Half-truths Are No Better Than Lies

And they hurt just as much

Jeremy Zerby
6 min readMay 4, 2023
Photo by Monoar Rahman.

On our shelves, we have all kinds of trinkets and Pop! figures and shot glasses. Some of it is gifts from other people, some of it we purchased on various trips we have gone on, and some are pieces of nostalgia from our childhoods that we somehow managed to hang on to.

On one of these shelves, is one of those shadow boxes with a coin slot on top. It says “adventure awaits" or some silly phrase like that on it. I know you have seen them. The idea is you fill it with coins and money and, when it is full, you have money to go on an adventure.

Our box has been half-full for a while. We did not use a lot of cash anyway, but after COVID, we have almost entirely stopped. So it has not been filling up at the same pace that it once did. A few weeks back, I noticed that it looked like the amount of money in the box had decreased. I thought little of it because, at the time, we were going through one of those periods where we were pinching pennies to get by. My thought was that my wife had pulled from it to put gas in her car on an odd day before payday or something like that.

Yesterday, I noticed that not only was there even less money in it, but a $20 bill that had been in the box for about a year was gone as well. I text my wife to ask if maybe she had needed gas one day and used it, along with practically all the quarters. I knew what the answer was going to be, but I wanted to hear it as further proof.

“No." was all she texted. And since I never take anything out of the box, that left only one other person.

Photo by Rafael Classen.

While we were waiting for the bus, I asked my stepdaughter where the money from the box was. Her first reaction was to feign confusion. “What money?!?" She asked.

“You know what money. The money from the box on the shelf. Where is it?"

She looked at me with a straight face and said, “I don’t have the stupid money."

“But you did steal it. I didn’t take it from the box and neither did your mom. I already asked. Where is the money?"

“I don’t have it."

It went back and forth like this a few more times before I sort of lost it. “What did you do with the money that you stole? Where is it?"

“I spent it already. At one of the school dances. But I wasn’t lying. I told you I didn’t have it."

Had it been something less serious, I likely would have laughed in this moment. Because she was technically not lying. I asked her where the money was, which she heard as implying that she had it hidden away somewhere. Since she had spent the money, she did not have it. It is such an innocent answer.

To a point.

Because part of what these kinds of answers do, and we are all guilty of answering questions this way, is to divert attention from other implications of what we are being asked. When I asked her where the money was, she knew I was also accusing her of being the one who stole the money and that I was trying to get a confession. The answer I was looking for, and which she was aware I was looking for because we have had similar conversations within the past week, involved not only where the money was currently but also that she took it. She was avoiding that part in hopes that I would let it go or hear her saying she did not indeed take it because she did not have it.

Once she confessed, I told her that while it was true that she did not currently have the money, it was only part of the truth. And telling only part of the truth is just as bad as telling a lie.

Because half-truths are lies in disguise.

In 1999, Bill Clinton was impeached for having a tryst with an intern while he was president. His initial response to the accusations was to say, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman." While not an outright lie because I guess they did not technically have sex, the answer was intended to deflect from the fact that he did have an affair with her. Or there was Clinton’s comment in 1995 when he was asked about marijuana. He said, " I did not inhale.” Neither answer is a denial of a situation but rather a half-truth intended to hide an actual indiscretion.

He might as well have lied because that is all anyone heard.

Half-truths are dangerous. They are every bit, if not more, dangerous than outright lies. The thing about half-truths is that they serve to undermine the truth rather than simply contradict it. They devalue truth. The last thing we need is further erosion of the truth.

They also reveal something about ourselves.

As my stepdaughter and I talked about truth-telling and not stealing, I told her that the way she tried to manipulate me or outsmart me about the money shows how little she cares not only about her mom and me, or anyone else she has stolen from, but also how little she cares about the truth. We talked about how her half-truths show that she only cares about herself and getting whatever it is that she wants, even if that comes at the expense of others.

This same attitude is crudely seen in Donald Trump’s “locker room” commentary about how, as a wealthy person, he is free to grab women by the pussy. The callousness of a comment like that, coming from someone with wealth, and therefore a form of authority, shows such a deep lack of concern for the other. If he wants to cop a feel, he can, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him.

These attitudes lead directly to hurting other people. Trump is on trial currently for the rape of E. Jean Carroll, who has had to live with this pain for a long time. Bill Clinton’s actions practically ruined the reputation of Monica Lewinski. My stepdaughter’s actions cost someone a tank of gas or all of us a trip to Dairy Queen for ice cream. And all of the pain, big or small, could have been avoided by ultimately acting with integrity. But, people fail, so at the very least all anyone could have done was own up to their failures, tell the truth, and try to find paths to healing and reparation for the victims.

Telling the truth is definitely not always easy. Sometimes, even though we have told the truth, we will face consequences for our actions. And, for a decent person who has done someone wrong, the guilt we are feeling will add to the truth’s burden. But if there is one thing I learned in my days in the church that has proven itself true time and time again, it is this: knowing the truth and telling the truth is the only way to find healing and freedom.

And half-truths just will not cut it.



Jeremy Zerby

Hermeneutics, religion, pop psychology, self-help, and culture. They are all connected, and I am here to explain how.