On omitting the truth.

Dear Coquette,

I was talking to my girlfriend the other day and she said that omitted truths are different than lies. She even went as far as saying that omitting truths isn’t wrong.

For example, suppose a friend went into my house while I was away and stole something. If I were to come home and ask him him what he was doing, and he replied “just chillin,” or something of that nature, he would be omitting a truth.

I should specify that I believe that omitting the truth is wrong when the result is neither benign nor positive for all parties — not when the consequences are neutral or positive. I believe that it’s wrong to omit a truth if doing so has the potential to do harm.

I can concede that an omitted truth may not be in the same category as a lie but I believe that it still carries the same severity.

She believes that of course lying is wrong, but omitting the truth is not wrong. She brought up an example of politics. She states that it is essential for politicians to omit truths because if they didn’t there would be no progress. I can agree with this statement to some degree, but I don’t think the sake of progress or “to make things easier” makes omitting truths alright.

I was hoping you could comment on this argument because she and I disagree and I respect your opinions.

Whether you are omitting truths or telling lies, you are still committing willful acts of deception. The only difference is that omissions are passive and lies are active.

You and your girlfriend are getting all caught up in the difference between passive and active, but so what? A willful act is a willful act, and in both instances, your free will is the proximate cause of that deception.

Omitting truths isn’t about right or wrong any more than lying is. Ethically, it’s all the same cocktail, because what we’re talking about here are willful acts of deception. Sometimes deception is necessary and good. Most of the time deception is wrong, and occasionally it’s downright unforgivable.

Come on, kids. Didn’t you ever stop and wonder why in all those courtroom dramas they make witnesses swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? It’s because if you omit part of the truth, then it’s not the whole truth, and you’ve broken your oath.

Right or wrong, omitting truths is deception.

Watch out for your girlfriend, dude. Her integrity is questionable. It’s not necessarily her fault, because she might have been raised by a pack of lawyers. Still, she seems to be of a certain opinion that while she might not openly lie to you, she’s under no obligation to be forthcoming.

If I were you, I’d get in the habit of asking leading yes-or-no questions.

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