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For your own good

An acquaintance made two statements about the same event. The statements are incompatible. One is probably true. But it’s impossible that both are true. Only question is which statement is the lie and which the truth, and that’s not answerable.

But no, this is not some version of that conundrum in which you have to figure out how to act on a statement made by someone from a tribe of liars and you might get eaten by alligators or something if you don’t guess right.

In this case I don’t much care which statement is true and which false. The specific matter is minor. Nothing is at stake. No alligators are involved. My rambling brain is just piqued by the nature of the lie, which would be very different, depending on which statement is false and which true.

Let’s say that the contradictory statements are:

A. I want X.

B. I never wanted X. I said I wanted it only to help you.

If A was a lie, then it was what you might call a “white lie.” She wanted to do me a favor but knew I wouldn’t accept if she said so openly. If she lied then, she did it “for my own good.”

If B is a lie, then the lie would be told for spite. It would have two purposes. First, to bolster her own image of herself as a selfless friend; second, to try to guilt-trip me.

My question to you is which lie you would find most offensive?

You guys here surely know which kind of lie I’d consider worse. Throwing manipulative spitefulness around in the heat of emotion? Okay, not good. But understandable. Deceiving me into following her agenda “for my own good”? Oh, brother!

For the record, I believe Statement A was true. I was not in any need of her “help” at the time of Statement A and I don’t believe she was ever that kind of deceiver.

I believe Statement B is the false one. If so, good. B is just a nice, ordinary, self-serving, “so there!” kind of lie.

If you also find a “for your own good” lie to be the more offensive, tell me how long ago you started thinking like that.

For me, it was forever. As a kid, I was enraged at the idea that anybody would ever lie or hide relevant facts “for your own good” and back in those days many people did. That was, for instance, at the tail-end of the idiotic era in which cancer patients were often not told they had the disease, depriving them of the chance to deal realistically with their own health or death. But smaller “for your own good” lies were the currency of the realm in many families. I remember being told many of them and (to my utter loathing) having my mother coerce and coach me into delivering some of them myself. There was never a conscious moment of my life when I considered this proper.

Mind you, I’m talking about hiding relevant (to the receiver) information here. I’m not talking about, say, doing anonymous works of charity. (I’ve been the recipient of those — as recently as last year’s roof raiser — and I’m more than grateful. I’ve done them myself in small ways.) Nor am I talking about things like withholding information for privacy or confidentiality, keeping your own counsel, or holding your tongue or being polite when you’d really rather let go with both barrels. I’m talking about manipulating or being manipulated via false or hidden information. I’m talking about being denied the chance to deal realistically with reality.

The notion that anybody believes it’s “good” to hide the truth from people affected by it is so offensive that I can see no excuse for it. The idea that any person or thing considers itself so benevolent, but also so superior as to have the right to deceive for the sake of someone else’s “good” is just a grotesque distortion of how human beings need to relate to one another to have genuinely civilized relationships.

And of course the “good” (if any) usually ends up serving the deceiver’s purposes more than the recipient’s. Funny how that works.

There is never such a thing as a good “for your own good” deception. Ever. Not among individuals or between institutions and individuals.


Disagree with me? Then haul away. I suppose there could be rare, very tricky circumstances where a “for your own good” lie actually serves some purpose that the receiving party would perceive as “good.” Just as there are rare, very tricky circumstances were government secrecy could actually be justified (e.g. a Manhattan Project), while the usual classified-stamped document is an embarrassingly blatant affront to liberty. (Government secrecy sort of being the ultimate in “for your own good” deception.)


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 28, 2015 9:24 am

    “There is never such a thing as a good “for your own good” deception. Ever. Not among individuals or between institutions and individuals.”

    I’ll take door number 1 here. 🙂

    Lies, manipulation, and every other kind of fraud are right next to coercion, aggression, as enemies of liberty and any hope of a peaceful, prosperous society.

  2. Shel
    Shel February 28, 2015 10:26 am

    I agree completely with ML and you. Sounds like L, actually.

  3. LarryA
    LarryA February 28, 2015 10:41 am

    So last night we rented and watched Reece Witherspoon in The Good Lie.

    Of course that was about “should you lie to governments to trick them into doing things that obviously need doing and are stalled by red tape?” To which I answer Hell yes.

    (Note to any alphabet types snooping BHJ: This post is an academic exercise only. Everything I have ever said to anyone working for the U.S. state or local governments has been the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.)

    But for a more relevant example (SPOILERS) consider The Imitation Game. Alan Touring and his team break the WWII German Enigma machine. They have information that submarines are about to attack a convoy. If they tell the Naval officer in charge of their project he will stop the attack, saving many lies. But then the Germans will realize their code is broken, and change it. So Touring goes to the MI-6 spook, and they conceal the fact they’ve broken the code from the military and the British people, so hey can carefully continue to use the decrypted information at critical junctures. The movie is the true story of a good lie that at least shortened WWII, perhaps by years. It’s also possible that had they not broken the code, Germany would have won.

