prompt: ‘question’ Sep 18
Why is a white lie — well-ll — ‘white’? THAT is the question.
Dictionaries agree this type of disinformation is used to avoid hurting others; being harmless, small lies. As to the complexion of these small falsehoods… other experts have an answer. It’s the age-old associations with the colours of black and white. Black attaches itself to evil and darkness (of spirit AND of night itself). Back magic is certainly not considered healthy… to body OR mind, being the colour of mourning throughout most of our world, AND a most popular choice of clothing for burglars and thieves, plus other ne’er-do-gooders and ‘likely lads’. And let us not forget THE Black Hole; the name alone can set the boldest heart a-quiver.
By contrast, there’s white. Historians even found a 14th century letter saying a person was ‘unsuspected of any untruth or other notable crime (except a white lie)’. This blinding non-colour most commonly stands for truth, justice, and the American way (uhrr… perhaps not so much of the latter in current times, although it worked a treat when Superman was a pup). It does however, still stand for the assumed purity of a bride… sometimes, and the innocence of a new-born babe. And cleanliness and healthiness; think of bandages and hospital bedding, and the once-upon-a-time brigade of white clad medicos — angels of mercy all, despite their white wing feathers being invisible to the human eye.
Then there is the ‘when’ question. When is a ‘white’ lie justified? Especially to a child… ? I’m not ashamed to have always leaned heavily on the paler side of truth when it came to fielding questions about Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the like.
Initially the necessity began when our first child noticed it would take some kind of magic for Father X to shimmy down our flue pipe between ceiling and slow combustion heater. We considered the problem from all angles and together, made an executive decision to ensure the back door was unlocked and the bucket of water and clump of hay for the reindeer was right alongside. (We didn’t mention that the door had no lock anyway, being our farmhouse door).
No such agonising was necessary for the decision for all Easter Bunny egg hunting to be an indoor pursuit. One mention of all the likely outside predators of such delights was all it took to convince eager young taste-buds. And the Tooth Fairy? Well-ll, there was this little pink velvet bag I made with a tiny fairy applique and a draw-ribbon tie-top, and the suggestion to leave it on the bedside cabinet, because the Tooth Fairy was committed to NOT wake the small donors to her Toothdom.
Luckily, being farm kids meant no white lies about death were ever necessary for our cherubs three. They’d witnessed the truth of the whole birth-life-death cycle in technicolour as babes, alongside their mother’s rubber boot.