Clockwise from top-right: Syed Luqman Faraz is a technical support manager in a Dubai-based company.
Sumanta Kumar Banerjee is a chief financial officer in a Dubai-based company.
Syeda Maheen Jaaferi is a personal banking advisor in a national bank. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

"When [your mum] would ask me, 'How do l look ?', l'd say, 'Honey, you look great. You're glowing'. lf l had told Mummy she looked like a cow, it would have hurt her feelings. Understand ?"

Jim Carrey's words of wisdom in the 1997 movie Liar Liar still hold true, with every one of us taking advantage of little white lies, whether as an excuse to get out of a dinner offer or as compliments to get into someone's good books. But these innocent lies do more damage than you'd think — every time you lie to someone, you leave an 'emotional stain' on the relationship, according to psychotherapist Brad Blanton, pioneer of the 'radical honesty movement'. But is it really possible to live a life of complete honesty? Gulf News invited readers to its head office to pose the question to them. If you would like to join the debate, send us your thoughts at  readers@gulfnews.com. Here is how the debate unfolded:

Would you use white lies to save your relationship?

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
I wouldn't support lying in any form. Even if you are trying to save a relationship, at some point in time he or she would find out that what was said was a lie. It would only hurt the person more. So, I think you can say things in a straightforward and nice way. Don't slap the information on them, just say it in a nice way. I don't support lies in any form.

What if it is something really serious?

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
If it is something that serious, I wouldn't think any [good] relationship would go to that point where you have to lie to save a relationship. There are many ways to fix a relationship. Just tell the truth and find out a way to make it up to the person.

Syed Luqman Faraz:
I confess that I have lied when it is a matter of saving someone's relationship or friendship. Each and every person has a different identity and they perceive things in a very different manner. Now if I consider a relationship, I need to take a look at the two people involved and how they perceive a situation and how they are going to react to it, I have to decide whether the lie is necessary or not. Tomorrow, if they find out the truth, there is a fifty-fifty chance – they may be understanding [and forgive the lie] or they may not. But if I spoke the truth, it would also have the same chances – they may understand it or they may not. So you have to just understand whether you are telling a lie for the right reason. I completely agree that the truth does come out ultimately. But I have also been at the receiving end of [white lies], where people hid some things from me and ultimately I found out. At that point in time, I would sit down and think, even though you do feel betrayed, whether I would have understood the truth at that stage of my life. Would I really have taken it in the right spirit? Probably the white lie helped me stay balanced and composed through a difficult phase in life. And today, I understand that it probably wasn't such a big deal.

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
Given the choice, one would like to be honest. By default lies are a part and parcel of our lives. Lies are subjective to the situation – it is need based, not in a compulsive way. It all depends on the purpose, the intensity of the situation, how important the person is to you. How big, how small, how black, how white, is all subjective. But from day one we have been taught to lie. How? If a child doesn't eat, you force him to eat it, telling him that [a monster] will come. Aren't those all lies? If you take these lies out of our lives, our lives would be completely colourless.

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
Yes, when I do feed my nephew, I do scare him with the bogeyman, but that's completely different. Lying to a kid, everyone does that. But lying in a relationship is completely wrong.

Video: Are white lies good for us? Gulf News readers debate

Why can't you just tell the child that if you don't eat you will be unhealthy?

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
That's what we probably should do, but … [laughs]

Syed Luqman Faraz:
Every kid grows up in a very different manner. One kid might think: “Alright, my dad lied about the bogeyman or about Santa Claus, big deal.” Another might grow up thinking: “Ok, they lied to me about this, what else have they lied to me about.” They might see a small fight between their parents, and they might start thinking: “Have they even lied to me about loving each other?” So lying to kids is thin ice, you have to tread carefully. You don't want a child to become paranoid.

One lie could be good for you but not good for me. When a patient goes to a doctor, no doctor would tell a patient, “Oh, you have such a serious illness, it is very difficult to recover from it.” Even if the patient has a serious illness, if the doctor keeps telling him till the last minute that he'll be okay, that he doesn't need to worry.

But is that a good thing?

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
Yes, it is.

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
That's what I'm saying. In principle, lying as such is not a good or bad thing – it all depends on the circumstances and purpose for which it is used. Like everything else, lies have their impact and consequences. If I am mature enough, I will be using them in the same manner. I will also look at the impact it has in the long run.

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
I completely disagree! You cannot lie to save a relationship, especially if you have been unfaithful. Was it not bad enough, that you even lie about it? Whatever the consequences of telling the truth, you have to face that.

Does it also depend on the person that you are talking to?

