When Does The Omission Of Truth Become A Lie?

by Ashley Fern

We have all been in relationships where we have withheld things from our partners to spare their feelings or to avoid a fight. That is all fine and dandy until your partner figures out that you were actually out clubbing the previous night and not home asleep like he or she assumed. When this happens, whose fault is it? You defend yourself by saying that this person never asked what you were up to that evening, yet your partner assumes that you would be forthcoming in instances such as these.

As everything in life, nothing is completely black or white. There is somewhat of a spectrum in situations such as these. Some omissions are harmless, while others are necessary. Some believe that omissions are sweeter versions of lies, but not inherently lies in themselves. At what point do you draw the line? When does an omission become a lie? Or does it even become a lie at all?

A lie is not in the words or the lack of words, it's in the intention of the deceiver; the intent is to elicit a specific response from the asker. Is an omission only a lie when there is an expectation of a truthful answer to a question, where the answer was deliberately used to obfuscate the truth? A deliberate omission can be considered a lie if the lack of information alters outcomes, be it discernment or decision. You do not owe everyone your innermost life story, but if you are withholding relevant information in order to sway a person’s judgment in some way, then it appears you are in fact lying to him or her.

“The main definition of 'lie' in any dictionary is, in essence: a false statement made knowingly and deliberately. A lie is something you say, not something you don't say.”

Does this distinction simply serve as a rationalization for a person to engage in any action he or she feels like taking part in? Omission seems to become a lie when you intentionally hide something from someone. If you know what you are omitting is in fact relevant and you have a specific motive, well that is most definitely a lie. Any attempt at deception is the same as a lie, regardless if it is done through delivering false information or the omission of critical information. The end result and overt attempt is exactly the same in this scenario.

If you look at the end result and go backwards you can understand why people use the terms 'lie' and 'omission' interchangeably. The purpose of both is to hide the truth. The difference is that when people lie, not only are they hiding the truth, but they are also submitting another lie to be believed as truth, whereas there is no effort taken by omitting. However, the end result is the same, you are in fact hiding pertinent information.

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.”

Ultimately, I believe omission is the same as lying if you withhold something relevant that the other person needs to know. If you are in a committed relationship and have cheated on your partner, but do not tell your partner, you are still lying to them. Relationships carry the expectations of fidelity and by omitting your indiscretion, you are in fact lying to your partner.

Like many other aspects in life, this can be looked at as a cost-benefit analysis situation. If the other person has an expectation and you withhold the information for selfish purposes, you will be considered a liar. If the disclosure serves no purpose other than to cause harm, then perhaps it may be better to simply hold your tongue. Proliferating gossip serves as a relevant example of this type of omission.

Regardless of your viewpoint on these two terms, one thing remains the same: it is the situation that needs to be analyzed to determine if something is actually a truth or a lie.

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