As a general rule I don’t believe in the benevolent lie. I believe it’s possible to tell the truth judiciously, which is to say tactfully, but I don’t believe in lying for the sake of good, not to people who aren’t your sworn enemies anyway. I remember one day when my two middle kids put me on the spot, asking me if there was a Santa Clause. Knowing their mother may have lied to them about this, and unwilling as I was to start a needless scandal, I replied “I don’t believe in Santa Clause.” It was a tactful statement that was 100% true.
A short while after that I remember my kids saying something about not wanting to go to church (their mother’s destination of choice). My sister, an avowed atheist, but of a feeler ilk, replied that church was good and would teach them right from wrong. Now be be perfectly fair my sister might actually believe this, as some atheists believe that the steaming masses are incapable of refraining from killing and raping each other without the belief in the heavenly Eye in the Sky and a host of angels keeping a list of who is Naughty and Nice. I, however, am not (and have never been) in favor of deceiving people I love in the name of a greater good. I challenged my sister on this point, in the presence of my children, and asked her how she could say that church was good. She did not respond as I think she was afraid of speaking her true thoughts in the presence of children. I challenged her again, asking if she believed in God. My sister responded like the consummate politician: “My beliefs are a private matter.” How very weaselly.
The idea that Truth is only accessible or desirable for a small percentage is an elitist proposition that has no place in an ethical world view. I don’t believe in benevolent lies any more than I believe in sacrificing a few innocent people for the common good or that there is an acceptable level of arsenic for a tuna fish sandwich. If the Truth is sometimes rough it’s because Reality is often that way. It is neither desirable nor useful to compound those problems by falsifying reality (an exception, as Ayn Rand pointed out, being medical situations where a patient might be aided by the placebo effect). Situations like that aside, I can’t think of a valid reason for lying to people for their own good.
No, the bitch is dead. And if you don’t own up to that your kids are going to have nightmares and perhaps sleeping disorders and the fault is going to lie (pun intended) 100% with you.
Son (age about 8): Have you ever been to jail?
Me: Yes, and if you ever do anything to get arrested don’t fight the cops or try to run. They’re going to win and if you fight back things are going to turn out bad.
Wife: Do I look like I’ve gained some weight?
Me: Ask me again when you’re on the other side of bulletproof glass.
Sometimes a non answer is in order. A lie is still not necessary.