The “Little White Lie” can be a kindness when it is truly a little white lie, but many time a person is telling themselves that a lie is a white lie, but it really isn’t.
When I look up the term “white lie” in online dictionaries even their definition is broader than I would go. I don’t consider “a little lie” to be the same as a white lie. I don’t even consider a “harmless lie” to be a white lie. To be a white lie I believe the lie has to be small and harmless, but it also has to have good intentions. A white lie is told to spare someone harm, embarrassment, or pain.
A white lie also has to be in the other person’s best interest and harmless in the long-term. A lie about cheating on your significant other will spare them pain, but it is really in the best interest of the person telling the lie, not the person told the lie. It is not in harmless in the long run, and it’s not a small or inconsequential thing.
Any lie or series of lies, no matter how small the lies, that are in the interest of the lie teller and not in the interest of the other person should never be thought of as a white lie. People justify telling lies like this as a means to justice, or when on a path to a “new start”, but these kinds of lies are absolutely not white lies.
A truly “white lie” may be in the interest of the teller, but it must also be in the interest of the person being told the lie. For example, if your girlfriend asks you, “Do these pants make my but look big”, it is absolutely in your interest to lie! But it will also spare their feelings. Someone could argue that they will then buy the pants and be walking around in less than flattering pants. This would not be in their long-term interest, or yours. That is the problem with a lie or any kind, it can put you in a spot that makes you feel you need to tell another lie… like, “…but I don’t really like that style of pants.” or “I enjoy shopping with you. Are you going to try on some more pants?” Hoping that once they have tried on 2-3 pairs of pants you can direct them to the ones they look best in.
Lying to overcome the injustice of another lie, is also not a white lie. Yes, you believe you are lying for a good cause, but that is usually “from your perspective”. Especially when you are going to personally benefit from the lie, it is not a white lie.
Lies are also sometimes justified as white lies by what I like to call the lie triangle argument. In this case there are 3 parties involved in the lie. An example would be, you don’t take your child to school because of a mistake you made because you slept in or you didn’t feel well. To ensure your child is not penalized you lie to the school and tell them that the child was sick. Although you are telling the lie to benefit your child, you are also telling the lie for convenience or to avoid embarrassment. I don’t believe that the short term benefit to your child qualifies this as a white lie. This would be especially true if it happens quite often. You would really be lying to avoid responsibility and the child would be hurt in the long run.
White lies are considered a reasonable thing to do in our society, but people use this acceptability to justify lies to themselves that are not really “white lies”. I recommend that if you unsure of what to do, you should follow a tried and true method to avoid a lie that is not really a white lie, tell the truth!