Syed Luqman Faraz:
That's what I said in the very beginning. It also depends on the mindset of the person you are talking to – how will the person react to when you say truth? And how will he/she react when you tell a lie? If you know that the person is not going to react well to the truth, look for an option for the time being to bring the boat to the shore.

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
I never support lies, especially in personal relationships. If a person lies to me about something, I would think later on: why did he lie? Why couldn't he just tell me that this is what I have done. Whether big or small, I get really upset when someone lies. When you tell me the truth, I'll just get angry and get over it. If your relationship is strong enough, you'll get through it. Yes, you may not talk for a while, but then you forgive them.

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
No one would disagree with Maheen in principle, that yes, you should tell the truth. But, at the right point in time – when you can absorb it, understand it, and you are mentally in a position to see the reason.

Syed Luqman Faraz:
It's true. Let me tell you, I had a friend, whose relationship had gone haywire. Nobody told me why the relationship broke up. I wanted to help them, but neither of them spoke to me about it. So, I had to inject a little lie into the situation, to clear the air. When I later told him that I had lied, he just stopped talking to me. And until this day, he doesn't talk to me. I had to tell him the truth, because he was my friend and I know the importance of truth. But this is also what telling the truth does to you. You have to understand: are you ready to deal with the consequences of every word that you speak? Will you be able to handle it.

Is a life of complete honesty impossible to live?

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
Absolutely.

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
That I agree with [Laughs]. Of course we all lie, but when you talk about little white lies, I don't support it. But to save a life, yes, I would lie. My grandmother had cancer, and the doctors didn't tell her, so that she doesn't get de-motivated. But that's exactly what happened. She didn't know she had cancer, she was sick but she was handling it well. And one day, one of the doctor's told her that she had cancer … in a month, she died. So, to save a life, sometimes, you have to lie. Even I would do that. But to save a relationship, no, because that's just hurting you and the other person.

Syed Luqman Faraz:
Lying, essentially, is wrong. But can it be done with a good intention, that's the point. Also, if you have made a mistake by lying, go and confess. For example, if my friend's marriage is about to end because of a lack of understanding, if I just tell him that it's going to work out, at least I've given him a bit of hope. It is just moral support for them to try to save the relationship.

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
Both of you are coming to the same conclusion. Nobody is denying that lying is bad. But it is only a question of how, where, with whom and for what purpose you use it. There are habituated liars and others are the situational liars. Habituated liars will always lie, but those who use lies to save a situation, to protect a relationship, to encourage someone, are different. If your child is performing on a stage, and if you want to give them the strength to perform in front of thousands of people, you would have to lie a bit to encourage him.

We can be quite judgemental when it comes to others who lie. How fair is that?

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
I don't think so, not always at least. Anything which encourages or brings in a positive result, there is no harm in doing it.

Syed Luqman Faraz:
Yes, it is very important to understand that if someone's done something, they have a reason for it. If they've lied, take them aside and ask them why they lied. You can't just judge them without asking, just like you wouldn't want someone to judge you. I may have 10 reasons to lie to my younger brother, but a person looking at the situation might think I'm a very bad example. So, I wouldn't judge someone. As a rule, if I don't judge you, you shouldn't judge me.

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
That's not possible, and that is not what happens, neither will it ever happen. Truth and only truth will not stand in our lives because of the complexities of social interaction. Just think of all the wars that have been won, on the sheer power of lies.

When it comes to white lies, do women lie more than men?

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
I wouldn't needlessly compliment someone just so that I am accepted in the group. If I really don't like what a friend is wearing, I wouldn't comment at all. Yes, women have a need to be appreciated, whether my dress sense or my cooking. Men are not the same. They really don't care. If their wife tells them that they look handsome, they'll just ask them to move out of the way because they are watching a game. If a girl is dressed up before going out, she would expect to be told that she is looking pretty. That's just women's nature.

Syed Luqman Faraz:
Men, generally, don't comment on things as much as women. But when I am walking with my mother and sister, they see something, they have to comment. Men have an inherent, “I don't care” attitude. I wouldn't particularly point at women, but it also depends on the situation.

Sumanta Kumar Banerjee:
I agree to an extent that women in general are more talkative. And you obviously need subjects to talk on. As they grow up, they have more responsibilities. But the main point is your ability to balance situations. Personally, I feel men are more capable of balancing [difficult] situations. So, naturally, if women cannot balance a situation, they have to handle it in some way or the other. They have to talk, which increases the chances of lying.

Syeda Maheen Jaaferi:
I don't agree. Why would I lie? If I don't want to work at home, I'll tell my family that I don't want to work, because I am tired. Why would stress force me to lie? I don't usually lie, especially white lies. Whether it is about food, or how someone looks, I just don't like to lie.