Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

What is the affect of a direct lie compared to a lie by omission?

Asked by wundayatta (58377 points ) October 4th, 2012

I think most people hate to lie. I also believe that people would consider a lie of omission to be not as bad as an out and out lie where you tell someone, to their face, that you didn’t do something they are accusing you of.

I’m interested in both the moral considerations you might make in deciding which form of lie to make, assuming you felt you had no other choice but to lie.

I’m also interested in strategic considerations. Do you think you can carry off one lie, but not the other? Which is worse if you get caught, later?

It is a lie that could keep you out of big trouble. Telling the truth has such awful consequences that you want to get away without the person you are lying to ever finding out. Assume that you’re not at all sure you could lie to their face because lying is something you never wanted to do or ever felt you could do. So you want to lie by omission, but if confronted, you will have to tell a bald-faced lie.

Could you get away with it? What happens if you are successful? What happens if you are caught?

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18 Answers

KNOWITALL's avatar

I consider any lie to be offensive to all parties and beneath a thinking person, but lies of omission seem worse to me because you simply chose not to give me the opportunity to participate at all.

Moral considerations don’t come up much because to me all lies are wrong, even ‘white lies’.

If I have to tell a bold-faced lie, I do it very well and no one knows because I convince myself it’s the truth or there’s a worthy reason, but it has to be BIG before I’d lie knowingly.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @KNOWITALL
Sometimes lies of omission can be even more destructive, because not only is it lying it is concealing the lie, so that adds extra malicious intent IMO.

harple's avatar

I suffer panic attacks if I know I’ve told a lie. (Okay, not over the “white lies” like – no, your bum does not look big in that.) It’s a genuine problem for me. It won’t be immediate, but it will weigh on my mind and the panic attack will hit the next time the wave of guilt attached hits me. The panic only subsides when I am either physically sick from it, or when I own up to the lie.

This started when I was 12.

Part of my coping mechanisms, apart from never telling direct lies in the first place (ie avoidance) is that I have [had to] learn to lie by omission. This can still eventually cause a panic attack if it becomes necessary to do it repeatedly, but it is a strategy I’ve had to learn to get me through some times of my life. So, for me, the affect of a direct lie is a definite panic attack in the next day or two. The affect of a lie by omission is the reduced chance of a panic attack.

Coloma's avatar

@harple I am the same way, I would spontaneously combust in less than 24 hours if I told an extreme lie with harmful consequences for another. I couldn’t live with myself.

Blackberry's avatar

It depends of course. A lie by omission when it comes to herpes is different than a lie by omission regarding eating your roommate’s food.

Seek's avatar

Lies are not necessarily bad. Lies are important. People lie every day for very good reasons.

“Why did you take so long in the shower! There’s no hot water!”

The answer is not “Duh, Mom, I was masturbating.” The answer is “I bought a new deep-conditioner and it has to set 12 minutes.” Mom didn’t want to know why you were in the shower. She wanted to bitch about having a cold one herself. No reason to bring truth into it.

Coloma's avatar

^^^ LOL True, little white lies about masturbation are acceptable.

Trillian's avatar

I will tell a lie to someone who asks me a personal question about information to which they are not entitled. The more personal and none of their business it is, the more outrageous of a lie I will tell. I don’t care one bit if they find out I am lying.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I personally just don’t find it necessary to lie, and for me it’s a moral issue. If my mom asks if she looks fat in something, I tell the truth. If my husband asks what he did to upset me, I tell him. If we’re not honest in communicating with each other, it’s not truly communicating imo.

@Trillian I’ve been in that position before where people ask why my husband and I don’t have children, and although I find it very rude of someone to ask of us, I honestly reply that we made the decision together for personal reasons. If I feel comfortable enough with the person, I may go on to talk about having pre-cancerous cells removed which could have caused problems with pregnancy, I could talk about non-renewable natural resources, or that I find childbearing to be an expected narcissistic act, which are all true.

Kardamom's avatar

@KNOWITALL Would you tell a depressed person that she’s worthless if they asked (even if you thought they were beyond help)?

Would you tell a little girl that she’s ugly or fat, if she asked (even if you thought she was)?

Would you tell a new cook, maybe a single mom who’s under a lot of stress, who attempted to make you a nice meal that her food was terrible (even if you didn’t like it)?

Would you tell a kind, elderly aunt, who gave you an unattractive sweater for your birthday, that you thought it was the ugliest sweater you’ve ever seen, if she asked you if you liked it?

Most little white lies are meant to spare the feelings of the asker. Those kinds of lies are not immoral, they’re compassionate.

picante's avatar

Lies of omission make me nervous (but I’m guilty of those occasionally). Outright lies make me ill (I don’t really have too many of those in my life). Little white lies make me human (and those, of which Kardamom has some great examples) are routine.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Kardamom
1) No because I don’t believe any human being is worthless or irredeemable, per my religion.
2) If my 13 yr old niece asked, I would say no because she’s not either of those. A random little girl asking me if she’s ugly or fat, would probably be told, there’s something beautiful about every single person on earth.
3) Yes I would because I used to be that person and you must face reality to change reality.
4) Sure I would but not in those words, “I really like that color/patten/stitching” and if I said I’d wear it, I would, even if just in my own home because of it’s hideousness.

You can choose words that aren’t hurtful and still be honest, that’s how I roll and my friends always say “don’t ask her if you don’t want the truth”, it’s a running joke and they appreciate that they don’t have to worry about lies from me about anything. Especially jealous women, I will flat out say I don’t think your husband is attractive in any way and when he came on to me I told him that (it’s happened.)

FutureMemory's avatar

Hmm, shouldn’t it be effect, with an ‘e’?

AstroChuck's avatar

I’m sorry to be an ass, but it’s driving me nuts. It should be effect, not affect.

AstroChuck's avatar

Oh. I see @FutureMemory beat me to the punch.

rojo's avatar

As one who is occasionally guilty of the latter (and feel guilty about it), I can say that to me the big difference is that I do not have to remember a lie that I did not tell.

@KNOWITALL I used to think as you do about peoples’ worth but with age I have come to believe that some people are just broken and cannot be fixed or redeemed.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@rojo I get that. As a person grows older you learn more about the world and others, and yes, I know some people are a waste of space like child molesters, but I still believe in good people. And even child molesters and murderers have mothers who probably love them…I just try to find that forgiveness and compassion inside myself because we are not to judge each other per Christianity, so all I can do is try to find something to love in each person, even if it’s very difficult sometimes…lol

Paradox25's avatar

I don’t consider a lie by omission to be a form of lying itself, but it can have the same or even worse impact as a genuine lie, depending on the circumstances. As far as withholding information goes, where is the line here between giving someone more information than they need to know vs lying by omission? Some will say that this is obvious, but realistically I’m not so sure it’s that simple. When it comes to outright lying sometimes a straightout lie is not only justified, but even necessary in quite a few situations that I can think of. It is very rare that I lie, but generally I’m a horrible liar and like someone said above, it tends to bother me greatly when I do.

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