Rule 8: Tell The Truth, Or At Least Don’t Lie

12 Rules For Life Book Summary (Jordan B. Peterson)

“You can use words to manipulate the world into delivering what you want. This is what it means to act politically. It’s the speech people engage in when they attempt to influence and manipulate others. It’s what university students do when they write an essay to please the professor instead of articulating and clarifying their own ideas. It’s what everyone does when they want something and decide to falsify themselves to please and flatter.”

“To conduct life like this is to become possessed by some ill-informed desire and then to craft speech and action in a manner that appears likely, rationally to be bring about that end. Typically, calculated ends might include to impose my ideological beliefs, to prove that I am or was right, to appear competent, to avoid responsibility, to be promoted, to garner the benefits of martyrdom, to minimize immediate conflict, etc., etc. These are all examples of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler theory called ‘life lies’. Someone living a life lie is attempting to manipulate reality with perception, thought, and action so that only some narrowly-desired and predefined outcome is allowed to exist.”

“There is another fundamental problem too with the life lie, particularly when it is based on avoidance. A sin of commission occurs when you do something you know to be wrong. A sin of omission occurs when you let something bad happen when you could do something to stop it. The former is regarded classically as more serious than the latter, than avoidance. I’m not sure. Consider the person who insists that everything is right in her life. She avoids conflict and smiles and does what she’s asked to do. She finds a niche and hides in it. She does not question authority or put her own ideas forward. And she does not complain when mistreated.”

“She strives for invisibility like a fish in the center of a swarming school, but a secret unrest gnaws at her heart. She’s still suffering, because life is suffering. She is lonesome and isolated and unfulfilled, but her obedience and self-obliteration eliminate all meaning for her life. She has become nothing but a slave, a tool for others to exploit. She does not get what she wants or needs, because doing so would mean speaking her mind, so there is nothing of value in her existence to counterbalance life’s troubles, and that makes her sick.”

A sin of commission is a version of a lie, or a version or not speaking truth. It’s hiding the monster that needs to be talked about in the closet. It’s not facing the stark reality of life. It’s not being brave and courageous in the face of trouble, in the face of torment, in the face of difficulty and adversity. It’s not just about speaking truth and not lying to others, it’s about facing yourself and reflection that peers back at you in the mirror. Can you speak truth to yourself and face your biggest monster — you.

Face The Monster

“I had a landlord who was the president of a local biker gang. My wife Tammy and I lived next door to him. His girlfriend bore the marks of self-inflicted injuries characteristic of borderline personality disorder. She killed herself while we lived there. Dennis, a large, strong French Canadian with a gray beard, was a gifted amateur electrician. He had some artistic talent too and was supporting himself making laminated wood posters with custom neon lights. He was trying to stay sober after being released from jail. Still, every month or so, he would appear on a days-long bender. He was one of those men who have a miraculous capacity for alcohol. He could drink 50 or 60 beers and do a two-day binge and remain standing the whole time.”

“Now and then on occasion, Dennis would drink up every cent he saved, then he would show up at our apartment. We would hear a knock at night. Dennis would be at the door, swaying, upright, and miraculously conscious. He would be standing there, a toaster, a microwave, or poster in hand, and he wanted to sell me these things so he could keep on drinking. I bought a few things like this, pretending that I was being charitable. Eventually, Tammy convinced me that I couldn’t do it anymore. It made her nervous and was bad for Dennis, whom she liked. Reasonable and even necessary as her request was, it still placed me in a tricky position. What do you say to a severely intoxicated, violence-prone ex-biker gang president with patchy English when he tries to sell his microwave to you at your open door at 2:00 in the morning?”

“The answer was, the truth. But you’d bloody well better know what the truth is. Dennis knocked again soon after my wife and I had talked. He looked at me in a direct, sceptical, narrow-eyed manner, characteristics of the tough, heavy-drinking man who was no stranger to trouble. That looks means, “Prove your innocence.” Weaving slightly back and forth, he asked politely if I might be interested in purchasing his toaster. I rid myself to the bottom of my soul of primate dominance motivations and moral superiority. I told him as directly and carefully as I could that I would not. I was playing no tricks. In that moment, I wasn’t an educated, anglophone, fortunate, upwardly-mobile young man, and he wasn’t an ex-con biker with a blood alcohol level of .24. No, we were two men of goodwill trying to help each other out in a common struggle to do the right thing.”

