Honesty with oneself and others by accepting and telling the truth is the foundation of lasting relationships, a must for security, and a catalyst speeding up one's life and all human civilization. Yet, lying is inevitable sometimes, however short-lived all lies are.
To some, lying is diplomacy, cleverness, and consideration for others, among other euphemisms; while honesty is mere bluntness and lack of wit and imagination.
When lying is frequent, that it becomes the norm, it illegitimately transforms from a vice to a virtue. It becomes a basic ingredient of many everyday interactions, without which many jobs cannot be done, e.g. those largely depending on lying: law, politics, entertainment, trade, advertising, PR, tourism, etc. Any job, relationship, emotion, tradition, or belief founded on a lie is naturally unstable and doomed to end.
1. Society: Laws and traditions are man-made; they are subject to mistakes. An unjust law is missing, ignoring or distorting the truth. When laws are unjust, people have no choice but to live with the injustice or to break the law. They are forced to lie then, because their smaller lies are only a reaction to the bigger ones governing a society, a country or the entire world.
2. Mother Nature is unjust too, that we can't just follow her laws. We either work individually, or collectively design laws to counteract nature's injustice. We should understand why some people lie to hide their lack of resources, intelligence, physical skills, etc., in a society that glorifies and cooperates only with those who have such qualities, and marginalizes those who have not.
3. Imagination is better than reality sometimes, that we all use it for diversion, inspiration, and better understanding. However, we must distinguish between facts and fantasies, in our thoughts, plans, actions and interaction with other people. If we don't, we may unintentionally lie. If we know such distinction, too late, we may still lie, intentionally.
A child's real world is very limited, lacking many of the freedoms and physical and mental skills of adults, while full of prohibitions instead. If you are a child, and you know, like any human, adult or child, that you may die at any time by any cause of death (especially at such fragile age of childhood), and this is your only chance of seeing life before you leave it — will you still stick to reality and follow the rules of adults?
4. We merely lie by force of habit. The more we lie to others, the more difficult it gets to free ourselves from the web of lies we get ourselves into, that we prefer to keep lying instead. The more we lie to ourselves, the further we get from reality, almost living a parallel reality. Being honest then becomes extremely difficult and painful. We cannot face the truth suddenly whenever we are psychologically "unprepared" for it. Honesty is best likened to "light," that one cannot face unless one is prepared for; otherwise their eyes get hurt and fail to see correctly. What matters is to always remember that sooner or later the truth must be faced, however long it takes to prepare ourselves for it, when we can finally be relieved of lying, of running away and hiding from the truth.
Some will delay that moment of truth till the last breath, as in deathbed confessions. Death, aging and many hardships make people desperate to try new things, emboldening them to break rules, as by disclosing secrets and lifelong lies.
However, secrets should be distinguished from lies, as the former can effortlessly be kept to oneself forever, as long as they are neither a burden to oneself nor affecting someone else's life. But if too many "light secrets" (just as too many white lies) eventually become a heavy burden, we'd better share it with someone we fully trust, if there is any, when such burden really hurts and needs to be shared.
5. We usually lie involuntarily when we follow instinct instead of reason, as our primitive brain is not qualified to distinguish facts from lies. Involuntary lying is not lying, it's ignorance; yet we are responsible for the lies we tell when we choose to be ignorant, as when we follow instinct:
Just as seeking the truth takes many forms (arguing, observing, analyzing, etc.), so does distorting, hiding, or escaping it.
• Powerful & Weak: A powerful lie can be more appealing or convincing than a reality. It can be sophisticated, truth-like and mind-boggling, or just so pleasing and deeply solacing. Thus it lives long and gains popularity too. It can last for a lifetime, whole generations, or millennia (e.g. superstitions); but eventually it dies.
A professional/pathological liar lies using the same techniques used for telling the truth. It goes without being noticed by the unsuspecting eye; but for the skeptic vigilant mind, that takes nothing for granted and never tires of doubting, it is easily spotted.
• Direct & Indirect: There are outright lies, where the truth is just altered; and there is lying "in disguise," where it's covered. Avoiding, misrepresenting, silence about, or telling parts of truth is indirect lying. Indirect lies can be partly verbal or non-verbal, where senses, emotions and behavior hide the truth even more. Acting, flattering, vanity, modesty, pessimism, optimism, exaggeration, denial, blind faith, and many arts, trades and social conventions are indirect lying.
It's impossible to distinguish a lie from a truth at a "certain" instant, because we can't ignore the "dimension of time" and the accumulative nature of learning, that we should rather wait till an argument is finished/point made/case rested ... before we make our judgment. It's also impossible to label a piece of information as a lie when taken out of context, because of the relative nature of truth; rather, we should get the whole picture first.
However, when a culprit is caught red-handed, he doesn't have much to lie about. The time allowed to defend himself is not indefinite: it's limited by the undeniable evidence found and its natural consequence, i.e. the cause and effect of the argument, neither of which can be lied about.
• Useful & Harmful: We may lie when the purpose of lying is superior to the damaging effect of telling the truth. Future effect should be considered too: if discovering a lie later is more damaging than telling it now, then it's more harmful than useful, and not telling it is better. Truth should always be favored.
On the other hand, harmful lies happen when the effect of lies is more damaging than telling the truth.
When a dangerous lie is discovered, it has a domino effect similar to that of discovering a new scientific fact. Either ends or starts a whole different era to a person or a society: different knowledge, beliefs, relationships, principles, future plans, etc.
• Personal & Social: Lying to oneself is more harmful and automatically leads to lying to others. Honesty begins at home: there isn't a man who can be true to other people as he can to himself, simply because no man can love or understand anyone more than himself.
Self-interest is the norm. Although we care about others' interest sometimes (by choosing to be a parent, philanthropist, activist, etc.), and even hate ourselves sometimes (suffering guilt, self-loathing, self-abuse); still, in such cases we temporarily go against the norm of ourselves and society. The potential or motivation for self-loathing or altruism is less than self-love, the latter being the driving instinct that keeps every living organism alive.
It's ironic that the one fact most humans agree on is the one they most lie about, that is, "self-interest"; and the one virtue all humans (and animals) can't live without, commonly mentioned as a vice instead of a virtue, is the unjustly notorious "self-love."