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To Your (Ethical) Health

by Rabbi Yonason Goldson

You and your spouse are enjoying a quiet evening at home. You had a challenging week at the office, which culminated in a major success. You decide to celebrate by breaking out an expensive bottle of French wine you received as a gift several years earlier.

As you stand up to fetch the bottle, there’s a knock at the door. Another couple you haven’t seen in ages were in the neighborhood and, on impulse, decided to drop in.

“We are so glad you came by,” you tell your unexpected guests. “In your honor, we’re going to open a bottle of wine we’ve been saving for a special occasion.”

Have you done anything wrong?

***

You might think to yourself, “Why not make my friends feel special? It costs nothing and spreads good feeling throughout the world.”

The problem is that deception – any deception – accustoms us to further deception. This is the problem with so-called white lies. It’s not always easy to tell when we’re lying solely to spare the feelings of others and when we’re lying to benefit ourselves. The more little lies we tell, the more easily we will tell bigger and bigger lies as time goes by.

In seeming contradiction, the sages teach that one should always say that the bride is beautiful. But what if she’s not?

Philosophically speaking, every bride is beautiful, because marriage is a beautiful institution. Additionally, she is almost certainly beautiful in the eyes of her groom. Finally, no one asked you to editorialize on the aesthetic qualities of the wedding party. You were invited to bring joy to the bride and groom, so find the truth that will contribute to the joyfulness of the occasion and keep your critical observations to yourself.

Most of the time, we don’t have to choose between outright honesty and dishonesty. In our case, you should certainly let your guests know how important they are and how pleased you are that they dropped by. But it’s just as easy to say, “We were about to open a bottle of wine we’ve been saving for a special occasion, and we’re delighted that you’re here to share it with us.”
Same result, without the false flattery.

Rabbi Yonason Goldson works with business leaders to build a culture of ethics, setting higher standards to limit liability while earning loyalty and trust. He’s host of the weekly podcast Grappling with the Gray and author of “Grappling with the Gray: An Ethical Handbook for Personal Happiness and Business Prosperity,” from which this article is taken. Visit him at ethicalimperatives.com.

 

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