Categories of Lies
White Lies, Grey Lies and Black Lies
At the heart of Lies
At the heart of lies are one or more truths which the liar is afraid will be exposed; along with the desire to manipulate others and stay out of trouble.
Lies, deceitful behaviour and secrecy become necessary, because the hidden truth, if exposed - would:
- Show that the liar has done, is doing, or plans to do something that would likely be perceived by others as: silly, stupid, disgusting, dishonest, disgraceful, corrupt, illegal, evil or otherwise unacceptable; and/or
- Decrease or damage the liars stature or reputation; and/or
- Would result in the liar being unable to obtain or keep something they want; and/or
- Would likely result in negative consequences for the liar that the liar does not want; and/or
- If the truth is known, it would prevent the victim from acting the way the liar wants.
Knowing the truth about the liar's secrets often influences the victim's attitude toward the liar; and it can influence the victim's reaction in ways the liar does not want.
Manipulation of the victims feelings, beliefs and behaviour is a core objective of liars.
Lies, other forms of deception, and secrecy - form the bodyguard for the dark secret truths liars want to hide.
But, it is also true that everybody lies. How can we reconcile this apparent contradiction?
The truth is that there are different kinds of lies, and these can be distinguished from each other. While it is true that virtually everybody lies - there is a very significant difference in the nature, consequences, and public acceptability of different types of lies.
Intent, consequence, and public acceptability are major distinguishing factors between the major categories of lies.
2 types of lies:
3 categories of lies:
A lie has 3 main features:
- A lie communicates or hides information
- The liar knows the truth.
- The liar intends to deceive in order to influence the audience to believe something that is not true - so that subsequent impressions, decisions and actions on the part of the victim(s) or others will be in the liar's favour.
- It might be partly true (but what is left out or what is picked to say or show is misleading); or
- It may be totally true, but only part of the whole true story, and is misleading because the information was provided out of the correct context; or
- It may employ a deceptive element which serves to imply something is a fact or true when that is not the case; such as the deliberate mis-use of punctuation; or the use of words with a double meaning; or the use of qualifying (weasel) words; or the manipulation of an image.
Untrue information is not always a lie.
The intent to deceive is fundamental to lying.
Learning to Lie
- To play with you;
- Because they thinks it is funny;
- To gain control over you or a situation;
- To avoid punishment;
- To cast blame on someone else;
- Because of fear or anxiety;
- To avoid doing something they do not want to do; or
- Because of jealousy.
There are 2 main types of lies:
This type of lying involves falsification of information, or providing information in a deliberately misleading manner - with the intent to trick the person(s) / audience being lied to into believing something that is not true - and, consequently influence how the victim feels or thinks about something, so that the victim will do (or not do) something that the liar wants.
2. Lies of Omission
Secrecy, denial and stonewalling
Secrecy, denial and stonewalling are lies of omission. This may include partly or entirely destroying or hiding evidence of the truth; actively denying the truth; or using tricks to avoid providing information or to avoid answering questions that have been asked in order to obtain the truth about a matter.
Part truths - whereby only part of the truth is presented and significant information is withheld, in order to "frame" the matter being manipulated, so as to mislead the audience - is a type of a lie of omission.
- "I don't cheat on my wife" [unsaid qualifying 2nd part - "on Sundays"]
- "I didn't take the milk money" [unsaid qualifying 2nd part - "this week"]
- "No one told me that X donated X thousands of dollars" [unsaid qualifying second part - "I wasn't told it verbally, I read the report"]
- a car salesman failing to mention to a customer that the car the customer is interested in leaks oil, even though the salesman knows this; or
- a politician failing to mention that a bill that he is supporting is in the interest of a corporation that has directly or indirectly made (or promises to make) a major contribution to his or her political campaign; or
- a government hiding information about exposure of the population to radiation or other harmful substances; or
- a newspaper producing an article from material solely or predominantly derived from a government department or corporation - and, like a front organisation, presenting biased data to the public, while creating the false impression that the information presented is independent and impartial.
- a supposed non-governmental media organisation which is overtly or covertly government funded, whose actual purpose is dissemination of government propaganda
- denying the existence of data or hiding or deleting data that would provide evidence of wrong doing
Three Categories of Lies based on: Intent, Consequence, and Public Acceptability
They are the most common type of lies.
- "I'm fine". [vs the truth such as - "George has left me. Sally's pregnant, and I'm going to be laid off next week" - said to avoid laying personal burdens on another]
- "You'd better be good, or Santa Claus won't come." [Benign bribery to encourage good behaviour]
- "Yes dear, your hair looks great - just like Marilyn Monroe" [If Marilyn Monroe had grey frizzy hair - but the liar wants the recipient to feel good]
- "Thanks so much. It's so different. I just love it!" [vs "OMG, what IS this thing; and who can I give it to?" because the recipient does not want to hurt the feelings of the person who gave them the gift.]