“I said that he had told me he was trying to quit drinking. I said that it would not be good for him if I provided him with more money. I said that he made Tammy, whom he respected, nervous when he came over so drunk and so late and he tried to sell me things. He glared seriously at me without speaking for about 15 seconds. That was plenty long enough. He was watching, I knew, for any micro-expression revealing sarcasm, deceit, contempt, or self-congratulation, but I had thought it through carefully, and I had only said things I truly meant. I had chosen my words carefully, traversing a treacherous swamp, feeling a partially submerged stone path. Dennis turned and left. Not only that, he remembered our conversation despite his state of professional-level intoxication. He didn’t try to sell me anything again. Our relationship, which was quite good, given the great cultural gaps between us, became even more solid.”

That is what we can learn from this story. Peterson could have easily taken the easy way out time and time again and ignored his wife, his wife’s request, but he stood up for the truth. He stood up for being. He stood up for a better future between not only these two people but these two as individuals, because speaking the truth doesn’t just affect you, it affects every person you interact with and the circle they interact with. “If you say no to your boss or your spouse or your mother when it needs to be said, then you transform yourself into someone who can say no when it needs to be said.”

And the power of ‘no’ is an incredibly powerful tool that many have difficulty learning. Particularly, I have faced difficulty in interfacing with the courage of saying no when it’s easy to say yes, and it could be as little as saying no to people who ask to spend time with you. How do you say no in that situation? Do you lie? We’ve all done it. Do you lie and say, “I’m busy, I can’t that day”? Or do you face the truth, and you find a way to tactfully go about explaining why you say no? Or do you just write, “No”? How many people do that? “Hey, do you want to hang out today?” “No.” Almost no one bluntly says it like that. Maybe we should more often.

“But if you say yes when no needs to be said, as many people do, you transform yourself into someone who could only say yes, even when it is very clear, time to say no. If you ever wonder how perfectly ordinary decent people could find themselves doing the terrible things that the gulag camp guards did, you now have your answer. By the time no seriously needed to be said, there was no one left capable of saying it.”

This is exactly what I’ve tried to articulate time and time again, through Peterson’s words and ideas is that we’re all capable of malevolence and evil. And the one reason we are, and one reason we become to be evil, malevolent murderous, torturous, disgusting human beings, (and we all have the capability of it), is because we say one small yes one at a time.

And it’s the little yeses that turn into these big yeses. And now you’re turning on the gas, and now murdering hundreds, thousands, and playing a part in not only a sin of omission but a sin of commission, of both, because the sin of commission is doing the act, but the sin of omission is not saying no. You’re saying yes. And every person is capable of that, and people come along this path that becomes quite treacherous the more you voluntarily say yes when you should be saying no. Is that you?

“If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character. If you have a weak character, then adversity will mow you down when it appears, as it will inevitably. You will hide, but there will be no place to hide, and you will find yourself doing terrible things.” This is the reality of the world.

“But to accept the truth means to sacrifice, and if you have rejected the truth for a long time, then you’ve run up a dangerously large sacrificial debt. Forest fires burn out deadwood and return trapped elements to the soil. Sometimes, however, fire is suppressed artificially. That does not stop the deadwood from accumulating. Sooner or later, a fire will start up, and when it does it will burn so hot that everything will be destroyed, even the soil in which the forest grows.” That’s your soul. You burn your soul up through that fire, by rejecting the truth and not knowing when and how to say no.

And this is represented by two phrases and ways of thinking that people say. You get one group of people saying, “Did what I want happen? I tried to strive for a goal or a certain act. Did what I want happen? No? Okay, then my aim or my methods were wrong. I still have something to learn.”