    OTOH if you want to see me throw things at the Silver Screen, watch the part of every fricken disaster movie where the President says, “No, we can’t tell the American people the asteroid’s coming. They’ll freak out and riot and loot and… It will be better in the long run if we build this secret shelter/fleet of boats/rocket to Mars just for the special people.”

    Early personal experience? Mom telling me my singing was wonderful while my voice was cracking.

  4. LarryA
    LarryA February 28, 2015 10:44 am

    Rats. “saving many lives” But both fit.

  5. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 28, 2015 11:08 am

    Well, lies TO government might be necessary, but I’ll avoid it myself. My memory isn’t that good. I don’t plan to tell them anything, actually. 🙂 As for what politicians or other government employees tell me… I’ll assume it is a lie until proven otherwise. Keeps things simple.

  6. MJR
    MJR February 28, 2015 1:47 pm

    For a long time I have been a skeptic. Whenever I hear that it is “for your own good” I always ask for the proof. Proof that whatever the snake oil salesman is hawking is in fact for my benefit and not for the profit of someone else. After all if someone gives you an incredible statement isn’t it only fair too ask for incredible proof that the statement is true?

    When did the attitude start? A long, long time ago when I entered the smoke and mirror world of private security and have seen and learned over the years the many varied ways people in all walks of life (not just government) lie, cheat, steal and manipulate others for gain.

    If you really want to know how the world works get a copy of The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli. It has been around in print since 1532.

  7. A.G.
    A.G. February 28, 2015 5:20 pm

    I was incarcerated “for my own good” for three or four months at the end of 6th grade so that I could be monitored for health purposes. Evidently, local hospitals didn’t/don’t have observation wards for kids. For years I thought that there had to be more to the story, or that I had misunderstood things somehow. Nope. I finally accessed the records a few years back. The kicker was that if anything would have happened to me, the staff would have just dialed 911 and I would have been rushed to the hospital. Which was closer to my house than juvie was.
    I have had very little faith in authority figures since then, and that distrust has served me well.

  8. Matt, another
    Matt, another February 28, 2015 7:44 pm

    I don’t recall any one living to me for my own good. I do recall a couple of beatings for my own good though. Did not care for those. Lying to a person for their own good, is still lying and just proves a salve to the conscience of the liar.

  9. Pat
    Pat March 1, 2015 2:55 am

    Claire, I’ve been studying this and I’m confused. Why do you interpret A) as “for your own good?”, or B) as “for spite”… to bolster her image, or lay a guilt trip on you?

    If A. is true, then it’s not for YOUR own good, but for hers…. simply something she wanted (or wanted to happen).

    If B. is true, then /that/ would be done “for your own good.” (As in “…only to help you.”)

    Contradictory statements, yes. But the ulterior motives you raise do not necessarily enter into either A or B by itself (as you’ve presented them here).

    I guess I’m looking at this from the Truth angle, whereas you see it from the Lie angle.

  10. Claire
    Claire March 1, 2015 4:05 am

    Pat, I just didn’t give enough information about the situations to make the motives explicit. I didn’t want to get bogged down in detail.

    But the background is that she found a small utility trailer last year for $125 and got me to go in on the purchase with her, saying how much we would both benefit from it (she for garden materials, I for home improvement). (That’s the “I want it” part.)

    Now she claims she knew at the time she had absolutely use for it. She says she paid half only because she felt I should have it and she wanted to “help me.” (The “I never wanted it” part. And is a guilt-trip.)

    Ironically, neither one of us ended up having any use for the thing.

    I didn’t go into these details originally because they’re so petty and they don’t really matter. There’s NO contention over the trailer. (I offered to give her my half if she’d just haul it away, but now I’m buying out her half). The trailer is merely what Alfred Hitchcock would have called the “macguffin.” It’s just the thing sparked my thoughts about the nature of lies.

  11. just waiting
    just waiting March 1, 2015 4:27 am

    Did you leave out the part where she said “It’s not about the money” or did that shoe not fall yet? Because if its not about the money for her, what is it about?

  12. Claire
    Claire March 1, 2015 4:42 am

    JW — LOL! Yeah, when they say it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money, isn’t it?

    In this case, I really don’t think it IS about the money, though. It’s about the need to show what a kind, loving friend she was and how unappreciative I am.

  13. Pat
    Pat March 1, 2015 5:32 am

    I understand now. But you might be better off with the trailer anyway. There’s always need for extra storage space. Or sell it for $130.

