What to do after you lie?


#1

It took me five years to graduate college, not four, and about this I feel a little insecure. Yesterday was my last day of work, at a job I have worked for almost four years, and my boss was asking me about my college experience. Eventually she asked me how long it took me to finish college. I think she caught me off guard with this question. I lied and told her it took me only four years.

I realize this is a harmless lie, but it is still a lie. I wanted to know what Christianity has to say about fixing a mistake. If you tell a small lie like this, are you obligated to go back to the people you lied to and tell them the truth? (This would be very hard and awkward for me to do, especially since my job just ended.) Or, in cases like this, is it enough to be repentant, and make a sincere effort to be more honest in the future?


#2

If you worked all through college, you did well to finish in 5 years.
I don’t really understand why this causes you shame. I worked full time during my first degree…took six years. I have never cared what other people thought about it.
What’s more important? The amount of time it took, or the fact that you earned a degree?
Resist the urge to fib, and move on.
Welcome to the fora, btw.


#3

Hm. I think what I’m really trying to ask is, given that I’ve lied, what is the right thing for me to do? It seems unreasonable to have to go back and tell my boss (and the few co-workers who were with us at the time) that I lied, especially since my employment just ended. That would be a kind of self-punishment. But I’m completely clueless about what Catholicism, or Christianity, has to say about this subject. When you tell a lie like the one I told, what is the right thing to do afterwards?


#4

Does the lie matter in the big scheme of things? Is your former boss going to use that information for something important, or was she just having a conversation?

It’s wrong to lie, but Catholics are not required to attempt to undo the results of every wrong action they’ve ever committed. Major sins require sacramental confession, but even then you wouldn’t be required to tell on yourself to anybody besides the priest and God (and while some think this is ripe for loopholes, you have to actually be sorry for it to work.) But you point out correctly that it frequently isn’t practical or prudent to try to undo it. In some cases it could foreseeably cause more harm than the original offense!

If you were ever to run into her again, you might say something about it - if you wished to. Chances are she already forgot what you said. It can be dangerous to hold onto these, too - thinking over past minor faults distracts from growing in virtue and loving our neighbor.


#5

Insofar as our sins are against God, we have to make amends to him (do penance). Insofar as we hurt our neighbor, we are obliged to repair the damage to the extent possible. The Catechism (no. 1459) gives the following examples: “return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries”.

As far as making amends for lying, the Catechism says:

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. …]

2487 Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. When it is impossible publicly to make reparation for a wrong, it must be made secretly. If someone who has suffered harm cannot be directly compensated, he must be given moral satisfaction in the name of charity. This duty of reparation also concerns offenses against another’s reputation. This reparation, moral and sometimes material, must be evaluated in terms of the extent of the damage inflicted. It obliges in conscience.

It seems to envision things like detraction and calumny (see 2479). One could argue that any lie harms one’s neighbor to some extent by depriving him of the truth; but all truth doesn’t have the same importance. If we have lied, I think we have to weigh the good that telling the truth would do.

So if your boss couldn’t care less whether it was four or five years, it doesn’t seem to me like you’d be repairing anything by telling him. But take that with a grain of salt; I’m not a moral theologian.


#6

Thanks! You seem to have really gotten my conundrum, which is, how the reparation of every wrong, especially those which are minor and not serious in nature, can often be impractical or imprudent.

To answer your questions, no, I don’t think the lie matters in the big scheme of things, and I don’t think my former boss will use that information for something important.

I am confused about one thing. After reading the above poster, who cited no. 2487 from the Catechism, what exactly does reparation entail? Is it a reparation made to the people I lied to? Or a reparation made to God? The former would suggest that I return to the people I lied to and make amends; whereas the latter is more in line with your response.


#7

I believe I said:
Move on. As pens said, this is not good to dwell on.


#8

2487 would include reparation to the human persons injured, inasmuch as it is possible. If you’re stranded on a desert island, your debt is not able to be paid so is lifted.

The false information you gave led to a trivial false belief. It injures nobody as far as reasonable consideration can see. (It’s still not right to do, however.)

There is no obligation to go untie knots like this.


#9

Usually lie again to cover it up. Not that I recommend it.


#10

You ask a question that has been on my mind for a while!
In fact I’ve asked about my particular situation in a thread i posted not too long ago. I got some good answers but they didn’t exactly give me more peace of mind.

In my situation, i lied by not speaking about something deemed socially inappropriate that i did. Someone who, to be fair, had a right to know asked me about what was going on between me and his daughter (The person talking to me said “I’m not saying you did anything inappropriate. Unless you did…otherwise we can move on”). His daughter was not yet 18 and I had kissed her on the mouth, which she had asked me to. I told a priest friend about it, but I didn’t specifically mention kissing her, only said i had a relationship with a girl under 18. He asked me if i did anything improper, to which i asked what he meant, and he rephrased asking if i did anything illegal. It is not illegal in my state. I checked the laws thoroughly. The priest said telling her father what I did wouldn’t do much good and at this point in time, since the relationship was ended, and could actually cause more emotional harm for the young lady. He said to leave it be and accept the consequence of guilt that i feel. But this was 2 months ago and I still feel like I’m lying by not telling her father the whole truth.

So I feel your pain. Knowing you lied about something (Though your lie is very very small) and not knowing whether you should go back and clear things up or let a sleeping dog lay. My opinion, is you didn’t harm anyone or anything with this lie…so let it be. As for me, I don’t think I harmed anyone or anything either by not telling the truth, but the fact remains that I got away with something i should not have done and I feel I ought to “pay” for it. Maybe I have already…I don’t know. I just hope God has forgotten it.


#11

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.