“This is the voice of authenticity. This is the voice of truth. This is the voice of aiming upwards. This is the voice of good, of being. But then we get another camp, and they will ask the same question, “Did want I want happen? No? Then the world is unfair, people are jealous and too stupid to understand. It is the fault of something or someone else.” That is the voice of in-authenticity. That is the voice of evil, malevolence, and aiming downwards, away from being.

Here’s an example in the workplace that many of you would have experienced. “Someone power-hungry makes a new rule at your workplace. It’s unnecessary, it’s counterproductive, it’s an irritant. It removes some of the pleasure and meaning from your work. But you tell yourself it’s all right, it’s not worth complaining about. I’ll just take another paycheck and push that aside. Then it happens again, but you already trained yourself to allow such things by failing to react the first time, so you’re a little less courageous to approach it, and your opponent, unopposed, is a little bit stronger at pushing down this tyrannical order over your institution, so becomes a little more corrupt. And the process of bureaucratic stagnation and oppression is underway, and you’ve contributed through a sin of omission, by pretending that it was okay. Why not complain? Why not take a stand? If you do, other people equally afraid may speak up and may come to your defence.”

“And if not, maybe it’s time for a revolution of some sort, a revolution not just within your workplace or of groups of people, but maybe within yourself, to stand up for yourself” and leave a terrible job that is poisoning your soul and mind and heart and is destroying you. Funny enough, that’s what Peterson says in the next sentence.

“Maybe you should find a job somewhere else, where your soul is less in danger from corruption.

Another example of how we see truth and lie being represented in our society is in the family, is in parenting, is in the mother-father relationship with their child, and “the inability of a son to thrive independently is exploited by a mother or father bent on shielding their child from all the disappointment and pain. The son or daughter never leaves, and so the parents are never lonely. It’s an evil conspiracy forged slowly, as the pathology unfolds by thousands of knowing winks and nods. These are sins of omission and sins of commission. The parent plays the martyr, doomed to support their son or daughter and garner his nourishing sympathy like a vampire from supporting friends.”

People wonder then wonder why are there are so many people wreaking havoc on our society, so many cowardice, awkward, weak individuals. They could know, but they refuse to. This is truth and lie being exemplified. The lie is represented through the sins of omission and commission of a parent not standing up in the face of courage and fear, and instead create a shield around their child, so now the child is not equipped adequately for the reality of the world. They are fractured beyond belief, and they have gone through so much unnecessary, involuntary suffering, and/or maybe not enough if any voluntary suffering.

“And it is this deceit that makes people miserable beyond what they can bear. It is deceit that fills human souls with resentment and vengefulness. It is deceit that produces the terrible suffering of mankind, the death camps of the Nazis, the torture chambers and genocides of Stalin and that even greater monster, Mao. It was deceit that killed hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century. It was deceit that almost doomed civilization itself. It is deceit that still threatens us most profoundly today.”

It’s clear can why Jordan Peterson stands up so strongly and vehemently for truth, being and good.

“What happens if instead, we decide to stop lying? What does this even mean? We are limited in our knowledge, after all, and must make decisions here and now. Even the best means and the best goals can never be discerned with certainty, but an aim, an ambition provides the structure necessary for action. An aim provides a destination, a point of contrast against the present and a framework within which all things can be evaluated. An aim defines progress and makes such progress exciting. An aim reduces anxiety, because if you have no aim, you are aimless, and everything can mean anything or nothing, and neither of those two options makes for a tranquil spirit.

You can see a consistency among all these chapters. Aiming for something, creating structure around an aim, and aiming upwards, that’s where human potential is tapped.

“But it is necessary to aim at your target, however traditional, with your eyes wide open. You have a direction, but it might be wrong.“

You have to understand that you might be wrong, that you’re fractured and you’re flawed and that you might be tricking yourself through your biases and agendas to wanting, thinking or seeking something, but because you haven’t dug deep enough within your own conscious and self-awareness, you’re living almost a lie. So you have to be eyes wide open instead of eyes wide shut. “Because you may have been led astray by your own ignorance and worse, by your own unrevealed corruption. You must make friends, therefore, with what you don’t know instead of what you know.