  14. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau March 1, 2015 7:13 am

    “The movie is the true story of a good lie that at least shortened WWII, perhaps by years. It’s also possible that had they not broken the code, Germany would have won.”

    Ah, the Germans were the bad guys, eh? In the War to Save Josef Stalin?

    I probably would have been more outraged about a “for your own good” kind of lie years ago, but these days I don’t really make distinctions about it. Lies are told for the liar’s own good. Even the little white lie told to avoid hurting a loved one’s feelings, are probably really told just to avoid a big emotional scene for the liar.

    “people in all walks of life (not just government) lie, cheat, steal and manipulate others for gain.”

    Yes, I’m afraid that is more widespread than most people suspect, particularly for big items (global warming, anyone?). I think a less cynical, more positive way to look at it, though, is to simply recognize that people act in their own interest. Keep your eyes open, folks.

  15. Claire
    Claire March 1, 2015 7:13 am

    Oh yeah, I don’t mind having the trailer at all, though so far all its done is uglify my view and get filled with leaves. It might come in handy for hauling stuff to the dump or bringing in materials. It’s not good for storage since it’s just a little open trailer with 18-inch siderails, but it could be handy.

    If I could only get the hang of backing the darned thing up. Sigh. (I hate that I know how to back up a trailer in theory but just can’t *^(&$S@!! do it in real life. I can back it if I have a whole giant field to do it in, but aiming at my skinny little driveway from my skinny little street is a joke!)

  16. Pat
    Pat March 1, 2015 7:52 am

    Is there no place in the yard to put the trailer? You could store garden stuff in it, covered with a tarp. Or park it in front or back with wheels off, fill it with soil, and plant veggies or flowers in it. (Don’t forget to paint the outside first…)

  17. Fred
    Fred March 1, 2015 10:30 am

    Why do you women always look so deeply for ulterior motives/suspicions? Then ruin a perfectly good friendship over something as ridiculous as 62.50 or a stupid trailer? Why not just get rid of said trailer and return 62.50 to friend if its unwanted,or give to friend or or or?

    Seems a loss of a friend wasnt worth the need to put motive under a microscope.

    A man would say…hey Fred,I dont need the trailer,you want it? Answer is Yes,end of problem.No,Bill takes it to dump.No intrigue at all.

    I dont get it.

  18. Claire
    Claire March 1, 2015 11:04 am

    Fred — It’s true that we women are a mystery (sometimes even to we women). But the friendship was NOT ruined over the trailer. The trailer was just the last bit of cleanup after the friendship went south earlier. In fact, there has been zero conflict over the trailer.

    It’s just that, in passing, my former friend happen to make that contradictory claim mentioned in my post and that got me thinking.

    The fact that she lied to me also confirmed that I’d been right to end the friendship earlier and made me realize the friendship would never be restored.

    But the trailer itself and the paltry $$ involved? Simply not an issue at all.

  19. just waiting
    just waiting March 1, 2015 11:20 am


    Pretend there’s no rearview mirror on the windshield and try backing up only using your outside mirrors. Don’t turn and look out the back either, just rely on those mirrors.

  20. Kyle
    Kyle March 1, 2015 11:55 am


    Spitefulness has a certain degree of honesty to it, whereas “for your own good” seldom does, and for that reason I’m inclined to concur with you, but let me elaborate.

    “For your own good” is just downright condescending. It is the antithesis of live and let live, the implication being something like, “I know better than you do what’s good for you, so I am taking it upon myself to run roughshod over you, despite you get hurt in the process.” This attitude is common amongst all statists, and as such, they become the Devil’s plaything.

  21. Ellendra
    Ellendra March 1, 2015 2:11 pm

    I have seen one case where lying to a person really, genuinely, was for their own good.


    It was one of my great-aunts. She developed alzheimers, and it got bad enough that she moved in with her son and his wife so that they could look after her. Things were going as well as could be, given the situation.

    Then her son was killed in a car accident.

    She couldn’t remember from one hour to the next anymore. Every time someone mentioned the accident, she was effectively hearing it for the first time. Every time, it destroyed her. So the family started lying about it. When she asked where he was, they’d say “Oh, he just ran to the store. He’ll be back later.” Or “He’s out working on the truck.” (He was always fixing trucks.)

    It saved her from a tremendous amount of grief. You could see on the family’s faces that they hated doing that, but the pain she felt when hearing about her son’s death every time was too much for them not to do it.

  22. Claire
    Claire March 1, 2015 4:10 pm

    Ellendra, that is a hell of a sad story (for the wife and family as well as Great-Aunt). And you’re right. Definitely meets the criteria for a genuinely good good-for-you lie.

  23. Claire
    Claire March 1, 2015 4:13 pm

    Kyle — You very much nailed it. Well said.