- "I'm 29." [vs was 29 fifteen years ago]
- "Man that sucker was 10 feet long." ['The one that got away' exaggeration stories tend to grow with each re-telling - with little or no expectation that they will be literally believed.]
- "Didn't you get an invitation. I sent it last week." [vs because they were forgotten or were intentionally not invited.]
- "I'll be there in a minute" [vs "Will you stop pestering me. I'll get there when I'm ready".]
But lies told to protect a person, who has done wrong (whether criminal or not) are usually not socially acceptable - and may constitute a grey or even a black lie, depending on the circumstances.
But, some jokes are also used as a tool to foster bigotry and hate, and consequently may not be socially acceptable. Such jokes fit better in the category of grey or black lies.
White Lies - In summary:
- The intent of a white lie is to benefit the recipient (not the liar); and,
- The consequences are minor (and in some instances may be positive); and
- White lies are generally publicly acceptable.
Grey lies are primarily focused on protecting the interests of the liar, and may or may not be socially acceptable.
Some (but not all) forms of advertising and public relations spin satisfy the criteria for grey lies.
- "I can't come into work day because I'm sick with the flu." [vs. the liar intends to sit at home watching the final series of a sports match on TV. The employer and fellow employees are inconvenienced.]
- "We'll be working late again tonight." [over a glass of wine with the new female employee. It's not an affair - but it's not something the liar's wife would like at all.]
- "I can't repay you this week Sam. Too many bills." [But not too many bills to prevent the liar from going to the pub each night.]
- "But I returned your ladder 2 weeks ago." [Because to admit you loaned the ladder to someone else is liable to cause a ruction].
- "Yes I am an experienced in nursing elderly patients" [vs. "I haven't nursed in 15 years, but I do make tea for Mom." Because the liar wants the job and has rationalized to herself that her experience is good enough.]
- "He's in a meeting." [vs. He does not want to see Mr. X today.]
Grey Lies - In summary:
- The intent of a grey lie is to benefit the liar (not the victim); and,
- The consequences tend to be relatively minor such as inconvenience or irritation.
- Public acceptability will largely depend on the specific circumstances and the intended or unintended consequences.
Black lies are primarily focused on protecting the interests of the liar. They cause harm; and they are not socially acceptable.
This is why black lies (and some grey lies) by people of power and influence (particularly politicians) are a potential danger to the public interest, and commonly disgust the public - who expect their leaders to be a good example - and to be honest and trustworthy.
- "The car's a real deal. It was owned by an 80 year old who only drove it to get the groceries" [vs. the truth that the car was used by a taxi driver, and the mileage was cranked back]
- (Said to the wife or husband) "I've got to go to 'X' for a week again, to do more work on that deal" [vs the truth that the liar is having an affair, and does not want the spouse to find out because it's likely to lead to an acrimonious and expensive divorce.]
- Lying to hide the fact that the liar has stolen money or property or defrauded someone.
- Lying to hide acts of perversion or violence.
- Lying to prevent someone else from getting some sort of benefit, or to cause someone physical or other harm.
- Lying and otherwise acting deceptively in order to delude the public into believing false promises so as to get elected.
- Propaganda, to deceive the public, in order to prevent the public from objecting to government actions (past, present or planned).
- Lying or manipulating evidence to set someone up so they will be convicted of a crime they did not commit.
- Deliberately setting up circumstances so that the victim(s) will unintentionally commit some sort of violation, so they can be ticketed or otherwise penalised to get quota numbers up.
Black Lies - In summary:
- The intent of a black lie is to benefit the liar (not the victim); and,
- The consequences or potential consequences of black lies tend to be substantial on the victim(s).
- The consequences or potential consequences on the liar, if the truth behind the black lies is found out - may be substantial. This often motivates such liars to go to great lengths to hide the truth.
- Some others who learn the hidden truth behind black lies can use this knowledge to blackmail or exert perverse influence over the actions of the liar. (The ability to manipulate a liar due to knowledge of the truth behind black lies is one of the principle threats of spying. It has has been used by criminals, black-mailers and government agencies for decades, if not centuries to get such liars to do what they want.)
- Black lies are not accepted by the public.
- There are lies of commission and lies of omission.
- Lies can be categorised into: white lies, grey lies and black lies - based on intent, consequence and public acceptability.
- The statement that "everybody lies" generally refers to white lies.
- At the heart of grey lies and black lies in particular, are one or more truths which the liar is afraid will be exposed; along with the desire to manipulate the thoughts and behaviour of the victim(s) of lies.
- Many, if not most grey lies, and all black lies are not socially acceptable.
The truth matters;
and, bar white lies, the truth is expected.
- Glenn Greenwald