“True knowledge is to know that you know nothing.“

“Nietzsche said that a man’s worth was determined by how much truth he could tolerate. You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are.“

What does that mean?

You should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have.

I think that’s almost alluding to the fact that you must destroy components of yourself. You must come go through this catharsis, this self-destruction, self-death, in order to become a better you and access this untapped potential of what you could be. And that people get stuck staying in love with themselves and who they are, and not changing, staying stagnant because they’re not willing to give up who they are in the present for who they could be. They’re not willing to sacrifice, or rather they’re not willing to invest in a better future, because you would have to exchange temporary pleasure.

An example of this could be improving your diet. Instead of investing in the temporary mouth pleasure of sugar, processed refined carbohydrates, and poisonous foods, instead of exchanging that for the opposite: for whole foods, unprocessed quality nutrition, you’re staying in this inner lie. You’re staying in the false. You’re staying in the pleasure, in the temporary pleasure of what you are now instead of who you could be, a better version of yourself, by inputting better food, quality nutrients, improving your vitality and your health.

“Every bit of learning is a little death, a catharsis. Every bit of new information challenges a previous conception, forcing it to dissolve into chaos before it can be reborn as something better. Sometimes such deaths virtually destroy us, but that’s okay. This is a cyclical death and rebirth that we need. “In such cases, we might never recover. If we do, we change a lot. A good friend of mine discovered that his wife of decades was having an affair. He didn’t see it coming, and it plunged him into a deep depression. He descended into the underworld. He told me at one point, “I always thought that people who were depressed could just shake it off. I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about.”

This is something that I’ve judged unfairly. I’ve judged people with depression, anxiety, mental illness unfairly in the past. I’ll admit that. I was mistakenly putting my own energy onto them. It was like, if I can shake off my own demons and my cobwebs, why can’t they? I have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t. They’re interfacing with something that is beyond my comprehension of experience. Thus empathy and understanding is deployed.

“Eventually, he returned from the depths in many ways as a new man, and perhaps a wiser and better man. He ran a marathon. He travelled to Africa and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.“ So he chose rebirth over descent into hell. He made himself better. He aimed upwards. He took one step at a time. Everyone can do that.

“So set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain about what they should be. The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability rather than status or power. Status you can lose, power you can lose, but your character you carry with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity“, adversity that’s put on you and adversity that you put on yourself. Your character is in you. That’s you. You carry that everywhere. You know, change that. That’s the priority.

Here’s another scenario that many will have gone through, I know people who’ve gone through, going to university because of pressure of your parents or of your peers or of society. Seeking territory education is something that may not be for you and that doesn’t excite you, right? “Imagine you go to engineering school because that is what your parents desire, but it’s not what you want. So working at cross-purposes to your own wishes, you will find yourself unmotivated and failing. You will struggle to concentrate and discipline yourself, but it will not work. Your soul will reject the tyranny of your will.“

“Why are you complying? You may not want to disappoint your parents, although if you fail, you will do exactly that. You may lack the courage for the conflict necessary to free yourself. You may not want to sacrifice your childish belief in parental omniscience, wishing devoutly to continue believing that there is someone who knows you better than you know yourself and who also knows all about the world.“ I find that funny, because the parents often act as if they know their child better than that child knows themselves. And maybe among infancy and early childhood they do, but by the late teenage years and middle teenage years and early adulthood, I would argue that they do not, although I’d be willing to concede that I could be wrong in certain scenarios.

