This is the question posed to us today by our Philosophy professor. As a prelude to our upcoming class on Ethics, we are to philosophize this question.
Lying, to me, is a justifiable act. Though we are taught early on in childhood about the importance of honesty and the truth, the situations we encounter as adults entail careful analysis and value judgment. Sure, a child must confess his recklessness in breaking that expensive vase. He should not use the house helper as a scapegoat when he is the one who committed the wrong deed.
However, how do you tell your brother that among all of you, he is the only one that is adopted? What do you say when he asks you? Do you tell the truth - not knowing what his reaction would be? Or do you lie and wait for your parents to tackle the issue with him? This might not be a sufficient example, but I think it illustrates the difference between the situations we face as adults from those back in our childhood. Things are not simply black and white unlike they used to be. More often than not, we are placed in very difficult situations where we need to weigh the possible consequences of our decisions.
The problem then lies on the kind of situation that besets us, the options and the corresponding consequences that we must inevitably choose from. The courageous and kind hearted individuals who put their lives at risk by lying about the whereabouts of Jews, or even hid them in their basements and were completely mum about it, would surely justify their withdrawal of the truth. After all, a person's life greatly outweighs the necessity to be morally right. Perhaps we can even say that such an action is "more moral" than upholding the truth.
Hence, one must go through the difficult task of weighing his options and using his moral compass in judging whether a situation calls for the complete truth, a stretching of it or a white lie. One must account for his intentions and reasons in rationalizing such an act. If in the end, upholding the truth is the best option, no matter how painful it is, then so shall it be. However, if such truth is withheld for the purpose of saving one's face or for fear of its consequences, then no kind of rationalization would ever justify that act.
More often that not, the truth is the right choice. But there are just those instances wherein the being honest would just exacerbate the situation further, and aggravating all parties involved. Thus, maybe lying would be the better option - but that is a big maybe.