Can Lying Ever Be Justified?
Communication is based on trust. When someone violates that trust by lying to us, we get upset – understandably, as one lie can throw an entire conversation or even relationship into doubt. While some people may get through their day by prevaricating, most of us understand the trouble that comes with lies and choose to stick to the truth.
But is it sometimes right to lie?
We asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You believe that sometimes lies can be justified,” and the results showed that most respondents (69%) agreed. But there were notable disparities between three personality trait pairings: Intuitive and Observant (73% vs. 64% agreeing), Prospecting and Judging (74% vs. 64%), and Turbulent and Assertive (73% vs. 64%).
How might the belief that some lies may be justified relate to personality type? We explore this question in more detail below.
Analysts and Diplomats (75% and 72% agreeing)
Analysts and Diplomats were in close agreement that lies are sometimes acceptable. The Intuitive personality trait proved to be a greater influence on these Roles than any instinct to put logic or empathy before the truth.
As Intuitive personalities, Analysts and Diplomats are constantly searching for meaning and questioning why things happen the way they do. When they’re lied to, they’ll want to understand why, and that process of seeking answers may eventually help them to see justifiable reasons. Of course, the same goes for when they lie to others. Their imaginative nature may give them a talent for inventing and justifying falsehoods that could make them slightly more likely to lie.
But their reasons for lying are usually not sinister. Analysts, who tend to be strategic and results-oriented, may see the value of an occasional fabrication in service of a larger goal. Diplomat personalities may view lies in terms of good intentions: they are unlikely to lie for personal gain, but a white lie can protect or soothe feelings, and a bent truth can give someone the necessary motivation to do the right thing.
Logicians (INTP) and Debaters (ENTP) tied as the personality types most likely to agree that lies can sometimes be justified (79% each). Both Logicians and Debaters love testing out ideas and coming up with theories, but they hate rules and guidelines. They may sometimes find that stretching the truth is the only way around such restrictions to their creativity.
Logicians, ironically, are deeply interested in discovering and expressing truth. They may view lies as occasionally justifiable in the name of innovation and progress. Debaters are accustomed to adopting positions that they may not believe in, simply to test them out, and from there, it’s not a big leap to lying. They’re also masters of persuasion, and that can include coming up with an array of logical arguments to justify a lie.
Thanks to their Prospecting personality trait, Explorers are improvisers who recognize that sometimes a lie may be necessary to take advantage of an important opportunity. Bending the truth may simply be the right tactic for certain situations or tasks, and as a group that likes to take the world as it comes, Explorers may feel ill at ease ruling out that possibility.
Although all Explorers share the Prospecting trait, they also have the Observant trait in common, which accounts for their lower average agreement. Observant personalities are more focused on facts than their Intuitive counterparts and thus may take a somewhat stricter approach to telling the truth. They also won’t spend as much energy coming up with elaborate justifications for a lie.
Sentinels are also fact-oriented Observant personalities, and their Judging trait makes them all the more dedicated to certainty, clarity, and structure – all of which can be undermined by lies. Sentinels may feel that any departure from honesty is antithetical to their faith in order, organization, and the rule of law.
And yet, Sentinels are also very pragmatic personalities, which explains why a modest majority still agreed with our statement. Sentinels may occasionally take the stance that “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” – lies may sometimes be acceptable if they help address personal responsibilities or serve the greater needs of society.
Consuls (ESFJ) were the least likely personality type to agree with this idea (59%). Consuls have a reputation for being people-pleasers, but not in a way that compromises their integrity. Being open, honest, and caring is part of how they earn others’ trust and respect, and many wouldn’t want to jeopardize their personal relationships by telling even the tiniest of white lies.
Social Engagement and Constant Improvement (73% and 72% agreeing)
Turbulent Social Engagers and Constant Improvers were more likely than their Assertive counterparts to agree that lies can sometimes be justified. Turbulent personalities are prone to stress and worry, which can be powerful motivators to stretch the truth to resolve an issue as quickly as possible.
Social Engagers and Constant Improvers may lie to avoid a conflict, to preserve their social status, or to earn the good opinion of other people. Sensitive as they are to negative attention, Turbulent personalities may be more tempted than others to lie from time to time, and to consider it justified. By the same token, they may also realize when other people are telling white lies to them in order to boost their self-esteem, and they may actually appreciate the gesture of friendship and support.
Confident Individualism and People Mastery (65% and 63%)
A majority of Confident Individualists and People Masters also agreed with our statement, albeit at lower rates. These Assertive personalities are generally more easygoing and less emotionally sensitive than Social Engagers and Constant Improvers. They have less difficulty facing reality and thus feel less need to lie about it, whether to maintain their social status, to avoid conflict, or to protect someone else’s feelings.
Many Confident Individualists and People Masters prefer instead to let the truth speak for itself, confident that they’ll be able to rely on their personal strengths to handle any consequences.
People lie for countless reasons, some arguably more justifiable than others. We might lie to protect a persecuted individual from harm – or, less dramatically, to avoid hurting the feelings of someone close to us. It may have been with good intentions like these in mind that most of our readers agreed with our statement.
Of course, not all the lies that we justify telling have such noble aims. As with all attempts to rationalize ordinarily unethical behavior, it can be easy to convince ourselves that a particular lie is a harmless expedience, in light of all we know about the circumstances.
Intuitive, Prospecting, and Turbulent personalities proved to be the most likely to believe that lies can sometimes be justified, but we should all remember that lies often beget more lies, and honesty, although it can be difficult, is often the best path to take.
Where do you stand on this question? Can lying ever be justified? Share your thoughts in the comments below.