“So you suffer, because you are not truly meant to be an engineer. So one day, you’ve had enough. You drop out. You disappoint your parents, and you learn to live with that. You consult only yourself, even though that means you must rely on your own decisions, so you’re taking power and responsibility for your life. Good. You take a philosophy degree instead, and you accept the burden of your own mistakes. But now you’re doing something you want to do, that fulfils you, that enlightens you, that gets you excited. You become your own person, by rejecting your father’s or your mother’s vision. You develop your own vision. And then, as your parents age, you become an adult, enough to be there for them when they need you.“

But here’s the thing. How well could you have really been there for them? It’s funny how it works out. Parents help us develop from a young age, from infancy to adulthood, right? They facilitate this process. By the time your parents get old, we’re helping facilitate them into death. They help us, facilitate us into life, and by the end, as children of our parents, we’re helping our parents maneuver into the next chapter of death.

Now, here is the question. How well could you as a person really be there for your parents if you didn’t stand up for yourself as a child, as a teenager, as an adult? If you didn’t stand up for what you believed in and did what you wanted to do in spite of what they thought was best for you? If you didn’t stand up for them, you didn’t stand up for what you believed in, and you didn’t become your own person, my question is to all those kids out there who are afraid of disappointing their parents, afraid of not standing up for themselves in spite of their parents’ tyranny, or just in spite of what, their parents’ ideology and their traditions, right? You want to respect that. I get that, but how much do you sacrifice of yourself, of what you want, of your being, of who you could be, how much of that do you sacrifice in order to satiate your parents’ never-ending desire for this ideal person that they want you to be?

Because guess what? You’ll never attain it. You’ll never attain this perfect idea of what your parents, friends, peers etc wants you to be. You’ll never, because it’s this unlimited standard that is never filled, because it’s unquantifiable. You get the degree, then what? You get the master’s, then what? You get the PhD, then what? You get the job, then what? You become the doctor, then what? You make more money, then what? You get the house, then what? You get children, then what? It keeps going. It never ends. You’re living a life of somebody else.

But what if you didn’t? What if instead you stood up for yourself? I wish every teenager could read this. If you stood up for yourself as a kid, as a child, as an adult even? Adults living in their parents houses often find their parents still have tyrannical power over them. What if you stood up for yourself, then and now, in the present? And you had the tough conversation, and you had the conflict, and you stood up for yourself, and like no, you said, “No. I’m going to live in service to truth and for myself, not for you.” And so you had the conflict in the meantime, and it’s not good. It’s not fun. It’s terrible. You may not speak for weeks. They may disown you, temporarily maybe, permanently, worst case scenario. But more often than not, you go through the conflict, you get through it, okay.

So they’re not as proud of you when they talk to you at the dinner table with their family. They don’t speak about you as highly with their friends. Okay. For now. For now. Maybe they lose a bit of respect for now. Maybe they’re a bit more upset and angry at you for now. But just wait, wait until that time where they come to need you. Now you’re able to help them fully, because you’ve become your own person. Because you’ve become your own person, because you aimed upwards towards your own truth, now there is no resentment deep inside you, because you’ve become your own person in spite of what they wanted you to be.

Now you have eyes, heart and soul wide open, and you’re willing and excited and giving compassionately, with gratitude and love, to your parents who need you at this time in their life as they age and they’re growing into their elderly stages of life, and they’re losing their minds and their body. But you’re there for them, because you don’t have a resentment, because you stood up for what you believed in decades ago. But imagine if you didn’t. Imagine if you didn’t. Do you think you really would be able to be there for them as effectively as if you didn’t stand up for yourself when you were younger? I don’t think so. I really doubt it, because that resentment is a poison. Stand up for yourself. Seek your truth in spite of what anybody else.

Let’s conceptualize it like this. Everyone needs a concrete specific goal, an ambition and a purpose, to limit chaos and to make intelligible sense of his or her life. But also, concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal. This is a way of approaching the world, a way of formulating goals themselves. This meta-goal could be something like, “Live in truth,” or “Don’t lie.” This means act intelligently towards some well-articulated defined and temporary end. Make your criteria for failure and success timely and clear, at least for yourself. While doing so, however, allow the world and your spirit to unfold as they will, while you act out and articulate the truth. This is both pragmatic ambition and the most courageous of faiths.“

