Rule 8: Tell the Truth or at Least Don’t Lie (12 Rules For Life)

When Peterson was later asked which rule he found hardest to follow, he said it was this one.

Don’t Lie

A form of lying (to yourself) and to others is to espouse overly simplistic “truths” about the world. People who tell you that capitalism, the patriarchy, and the government are evil are engaged in self-delusion. These same people believe that they could make things right if only they were the rulers of the world, completely oblivious to their own limitations, ignorance, and insufficiencies. Don’t be one of those people.

Saying No

Some people are afraid of saying “no” because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But if you falsely say “yes” to things that you should be saying “no” to, you are tyrannizing yourself. And worse, you are allowing others to tyrannize you. Peterson’s message in this chapter  is to avoid deception (for whatever reason) and to avoid self-deception.

It is tempting to be agreeable and to surrender your opinion to the will of other people, but living falsely according to other people’s values, and not your own will make everything harder. You will find it more difficult to accomplish your goals, to concentrate, and to motivate yourself every day.

However, that isn’t to say that you will know the answers to everything at first, it is not wise to hold on to your opinion no matter what. You will inevitably make mistakes, the key is to allow yourself to make them while remaining honest with yourself. Eventually, with enough iteration,  you will stop oscillating so wildly and you will converge to a more defined, narrow goal that is congruent with your values.

For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)

It’s not only that you will fail to achieve your goals if you don’t act authentically towards yourself. Viktor Frankl, Sigmund Freud, and Adler – all in one form or another have stated that lies were precursors to psychological disease, first in the individual and then in society. Self-deception can ruin your life, and the lives of others. While doing so will serve your short term interests by staving off conflict, it will set you up for the eventual catastrophic fall.

The Oedipal Lie

Peterson tells us about the archetypal, familial lie that is common to every culture. It’s the story of the son who fails to succeed independently and is then exploited by his mother who wishes to protect him from life’s pain and disappointment. As a result, the son never leaves, and she never feels lonely.

“It’s an evil conspiracy, forged slowly, as the pathology unfolds, by thousands of knowing winks and nods. She plays the martyr, doomed to support her son, and garners nourishing sympathy, like a vampire, from supporting friends. He broods in his basement, imagining himself oppressed. He fantasizes with delight about the havoc he might wreak on the world that rejected him for his cowardice, awkwardness and inability. And sometimes he wreaks precisely that havoc.”

Beware of Reason

Reason is not a faculty but a divine personality. Milton thought of Lucifer (the spirit of reason) as “the most wondrous angel brought forth from the void by God.” But the problem with reason is that it leads to totalitarian aims. It wishes to cure itself from anything that is inconsistent with its own creations.

“It falls in love with its own productions. It elevates them and worships them as absolutes. Lucifer is, therefore, the spirit of totalitarianism. He is flung from Heaven into Hell because such elevation, such rebellion against the Highest and Incomprehensible, inevitably produces Hell.”

Reason also tends to believe that what it knows is all that needs to be known. It deludes you into overvaluing what you already know, and undervaluing what you don’t. But present knowledge is not what elevates you. Putting your faith in what you do not yet know, in constantly pursuing truth, is what elevates you.

“Nietzsche said that a man’s worth was determined by how much truth he could tolerate… Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are.”

Tell the Truth

What is truthful is not found in slogans, ideology, and does not come in the guise of opinions expressed by others, it exists in you.

“Apprehend your personal truth. Communicate it carefully, in an articulate manner, to yourself and others. This will ensure your security and your life more abundantly now, while you inhabit the structure of your current beliefs. This will ensure the benevolence of the future, diverging as it might from the certainties of the past.”

Lies lead to disintegration, corruption, and malevolence. If your life is not what you want it to be, then reject feelings of weakness and confusion. Refuse to believe in ideologies, and don’t wallow in nihilism.

Tell the truth (or at least, don’t lie.

Read 12 Rules For Life

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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