling a falsehood is always bad, opening a Pandora’s Box to all manner of disaster. How do I respond to this? I respond by coming down coming squarely on the side of kindness. I believe this puts me on the side of the God of both testaments of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, – the God who gave us the Ten Commandments and the God who gave us the Sermon on the Mount.
To my ear, the commandment against lying seems to have been carefully crafted to exclude the lie of kind intent: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” The God of Moses had no trouble with clarity. He was explicit in saying “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal,” these being clear assaults against one’s neighbor. But had He said, “Thou shalt not lie,” his law might have been construed to condone an assault of truth against one’s neighbor. Instead, His commandment puts the emphasis clearly on the consideration of our neighbor’s welfare. The short form of the commandment is not “Thou shalt not lie” but “Thou shalt not harm thy neighbor by thy word.” It is a corollary to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke of those “who say all manner of evil against you falsely.” He did not condemn those who say all manner of good of you, in the interest of your welfare, be it false or otherwise. Here is the God who reduced the commandments to two: Love thy God and Love thy neighbor. In giving us the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful…,” did He intend to exclude from the merciful those who bend the truth so as not to hurt their neighbor?
I think of it this way – there is a distinction between the facts that we discern as truth, and the Eternal Truth which is God Himself, to whom our only allegiance is owed, and who has provided us the model of kindness and understanding that should inform our lives. And so, for myself at least, the rule is simple:
“Love thy neighbor, and if it requires that you bend your understanding of the truth, the Truth will understand.”
-- Robert Brault