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Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of ethics, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

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Today’s question: “Get off my back!” is what you’d like to say. Instead, you tell your oft-inquiring boss you are well along on a project that you really haven’t started. Or you falsely tell a persistent customer that the order has already been shipped. Can you imagine when lying in cases like this would be justified?

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R. Patricia Walsh

Professor of psychology, Loyola Marymount University

You should make every effort to withhold the truth rather than directly telling a falsehood. For example, it would be best to simply offer assurances that the deadline will be met, rather than saying you are well along on the project. If you must tell a falsehood, you should be certain that the lie will not harm the requester. You should be sure, for instance, that the project will be completed on time. Finally, the lie should be a one-time event that will not lead you into a habit of consistent lying. Thus, you might lie once to one overly persistent person (especially if your job is at stake), but you should not make a habit of covering up your shortcomings.

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Richard Mouw

President, Fuller Theological Seminary

If I said that I never felt morally justified in uttering falsehoods in such situations, I would be lying! But we have to be very careful on this subject. The standard case for ethicists is lying to a person bent on doing great evil--as when you deceive the Nazi soldiers who want to kill the Jews you are hiding in your attic. The danger in acknowledging the rightness of such cases--and they are right--is that we will use them to justify telling falsehoods in situations where our only motivation is to take the easy way out. We sinners need to guard constantly against our very real tendency toward moral self-deception.

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The Rev. Ignacio Castuera

Pastor, North Glendale United Methodist Church

The answer is a simple “no,” but the issue is complex. We have grown used to dealing with each other in less than honest ways. The pace of our lives and the demands upon our time force us to view dishonesty in matters of business promptness as simple peccadilloes. Gone are the days of artisans and real craftsmanship. Gone also the days when a person’s word was sufficient. It is not too late to start dealing with each other in honest ways. Who knows but that our bosses and bishops might find it refreshing that we treat them as people we trust enough to tell them the truth. Deadlines might be extended, products might get better and all of us might become more humanized.

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Compiled by JOHN DART, Times staff writer


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