MAUREEN BURNS: The color of white lies

By Maureen Burns • Last Updated 7:22 pm on Friday, March 23, 2012

Maureen Burns

My friend was out to dinner with his 14-year-old granddaughter. They talked about how the food wasn’t very good and they’d give it about a C minus. Right then the waitress came by and asked how their food was. My friend said, “Oh, good, thanks.” When the waitress left, his granddaughter looked at him and said sweetly, “It’s OK, Grandpa, I lie sometimes too.”

I pride myself in being a very honest person and honesty is very important to me. However, don’t we all lie just a little bit? Oh, you don’t think you ever do? Let’s see about that.

Here are some questions we may lie about, just a little, just a teeny bit. You may even call it fudge. I mean, it’s not really an out and out lie. Is it?

“Have you ever smoked?” That’s a good one. I was with someone recently when they were asked that by the doctor. They answered, “No.” Later, I asked them about it as I knew that they sometimes smoked. “Oh,” they said, “that doesn’t count. That’s not what the doctor meant.” Oh, really. Someone else told me they always answer no to that question because if they say yes, their insurance rates will go up. Dang, that’s motivation.

“Do you exercise?” “Sure, regularly. Well, does talking on the phone count? Cooking? Eating? Using the remote? I am pretty faithful about all of those.”

“How much do you drink?” “Oh, not much.”

“How many glasses of wine do you have a day?” You wonder — how big a glass?

The worst lie bait is this one. “How much do you weigh?” What woman doesn’t hate that question? When I am at the doctor and the nurse hauls me over to the scale, often pulling me by my hair to get me there, I cringe with fright. “Can I strip buck naked? Can I come back after I fast for a few days? Can I write it in the chart myself?”

I think the only time we are really, really honest about how much we weigh is when we are about to go up in a small plane and they ask. When the plane will likely crash if you don’t tell the truth, it is time to be honest. Throw caution to the wind, bite the bullet and just fess up.

Have you ever lied about money or purchases? “Is that new?” “Oh, no, I got it ages ago.” Or, “Yes, but I got it on a huge sale.” What you really mean is you got it “for” sale. “How much did you spend on that?” “Ahhhh, I can’t remember.” Complaining about your poor memory is always a good one to use here.

Adlai Stevenson said, “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord and a very present help in time of trouble.” He was a man who understood these things. We lie to be kind. We lie to be polite. We lie when we don’t want to hurt someone.

Someone cooks for you. “Do you like it?” “Oh, yes, it is delicious. I’m just full. I had a big lunch.” Once I had a dinner party and a good friend didn’t eat much of the main dish. I asked her if she liked it and she replied, “Well, it’s not as good as other things I’ve had here.” Nicely put. She obviously didn’t want to lie. I kinda wish she had.

There is a Yugoslavian proverb that says, “Tell the truth and run.” That can be mighty good advice.
“How do you like my hair?” “How do you like my outfit?” My friend, Maggie, always smiles sweetly and says, “If you feel good …”

Here are some other hard ones. “Do I look as old as them?” “Am I as big as them?” “Do I have that many wrinkles?” “Can you tell I lost five pounds?” “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit!” “Did you miss me a lot?”
I asked around to see what other people were lying about. People lie about their kids. Just like with money, you can round up or round down. With talking about our kids, we usually round up. I don’t think that’s really lying. That’s probably just good parenting.

I was told that people lie about who is related to them. “Are they related to you?” “Ahhhhhh, not so much … maybe distantly … I don’t really know. Who, again?”

How about when asked, “Who did that?” “Not me, nope, not me, for sure, not me.”

Sometimes people are afraid to tell the truth. Samuel Goldwyn said, “I don’t want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs.”

I’ve seen people lie so much that they get all mixed up in the lies. Keeping it all straight can be quite a task. Bette Midler said, “I never know how much of what I say is true.”

Marriages and close relationships are filled with these kinds of dilemmas. We were getting dressed recently to go to a big gathering. I said to my husband, “Do I look too chubby in this?” He looked at me and said, “Do you really think I’m dumb enough to answer that question?” We had some good laughs over that, but I never did get an answer. He didn’t want to lie, I guess.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is

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