Half Truths & White Lies
Written By: Madeline Cheney
There are two brothers I know who, as children many years ago, had an exchange that has seemingly lived in infamy within their family.
The older brother was a paperboy and was responsible for rolling up each newspaper before he delivered them to everyone on his paper route. It was a tedious process, and being entrepreneurial at heart, something the older brother decided to outsource. He was a businessman, after all. The older brother approached the younger brother (who was quite young) and offered him the paper rolling job. He promised the younger brother, “I will give you a millionth of a penny for each paper you roll.” The naïve younger brother excitedly took the job, eager for his pay, which would certainly be quite a fortune. After painstakingly rolling every newspaper, the younger brother expectantly waited for the mountains of pennies that he was surely owed.
Seeing that the job had been completed, the older brother strutted over to the younger brother. He coolly cocked his head back as he flipped a single penny into the air with his thumb, smugly smiled, and said, “Keep the change.” The younger brother knew immediately that he had been terribly wronged and protested, but his protests fell on deaf ears. The older brother insisted that he had been exceptionally generous and had actually overpaid the younger brother many times over, for he had not rolled anywhere close to one million newspapers. He then pointed out the younger brother’s fatal mistake of accepting a job for one millionth of a penny, which is not at all equivalent to one million pennies.
This experience served as an important introduction to fractions for the younger brother.
This story is frequently recounted and laughed at during family gatherings, and the older brother is still lauded for his famous one-liner, “Keep the change.” While the older brother should have known better, he was still a child, and I can’t fully fault him. It should be noted that he did grow up to be a very successful businessman and is now known for being fair and honest in his business dealings.Trust in others breaks down when transparency and honesty are not present.
In business negotiations, but also in a much broader sense, saying what you really mean and not being misleading are important for any communication. Trust in others breaks down when transparency and honesty are not present. Despite the majority of people believing in being honest from a moral and ethical standpoint, people often try to justify telling “little white lies” to mislead others. They believe the truth isn’t necessary or would cause unwanted trouble. They even reason that they aren’t really lying. Like the older brother in the story, he didn’t ever technically lie, but he knowingly took advantage of his younger brother’s ignorance in order to mislead him. Since most people support honesty, it’s really the nuanced instances when they are telling little white lies that make up the majority of most people’s deception. This makes it all the more important not to discount the little lies because they add up!
Several years ago, a study was conducted that explored the link between telling white lies and their impact on physical and mental health. The study tracked the number of white lies individuals told each week and compared the number with symptoms of mental and physical distress. The study concluded that telling the truth when tempted to lie can significantly improve both mental and physical health. Conversely, the more white lies that were told, the more negative mental and physical health symptoms cropped up. These results indicate that beyond damaging trust in a relationship, telling even white lies causes negative health effects to oneself.
For the sake of both personal wellbeing and maintaining healthy, trusting relationships, think twice before considering making a misleading statement to someone. It’s true, sometimes it may seem inconsequential, but others ultimately do figure out who the people are that are genuinely honest and those who aren’t. The consequence of which could be the cementing of or dissolution of an important relationship.