    Everybody — I’m afraid my original post was easily misunderstood. Mea culpa. I wanted to make the basic point about types of lies while not dragging out a whole bunch of dirty personal laundry. But it seems I left out so much that it made the post hard to understand. Sorry.

    JW — Gotta drag that trailer off the lawn and try the whole backing-up thing again. Never thought of trying without the rear-view mirror. Since the mirror just fell off, now’s a good time. 🙂

  24. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 2, 2015 6:54 am

    Re the lie told to the lady with Alzheimer’s about her son. Most certainly best, and I saw a lot of that in my nursing. It is a slippery slope, to be sure, but this is a compassionate case – the exception that proves the rule. The family was not trying to manipulate the patient, only protect her.

    Backing up a trailer? Oh, no indeed. Not for me. I have all the trouble I can handle backing up the car, and avoid it wherever possible.

    I had to laugh remembering my “driver’s ed” class in 1961. We had the entire parking lot of a local fairgrounds for practice, complete with tons of orange road cones. When I was done with the backing up part, there was not a single cone left standing. LOL And that was without a trailer!! I do pretty good with the going forward part… one (“speed) ticket and no accidents in 55 years.

  25. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau March 2, 2015 7:38 am

    “Just waiting” has a good method. Look in those outside rear view mirrors, go very slow, and if the trailer gets turning the wrong way, correct by turning the steering the opposite way you were going with it. That is at least partly how I do it.

    Some people hang on to the bottom of the steering wheel rather than the top but that never appealed to me.

    What I also do is think of the direction I want the trailer to go, which is opposite the direction I want the rear end of the car to go – and steer appropriately.

    Once your turn is established you make small corrections to that.

    It’s like everything else, practice makes perfect. Be careful of your tail lights; if you get the trailer at too much of an angle from your car you are likely to crack one, heh.

    Maybe that is what your little trailer is for – teaching you how to back up with trailers. 🙂

    One thing Oregon does right is not require any license plates on trailers under 1800 lbs. So the cost and annoyance of having one is minimal. $125 for a trailer sounds like a screaming deal. Trust me, you will find a use for that trailer as soon as you sell it. Maybe a neighbor can take if off your hands and you can include in the deal that you can use it now and then.

  26. Fred
    Fred March 2, 2015 6:12 pm

    Co ownership never seems to work out.At least I would say its the rule vrs the exception.

    Glad the friendship didnt get wrecked over that.

    Now maybe her response was to get your goat,or just a stupid remark that came out without much thinking,ie,off the cuff remark?

    Who knows,we cant be inside others heads.

    BTW,after wife is out with females she comes back,with every sentence/action to be analyzed.Also women tend to be far too open on their lives and such,a recipe for disaster.

    I still dont get it,I work with a lot of women,seems so common.

  27. Jim Klein
    Jim Klein March 2, 2015 8:32 pm

    Hi, Claire. IMO the second claim is the lie, but it’s remarkably foolish. Considering that it’s a former friend, at face value it says, “I want you to feel hurt because I was hurt ($62.50 worth) trying to help you.” That’s plenty bad on its own since it implies that something of her action can be put on you, but it’s even stupider than that because what it really says–even if it’s not a lie–is, “Not only am I an altruist, but I’m so committed to that silliness that I’m willing to lie to be that way.” To me, that’s about as crazy as confessing to robbing a liquor store that you never robbed. Altruists make lousy friends, first because there can never be balance, and mainly because the other party is left in the position of being a sort of moocher, which is even worse than being an altruist.

    I find that the trick to backing up a trailer is very gentle and mild turning; there’s almost always a tendency to overdo it and then it’s impossible to get it back. As Paul said, SMALL corrections. I’ve heard lots of stuff with the mirrors, but none of that works for me. I just remember that the trailer will go the opposite way that you turn the wheel, period. I know that the pros simply have a feel for it, but I find that tiny drop of thinking works well and doesn’t overtax my senile mind.

    Fred, I agree with you about how women inevitably over-analyze all this feeling business. I could never understand why they don’t ponder more sensible stuff like football draft picks and tractor horsepowers!

    Oh yeah, this too Claire. I saw the “Nazi’ post at WRSA today, and thought it was as moving as any I’ve ever read. I’m pretty sure the persuasion stage is over. Anyone who doesn’t get it by now, ain’t gonna get it. Well, maybe they’ll get it…about one minute too late.

    OTOH hope springs eternal. OTOOH you can’t eat or drink hope. Thanks for all you’ve done.

  28. Claire
    Claire March 3, 2015 6:52 am

    “IMO the second claim is the lie, but it’s remarkably foolish.”

    Remarkably foolish was also my take. She miscalculated badly if she thought that claim could have any positive effect at all.

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