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There will be a cultural based festival, and I was invited to that. But from my religious point of view it's 100% against of my principles.

Actually it's just a new year festival, and it's based on Astrology, and it's against the Buddhist teachings that I follow.

I have discussed this matter with my senior, according to her what she told me is to mention a little lie like I'm busy with some academics etc, instead of the real religious reason why I decided not to attend the celebration and their workshops.

It's not a big lie like "I got 7 year experience in C# and windows programming UI/UX"( that I don't have ) in a job interview right?

So my question is, is it still not okay even a small lie that does not hurt anybody, but will manage everything?

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    Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on The Workplace Meta, or in The Workplace Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Kilisi
    Commented May 13, 2023 at 20:51
  • Could you be a bit more specific about how this "new year festival" is "based on astrology"? Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 2:17

10 Answers 10

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I can see multiple reasons not to detail your exact reasons for not wanting to specify your reasons here - religion is one of those topics that can go from 0-100 on the workplace drama highway awful quick. Besides - it's really not any of their business in the first place, if you don't want to tell them about your religious inclinations you don't have to - no additional reasons or justification required!

While I don't think a small-ish lie here is a particularly big deal it's also absurdly easy to work around. Form a plan, right now, in your mind as to what your time during this festival will look like; it doesn't have to be fully formed, it doesn't have to be special "I'm going to chill on the sofa and read a book or watch Netflix" is more than sufficient. Then when they ask you:

Sorry, I've got plans that day.

It's the truth - and because you've made these plans, and because plans can change, there's no problem if you decide to do something else that day.

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    To be honest, it feels... juvenile to manufacture a truth to avoid telling a lie. Commented May 10, 2023 at 17:21
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    @GregoryCurrie: Don't presume you know what's going on in someone else's head. You can legitimately say "if I said that I'd be lying to myself". You can't assert the same for someone else.
    – keshlam
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 18:21
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    @GregoryCurrie First of all, it's not a lie; the OP, on hearing about the event, clearly immediately planned to avoid it. Thus, "I have plans that day [to avoid going to your event]" is not a lie. ¶ Second, why is it good, in general, to avoid lying to people? Is it to avoid causing harm? If so, focus on avoiding harm and don't actively say things such as "because I disapprove of your event" that will cause (emotional) harm to people.
    – cjs
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 18:55
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    @toby544 It is very clearly and to all intents and purposes not a lie. It is the honest to god truth. It is also not the "whole" truth. And the part of the "whole" truth that is left out is the part that might cause unnecesary and undue conflict, for no gain. Unless you place your orders at Starbucks with "I'll have a mocha, and I think it's too expensive, and I think you're very sexy, and I think your boss is ugly, and I hate my job, and, and, and..." then you follow the same standards.
    – user99478
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 0:23
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    @GregoryCurrie Which idea is false? It says what it means : "I won't be going. I will be doing something else." The parts which are left out, namely "I disagree with the event." "I have particular religious beliefs." "I am not comfortable attending." &c, are nowhere contradicted. And, frankly, none of these people have any right to know any of those things about you. No one has any entitlement to your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, &c, unless you grant them it. If they would think they'd been ill treated, these coworkers wouldn't have a leg to stand on.
    – user99478
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 1:48
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If your senior thinks it would be best you tell a white lie, then I'm inclined to believe they know what's best for your culture and workplace culture.

Sometimes, a small lie to prevent friction is best.

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    If lying is regarded as acceptable, it is not a very good culture
    – toby544
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 21:57
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    @toby544 That's a bit silly. There is some form of dishonesty baked into every culture. In the west, we call it "being polite". Being completely, unabashedly honest about how you feel or what you think in a professional setting is not normal or good for a career. "I'm busy" is an acceptable "lie".
    – rob
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 0:44
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    @toby544 I don't know if passing judgement on other cultures is useful here, but even so, the OP has to operate in the culture they are in. Commented May 11, 2023 at 2:42
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    Being polite is very definitely not the same as being dishonest. And I was not saying that everyone has to reveal everything about how they feel or think. @GregoryCurrie Yes, maybe I should have phrased it differently.
    – toby544
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 9:29
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    @toby544: This. The principle I always like to follow is "Everything you say should be true, but not everything true should be said." (attributed to Voltaire), which I think is what you propose.
    – sleske
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 9:24
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So my question is, is it still not okay even a small lie that does not hurt anybody, but will manage everything?

Do whatever makes you comfortable and fits within your principles.

If it would bother you more to be honest, then make up an excuse.

If it would bother you more to lie, then just say you don't want to go.

You can leave the "it's against the Buddhist teachings that I follow" part unsaid if you like. Or include them if you prefer.

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Different people have different thresholds for what constitutes an acceptable "white" lie. Personally, I'm against deception in the workplace, and feel the only time it's appropriate in response to a question that was inappropriate to ask in the first place.

"Do you want to attend the festival?" is an appropriate question. Your answer, per your post, is "no".

"Why?" is something you shouldn't feel compelled to answer. "I don't want to" is a sufficient response. "I have other plans" is a common polite non-response. You are not obliged to attend the festival, and you are not obliged to explain why.

In your place, I wouldn't elaborate beyond "other plans", which is akin to replying "fine" to "how are you?". Any elaboration might invite discussions.

