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Is it ever OK to tell just a little, itty bitty lie?
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At the time Georgia Rowe said, it, it seemed harmless enough.

She was dating a young man in the military, and she sensed it was getting pretty serious. When she called her mother to tell her about the courtship, there was one thing Rowe still didn't know about him.

"My mom said, ‘Well, how old is he?' And I said, ‘Well, I don't know.' And she said, ‘Well, be sure that you're the same age as him," Rowe recalls, 33 years later.

As it turned out, Rowe, now 65 and a resident of Gainesville, was 20 months older then her future husband. But she kept that fact secret for more than three decades, revealing the truth to her husband during her 60th birthday party.

Which meant for years, Rowe changed birthdays, her passport, everything, to keep her husband from guessing her real age.

"And I never had the courage to tell him," she said. "That was a real white lie!"

But when it comes right down to it, is it ever OK to tell a little white lie?

James Sennett, a religion and philosophy professor at Brenau University, said anytime someone is faced with the decision to tell a lie, little or not, there is a cost-benefit analysis that goes on in his or her head the moments before a decision is made.

"The question is, what's at stake? What am I worried about happening if I tell the truth? And why do I think that outweighs my obligation to tell the truth?" he said. "What is interesting, I think, if you think about it that way, is that the notion of a little white lie is probably a misnomer; it's misleading. There really is no such thing, for the simple reason that every time you tell a lie you do something wrong, in some perspective."

For some, the line is very clear.

"I can't think of any situation where it's OK to lie, except, ‘No dear, I haven't bought you a present yet for Christmas' or hiding a Christmas present or something," said Mike Reynolds, pastor at Air Line Baptist Church in Gainesville. "That's harmless and not intended to harm. But normally, in everyday life, I can't think of any reason why it would be OK to lie. I can't think of any reason."

The Rev. Matt Baker of Grace Baptist Church in Flowery Branch had a similar sentiment.

While many people may think of a little white lie as a gray area in terms of right or wrong, he said that gray area simply doesn't exist.

"I would say there's not a gray area. I think we try to make one, but yeah, I'd say there's not one. I'd say we make one sometimes for convenience sake," he said, drawing inspiration from Baptist theologian and author John Piper. "He said, we tell a lie because we value something else more, and that's either protecting ourselves or our reputation, or we have a greed for something that we want to gain out of it. That's usually why we tell a lie.

"And I would say we try to create a gray area, but there's not one, really."

But still, just as everyone has different tastes for fashion or food, many people have different preferences for what makes a lie a lie rather than just stretched truth.

"I think white lies are fine, so that somebody isn't hurt," said Nancy Hill, 65, of Gainesville.

Her friend Sharon King, also of Gainesville, made the point that adults will tell white lies about the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy - and nobody seems to mind.

But on the other hand, if you tell someone you can't meet them for dinner and then go out with someone else, that's not good.

"Sometimes it's like you're acting like they're stupid, or being stood up after being asked out, and calling and finding out they had another date - I think that's a very bad white lie," she said.

But often, the person grappling with the issue of telling the white lie is simply trying to keep from hurting someone's feelings. Among those interviewed, most agreed it would be OK to tell someone a new haircut looked good, no matter what it looked like. Or, at least, find a way of explaining the answer without completely lying.

For example, said Brenau University art and design professor Barbara Faulkner, sometimes it's better to "skirt the edge of truth if it's something that's going to hurt somebody's feelings," she said.

And being an artist, she would definitely never say something looked "interesting."

"Interesting is a word I would never use because I'm an artist and that's a word of damnation in art," Faulkner said. "If you tell somebody, ‘That looks interesting,' (it translates to) ‘That looks terrible - that looks -ugh!'"

Rather, Faulkner suggested a softer way of explaining an unfortunate haircut.

"Oh, look at you, you've done something different with your hair. It just gives you a completely different look," she said. "It's all in how you say it, not what you say."

And that's an idea shared by her colleague, Sennett. Any time we communicate with each other, he said, we are primarily exchanging information. But it also goes one step deeper than that.

The exchange of information "is certainly a reason that we talk to one another, but there are many situations where the purpose of the communication is to accomplish a certain kind of purpose, to solidify a certain kind of contact. And so a lot of things that may look like lies are nonetheless very truthful in the sense that they communicate what needs to be communicated," he said. "When my wife says, ‘does this make me look fat?' she's asking, ‘Do you think I look good?' And when I say, ‘Not at all honey, that makes you look gorgeous,' I'm communicating what needs to be communicated, which is, ‘I love you and I think you're gorgeous.'"

The main question anyone should ask when faced with the situation of telling a little white lie, Sennett said, is "What purpose is being served here, and what answer is going to serve that purpose?"

"We think of honesty or dishonesty primarily in terms of whether or not what we say is the truth in terms of corresponding to some image of reality," he said. "But given that communication has many more functions beyond just conveying information, then maybe we need to think of telling the truth and telling a lie in a broader sense, too. That what it means to tell the truth is to say, that will accomplish the proper function that needs to be accomplished here."

There's more to being honest than telling the truth, he said, and being honest also means treating that conversation with integrity.

In other words, the message that is being communicated - whether it's a simple act of giving someone directions to the movies or if it's a spouse looking for affirmation, veiled in the form of a question about fashion - exists in multiple levels of some conversations.

Grace Baptist's the Rev. Baker also made the point that sometimes the person faced with the dilemma of telling a little white lie should also look at the person asking the question.

"I think if somebody asks that and they didn't want to hear the truth, then they must have asked it for the wrong reasons," he said. "They're finding value in something that we shouldn't really value. We value a lot of vain things in our society and our culture, and I'd say there's problem with the question if we really don't want the truth."

And even though the lie seems small, it still matters. Take Rowe, who said the guilt of knowing she lied to her husband ate at her for 33 years.

But when Rowe finally told her husband her real age, he said it didn't bother him.

While she carried that guilt on her shoulders, for her husband, it was simply a little surprise.

"He told me that made absolutely no difference at all and he couldn't believe that I kept it secret," she said. "Oh, I suffered. I suffered until I told him."