There are all sorts of lies, and they vary in how acceptable they are.

1. White lies. As far as I am concerned everyone has attractive children or grandchildren. Fortunately this is usually true and I don’t have to lie, but I cannot imagine myself saying someone has ugly grandchildren. I also respond to “How are you?” with “fine” even when I’m not.

2. Lies to protect. These can actually be noble lies. The family that hid Anne Frank in the Netherlands undoubtedly told many lies. A more common version consists of lies to protect someone else’s secret.

3. Lies of simplification. I tell them when I teach. To put it on the simplest basis, the child who is being introduced to subtraction should be told, “You can’t take five from three,” even though you can, and the answer is negative two. Sometimes I give a disclaimer, but it is too complicated to tell everything. Sometimes a simple lie will make a long story short and no one cares about the longer version.

4. Lies to impress. These can be the relatively harmless, “I was asked to go to the prom by three guys,” when one asked her in the last minute. If the liar doesn’t start believing the lies, it probably doesn’t hurt too much. I think it is wrong and occasionally stupid. People who are in the habit of this type of lie, sometimes get caught.

5. Lies for personal advantage. The most innocuous form of this is to flatter someone or agree with someone who can help you. This is a little different than a white lie, but not very. The stronger form of it is telling the policeman that you weren’t speeding when you went off the road, it was just the wet leaves on the road made it slippery. Another form is to deny infidelity, when it actually took place.

6. Lies for personal advantage that hurt others directly. The lie on the resume hurts the person not hired because his honest resume appeared to be less desirable than yours.  The classic example amounts to saying, “I didn’t do it, he did.”

7. Malicious lies. The most common form of these is to start a vicious rumor. The difference between this category and the previous category is that the malicious lies offer no advantage to the liar.



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