“Lastly, what you see of a lie when you act it out is very little of what actually is. A lie is connected to everything else. It produces the same effect on the world that a single drop of sewage produces in even the largest Crystal magnum of champagne. It is something best considered live and growing. When the lie gets big enough, the whole world spoils, but if you look close enough, the biggest of lies is composed of small lies, and those are composed of still smaller lies. And the smallest of lies is where the big lie starts. The first lie is the biggest lie, because it’s begun the cascade of lies that have turned into this cycle of deception. “After that comes the arrogance and sense of superiority that inevitably accompanies the production of successful lies, and that is one of the greatest dangers. Apparently, everyone is fooled, so everyone is stupid except me. Everyone is stupid and fooled by me, so I can get away with whatever I want.“

“Finally, there is the proposition, being itself is susceptible to my manipulation, thus deserves no respect.“ This is kind of the subconscious/conscious mentality that people begin to tell themselves as they lie and as they fall down this tunnel, this hole of lying. They begin to become arrogant with their lying and with how they interface with truth and lie. That’s a very dangerous point to be in, where you believe that. You become so nihilistic that it’s like being itself, life itself is susceptible to manipulation. Why does it deserve the respect of me telling the truth? It’s going to happen anyway, why should I tell the truth?

This is such a dangerous road to go down. This is where the darkest human beings are created and things fall apart. “And that’s the chaos of the underworld that is emerging like a flood to subsume familiar ground. But it’s not hell, exactly, yet. Hell comes later. Hell comes when lies have destroyed the relationships between the individual or the state and reality itself, and eventually you get to a point where you’ve gone down such a path of lies and falsehood that you get to a point where it’s like you’re tortured by constant failure. The individual becomes bitter. Disappointment and failure amalgamate and produce a fantasy, and this fantasy manifests itself into something like, “The world is bent on my personal suffering, my particular undoing, my destruction.”“

“And so you’re eventually saying to yourself, “I need, I deserve, I must have my revenge.” That’s the gateway to hell, right there, when you can feel like you need to commit revenge onto the world. That’s hell, and that’s when the underworld, a terrifying and unfamiliar place, becomes misery itself“, all because it started with one lie, and you couldn’t stand up. And even if you’re a pathological liar, even you you tell white lies. I’m not perfect. I’ve caught myself lying and I’ve been caught, and it is a very uncomfortable truth to bear. But once you experience that, once you’re caught in the middle of a lie, no. If you have any decency within your soul, you stand up for yourself and like, “I can’t let this happen again. I have to live in service to truth. I have to do a better job at this. I’m not going to be perfect, but I have to do a better job at telling the truth. But you have to also be careful, because once someone hears something, they cannot unhear it. Remember that.

“To tell the truth is to bring the most habitable reality into being. Truth feeds and clothes the poor and makes nations wealthy and safe. The truth makes the past truly the past and makes the best use of the future’s possibility. Truth is the ultimate inexhaustible natural resource. It’s the light in the darkness. That’s what it is, the light in the darkness. Tell the truth. Truth will not come in the guise of opinions shared by others, as the truth is neither a collection of slogans nor an ideology. It will instead be personal to you. Only you know your truth. Your truth is something only you can tell, based as it is on the unique circumstances of your life.“

“Find your truth. Apprehend your personal truth. Communicate it carefully in an articulate manner to yourself and others. The truth springs forth ever anew from the most profound wellsprings of being, and it will keep your soul from withering and dying while you encounter the inevitable tragedy of life. It will help you avoid the terrible desire to seek vengeance for that tragedy, part of the terrible sin of being, which everything must bear gracefully, just so we can exist. If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. If you cling desperately to an ideology or wallow in nihilism, try telling the truth. If you feel weak and rejected and desperate and confused, try telling the truth. In paradise, everybody speaks the truth. That is what makes it paradise. Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.

For those interested, I will now be posting all the snippets from this channel onto my Instagram @alexsandalis, if you’re curious and interested to have another source to get micro pieces of content and videos on all these ideas that we’re trying to learn and grow better through. I hope it’s resourceful.

Self reflective writings & book summaries on philosophy, psychology and human behaviour.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store