Is Joking Lying?

Marc: Is telling jokes based on non-truths breaking the fourth precept against false speech? E.g. I joked that my computer’s mouse roars because it is shaped like a lion.
Shian: Some serious Buddhist teachers say that joking with untrue information is lying. It can also be frivolous speech. Both are aspects that break the spirit of mindful speech in observation of the fourth precept. There is some sense in this. E.g. If one is always joking, others will become less and less sure of whether the person is really truthful by nature. Think the story ‘The boy who cried wolf.’ I think as long as the listener clearly understands it to be a joke, and is not misled into suffering as a result of the joke, it should be okay. In fact, some jokes can be enlightening! By the way, your joke isn’t very funny… hah!

Marc: Haha, yeah… it’s actually not very funny. Previously, I told a friend who always jokes about nonsense to be careful with his joking. It’s true that those who joke too much tend to lose others’ trust. Because when he is serious, I’m unsure if he is bluffing me or not. As I saw the danger, I warned him about it.
Shian: Yes, this is a good example – of how joking in excess leads to diminishing of credibility.

Marc: But when I told him the lion joke, he exclaimed that I too was telling a lie!
Shian: This is a good example too – of how even one single joke can lead to diminishing of credibility – in being a good example! When I tell jokes, I always quickly reveal that it’s just a joke. Joking should be done skilfully too – for good reasons, such as to lighten the mood. E.g. when I joke while sharing the Dharma during my classes and in my articles, the jokes have some educational purposes! :-]

Related Article:
When Lying Becomes a Habit

3 thoughts on “Is Joking Lying?

  1. I think a parallel can be drawn with the actors in a movie. Most of the time, they are playing a role; that is, being someone they are not.

    But we don’t think of them as liars, as we are well aware they are playing a role to entertain or educate us. Likewise with a joke based on something that is not the truth – i believe that as long as we are quick to point out that it is a joke, then generally it is just a bit of harmless fun.

  2. Though I agree with what’s been said so far, some jokes are best enjoyed when made cold, and when the other ‘get it’. To have to identify a joke as a joke takes away the cheer of one. Sometimes, to a certain extent, one ‘expects’ the other to be able to tell if one is joking. Must say that, unfortunately, it is often a dangerous exercise that could end up misunderstood or disappointing…

  3. Yup, some jokes are funny only when they are caught personally, but some jokes when caught wrongly can offend and even lead to life-threatening situations. Think seemingly ‘racist’ jokes made in ‘good will’ for instance. Instead of bridging gaps, they can widen them.


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