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Truth telling is always a great theme.

I recently read Sisela Bok's excellent book "Lying." It makes a lot of wonderful points, but my own take-away from it is not the line between the trivial and the tragic, but where the line is drawn between "acceptable" lying and not.

Bok goes through a gazilion forms of and reasons for telling a lie. To my mind, over and over, the conclusion is that you can't absolutely rule out cases where it's appropriate to lie; but that those cases are so rare and so hypothetical as to be virtually irrelevant.

Draw a line from 1 to 10, with 10 being absolute rigorous pristine all the truth and nothing but the truth, and 1 being the worst lying car salesman you ever met. We all like to talk about the boundary between 9 and 10; but we live in something like 4 to 6 territory.

Some other distinctions I've always found useful:
-lies of comission and lies of omission; we tend to do tons of the latter as justification for not doing the former--but in the eye of the one lied to, there's very little difference.

-the whole truth vs. nothing but the truth--flat out lying vs. allowing people to draw certain conclusions. Again, from the point of view of the recipient, it's often a distinction without a difference.
AB - Thanks, Charles - I will have to check out Sisela Bok's book. I concur with your statement that most of us live and struggle in the territory between 4 and 6. What drew me to the quote that I shared was the tendency we all have, especially in difficult situations, to position rules as black and white, as absolute, so that we can hide behind them and dodge our responsibility to deeper truths or values.

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About The Author

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    Compensation consultant Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. Ann has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations in the areas of compensation and performance management.

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