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Ethics, “White Lies,” and a Red Dress


My bride and I decided to step upon a path with irreparable conclusions as this slippery slope of truth was applied to our personal relationship. What if, just for 24 hours, we both applied that definition of truth? Could it even be done? And what would the consequences become? We had a solid foundation upon which to build, solid enough that I felt secure in accepting this daunting challenge of telling the truth, and nothing but the truth, for 24 hours.

My bride and I are ethicists. Our upbringing in formative years and our professions hold us tightly to the matter of ethics. It’s an extremely boring subject, especially if one sits in an auditorium for a one-hour presentation and resultant CEUs.

Moreover, the entire subject is boring. Everyone has ethics or at least considers themselves to be ethical. Everybody knows that ethics is the cornerstone of a successful practice. Before the marketing, before the product, before anything must first come ethics.

But this learned consideration of possessing ethical standards becomes somewhat abbreviated when the matter turns to situational ethics. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where esoteric scenarios give way to the very hard decisions in our personal and professional conduct.

And so it came to pass on a recent weekend evening that my bride and I fell once again to discussing ethics. Now you might well suppose that our weekend nights are not exactly riveting, what with the discussion being ethics for a couple of hours. And then repeated on following weekends. Throughout our time together, however, ethics is the glue that has bound us tightly together.

But on this particular evening we fell to situational ethics. This is where the angels become separated from the devils. At the baseline approach and defense of situational ethics are the immortal words of my mother, “God invented white lies as an acceptable way to not hurt others’ feelings.” Well, there you have it. And from a mother. Can’t go wrong there.

As our conversation regarding situational ethics progressed, the definition of truth had to be established. We fell upon, correctly or not, the definition of truth being “saying and doing what you’re thinking and feeling.” That seemed to fit. But it didn’t necessarily work.

Now, the very definition of truth, upon which we both agreed as the basis of our ongoing conversation, became an issue in and of itself. That is a difficult row to hoe. Saying and doing what you’re thinking and feeling 24 hours a day, as the ethos of your lifestyle, is a trying and laboring cross to bear. And in so implementing this very definition, people’s feelings could get hurt.

Enter my sainted mother’s white lie defense.

The next morning, with the 24-hour self-imposed deadline still ticking, we went about the day. Later that evening we stepped outside of our comfort zone in accepting an invitation to get together with some dear friends. Shrimp and lobster on the beaches of Florida at sunset is a difficult scenario to turn down. True, we could not on this particular occasion wear bathing suits and tank tops. No, this was more formal but nonetheless inviting.

As we readied and were about to depart, my bride came down the hallway in a red dress. She looked, of course, stunning to me. “Honey, does this red dress make me look fat?”

And there my dear friends and colleagues, I had a decision to make.

As I take you inside my thought process, which lasted for no more than one second, I would ask that men need not reply to this post. For the most part, none of us men know what we’re doing in our relationships with women, especially with the woman we love and cherish. That singular woman who gave to us, each of us as a man, the freedom and security to be ourselves and succeed. We are not gifted enough to manage that relationship or express ourselves in an understandable manner. Instead, we rely upon the perspicacity of the woman in our life to accept we are stumbling and  plodding our way through life while thinking we are doing such a grand job as a husband, a lover, or a mate.

I shall not share with you my precise answer, although I did have 1 of 3 choices:

  1. Tell the truth. “No, my love, the red dress does not make you look fat. Your fat makes you look fat.” Saying and doing what you are thinking and feeling.
  1. Not a lie; not the complete truth: “You look divine in that red dress my love; however, you know my favorite is that killer black dress (which makes you look slimmer, but those words are not spoken).
  1. The white lie approach to resolution: “You look beautiful. Don’t change a thing.” After all is said and done, she’s beautiful; who cares? Well, she cares or else she would not have asked, I guess. I still haven’t figured that one out yet.

I write to you now from the anonymity and loneliness of the guest bedroom, my faithful dog at my side. This is not our first rodeo together in this room. I look to him for an answer. He glances at me with the corner of his eyes, then puts his head on his bed, lets out a slight moan, and goes to sleep. Upon reflection, and with a strong focus to the future, I now relegate that which I have carried with me most of my life. My sainted mother’s advice that white lies are okay, God said so. And that white lies are to be used when another person’s feelings might be hurt.

I do wish you all well and hope that your ethical ground upon which you walk is made of a solid foundation. It’s the only thing we have to carry as a banner before we ever get on the scene of the sale, the meeting, all that stuff that does not carry the same weight as our personal relationships do. It is those personal relationships that need the refining. It is those relationships that mean the most to each of us.

By the way, guys, just tell your wife you love her. She’ll understand what you’re trying to say.

About the Author:

Joe Samnik, Consulting Arborist

I serve as an expert witness in the areas of trees, landscapes, and related “Green Industry” matters. I have been accepted as an expert witness in over 800 matters in small claims, civil, federal, criminal, and eminent domain courts of law.

Original artwork courtesy of Delsin Scudamore

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