Jordan Peterson: Why telling the truth is so important

One of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s rules for life is always to tell the truth, and he explains why it can so profoundly change your life.

Peterson shared this rule in his popular self-help book titled 12 Rules for Life. He is a clinical psychologist and has taught lawyers, doctors, and business people around the world, distilling these rules from mythology as well as his clinical experience.

If you want to find out more about Peterson’s key ideas, check out our 58-page eBook summarizing them (free for Ideapod Tribe members).

Telling the truth isn’t for the faint-hearted, according to Peterson.

Peterson says: “The truth is something that burns – it burns off deadwood, and people don’t like having their deadwood burnt off often, because they’re 95% deadwood.”

The problem is that consistently running away from the truth results in having a weak character. You’re not standing up for yourself:

“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 left to hide. And then you will find yourself doing terrible things.”

Peterson shares an example of someone who isn’t able to be honest about her life circumstances.

“Consider the person who insists that everything is right in her life. She avoids conflict, and smiles, and does what she is asked to do. She finds a niche and hides in it. She does not question authority or put her own ideas forward, and does not complain when mistreated. She strives for invisibility, like a fish in the centre of a swarming school. But a secret unrest gnaws at her heart. She is still suffering, because life is suffering. She is lonesome and isolated and unfulfilled. But her obedience and self-obliteration eliminate all the meaning from 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 counter-balance life’s troubles. And that makes her sick.”

Does this sound anything like you?

Losing your vitality for life

The quickest way to lose a connection with your life force is to run away from telling the truth.

In distinction, you quickly become a stronger person when you stop trying to please people around you and start telling the truth. If you say no to your boss when it needs to be said, for example, you become a stronger person. When you stand up to your mother when you need to assert your independence, you become a strong person.

Peterson asks us to imagine a situation where someone is hungry for power at your workplace. They make a new rule that is unnecessary and counter-productive. It takes away some of the pleasure and meaning you get from your work.

You now have a choice. You can keep silent, concluding that it’s not worth speaking up about, and you can tolerate the new rule. The new rule is tolerable, after all.

Or you can be honest about the hardships coming from the imposition of the new rule and speak up about it. This may help make your workplace better, or it may make things more difficult for you. Yet you’ll be speaking the truth. If it does make things more difficult, at least you may start a revolution in the workplace or end up deciding to move on and work somewhere else. Most importantly, you’ll have started the process of once again finding passion and meaning from your work.

Telling the truth is an example of authentic speech

On Jordan Peterson’s website, he was asked how someone can know when they are speaking authentically.

Peterson responded as follows:
“With regards to telling if you are speaking authentically: Listen to yourself talk, as if a stranger was talking. Try not to identify too much with what you are saying. Then, observe. See if what you are saying makes you feel stronger, physically, or weaker. If it makes you feel weaker, stop saying it. Try to reformulate your speech until you can feel the ground under your feet solidifying. Then practice only saying things that make you strong.

“Stop trying to use your speech to get what you want. You don’t necessarily know what you want. Instead, try to articulate what you believe to be true as carefully as possible. Then, accept the outcome. Assume that your truth, as lived and spoken, will produce the best possible outcome. It’s an act of faith.

“But so is every other way of being.”

The truth matters now more than ever

We live in a political climate where fake news is running rampant, and technology the information we receive is filtered. Mainstream media networks feed us propaganda, and it’s challenging to know what to believe anymore.

In this climate, how you act matters now more than ever. It’s essential to believe in the truth as an ideal and live according to a commitment to acting from it.

Peterson says:

“Truth builds edifices that can stand a thousand years. Truth feeds and clothes the poor, and makes nations wealthy and safe. Truth reduces the terrible complexity of a man to the simplicity of his word, so that he can become a partner, rather than an enemy. Truth makes the past truly past, and makes the best use of the future’s possibilities. Truth is the ultimate, inexhaustible natural resource. It’s the light in the darkness.”

These days many people talk about being “authentic”. Yet there seems to be confusion about how best to embrace it. It becomes a catchword with people trying to conform to what they think it means.

A better way to be authentic is to be honest. Be honest about the masks that society has placed on you. Be honest about your commitment to the relationships in your life. Be honest when you see injustice in the workplace or inequitable treatment of others in your community.

When you can find a connection with the truth deep down inside, you start to live a more authentic life. It may cause some inconveniences and hardships in the short term. But over time, life will be more fulfilling, and happiness will start to emerge naturally.

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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