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  • Do you want to attend?/ No. / Why? /I don't want to./ You are not much of a team player, aren't you? /I am./ Well, I don't think so. /Ok. I didn't ask/. .. this doesn't sound good
    – androidguy
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 5:49
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    @androidguy It doesn't sound good, because the "team player" thing is pressure and manipulation. If you have that, you've got bigger problems than the festival.
    – Therac
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 6:21
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I do not agree with the majority direction here. If I were you I would tell exactly what the situation is about. So, if you are invited to do something, go somewhere, or even participate in some festivals that you feel you cannot do. Whatever the reason, give it to the asker along with a refuse and an apology with a tone that begs their understanding. Something like

it's against the Buddhist teachings that I follow.

is enough justification for you to not partake the activity. Whether it is understandable by the asker, it is not going to make you go anyway. So, you don't have to make them understand, but just to let them know what it is about and why you need to be like this.

The advantage of doing this are

  1. You are honest. You tell no lies.
  2. The person(people) who invited you will now know your situation. This will be crucial when there are other events come up in the future that you still need this reason to refuse the invitation.
  3. You respect other people, but more importantly you respect yourself.
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  • If you want to go beyond "thanks, but not interested", being honest about it is one solution. There are places and situations where going into specifics can be unwise due to intolerance, but there's no way we can know if this individual is in such a situation.
    – keshlam
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 3:03
  • I can easily imagine situations where all 3 reasons you give are less important that avoiding friction. Commented May 11, 2023 at 4:51
  • @GregoryCurrie Of course, one view from a minority perspective is not going to be received well in general. However, I can confirm that I have been doing fine by doing what I suggested. This is culture-specific after all. So, use this information with care. I do not recommend everybody to do what I did, but if it works for you then, by all means, feel free to try.
    – holydragon
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 4:59
  • Note that the "minority perspective" is one shared by the OP's senior. I'm inclined that they have a better understanding of the culture at play, and maybe your answer could be more useful if you could explain under what situations the advice of the senior is wrong. Commented May 11, 2023 at 5:04
  • @GregoryCurrie I don't think there is a right or wrong answer for this. There are only actions and consequences. The only explanation that I can give for disagreeing with the others is that I don't like lying/deception and all that.
    – holydragon
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 5:10
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If you must make a stand on religious grounds, then you should also do so within the tenets of the religion. Don't mix secular rationalisations with religious mandates. That isn't following religious ideals, it's just creating drama.

So if your religion allows you to lie about your religious reasons for doing something when convenient, then thats an option. If it doesn't then it's not an option and you either decline to say anything or tell the truth.

If you're in doubt then ask someone trained for precisely these things within your religious group. A priest, pastor or whatever they're called in your context.

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    +1 for "If you must make a stand on religious grounds, then you should also do so within the tenets of the religion. "
    – deep64blue
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 19:53
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I'm going to add a different perspective here:

In the short-term, sure - saying 'I'm busy' and not elaborating can be fine. We can discuss the philosophy of victimless lies till the cows come home to roost, but that's beside the point.

However, something no one has mentioned: "In the short-term": What happens next year at your office? If you are at the same job? And the year after that?

People will notice if you are habitually not at a company event/celebration, even if it's yearly. Now, you could come up with excuses for each occassion - but eventually someone is going to say:

"Come on Sandun Dhammika, you know it's the new year celebration - how come you are always busy?"

Now - if you aren't planning on being at the company more than 2 years, I'd say go with the white lie. But if you are looking at this role as part of a career, you eventually may get caught in the lie - and that will do more damage to your reputation than the initial period of being uncomfortable for saying that it's not a celebration you are comfortable taking part in.

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The only true answer in such situations that maintains one's integrity, doesn't require lying or excuses is by saying:

I don't want to.

Other people need to learn to accept that not everyone likes or wants to do everything.

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Drawing from my own experience, just because you dont believe in the reason for a festive occasion, does not mean you can't join in. Think of it like a party. Would you not got a friends wedding if they were performing a Jewish ceremony ?

I am Indian, and I live in a Christian country. I do not have any problems joining the local New Years and even Xmas celebrations.

Perhaps this is because I grew up in India, where the public holidays are (were) distributed over 6 religions. We all joined in each others celebrations. But abstained from the religious portion of it. I would just politely excuse myself when the religious ceremony started otherwise I would be a hypocrite.

It is obviously your choice. But keep in mind that telling a white lie will work a few times. Then someone will figure it out. So tell a white lie a couple of times, but then you should really come out and explain to one of your colleagues that it is against your religion.

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One reason to close this question is that it will get a lot of opinion based answers.

I'm of the opinion that telling lies hurts me both in the workplace and elsewhere. The challenge is to find a truth that works in the situation. This is a challenge of vocabulary and phrasing, not about telling a lie or the truth.

The issue here is not the lie but in following your own values and being at peace doing so. The OP states, "But from my religious point of view it's 100% against of my principles." That is a strong statement which could include some judgement of those who are celebrating the festival.

The problem of judging others and feeling threatened by behaviors of other cultures / religions is a problem in our culture. (See the Allen, TX shooting.) In business, we need to work together apart from our religious and cultural differences. That means not feeling threatened by what other people do, celebrate, foods they eat, and sayings used to greet people near religious holidays.

This becomes a "frame challenge": how can you be comfortable with other people celebrating their religion while you politely decline to participate?

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    I believe the OP can be completely comfortable with other people celebrating their religion, without having to take part themselves. Commented May 10, 2023 at 20:36

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