Rule 8: Tell the Truth – or, at Least, Don’t Lie.
’12 Rules for Life’ is about how to live properly in the face of vulnerability, tragedy and malevolence. One of the propositions in the book is that life existence is usefully characterised as an interplay of order and chaos or of known and unknown, and you are always striving to balance those two. if what you are doing is too familiar you are bored, and if what you’re doing is too unfamiliar then you are anxious. ‘What you want to do is find the harmonious line between those two and that’s signified by meaning. If you can get those two things right then you can have your cake and eat it too.’ says Peterson. ‘I hope people take away the idea that there is a mode of being in the face of the vulnerability and tragedy of life that is noble and powerful and capable of sustaining them through the worst possible times without becoming corrupt and bitter.’
It’s not that easy to tell the truth because who knows about the truth? But you can learn not to say things that you know to be false, and if you stop saying things that you know to be false then life will improve a lot. It simplifies it. It puts you in alignment with reality, and you should be in alignment with reality because there’s a lot more of it that there is of you. Peterson points to Sigmund Freud’s belief that repression contributed to the development of mental illness. The difference between repression of truth and a lie being a matter of degree, not of kind. Alfred Adler knew it was lies that bred sickness. CG Jung knew that moral problems plagued his patients, and that such problems were caused by untruth. Solzhenitsyn had exposed the lies of Stalin and the Soviet state. No educated person dared defend that ideology again after The Gulag Archipelago. Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, drew a similar social-psychological conclusion: deceitful, inauthentic individual existence is the precursor to social totalitarianism.
‘All these thinkers,’ writes Peterson ‘all centrally concerned with pathology both individual and cultural, came to the same conclusion: lies warp the structure of Being. Untruth corrupts the soul and the state alike…I have repeatedly observed the transformation of mere existential misery into outright hell by betrayal and deceit.’ Even if the truthful spirit might not yet be able to bring Heaven on Earth, it may manage to reduce suffering. Peterson quotes Milton’s Paradise Lost and the temptation of Lucifer and gives an intriguing psychological analysis. Also a wonderful reading of the Egyptian myth of Osiris, Set, and Horus.
Peterson calls it a meta-goal to live in truth. It is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves. It is the sword that Christ sends in Matthew 10:34. It is the action needed to keep the machinery running smoothly. It is the vigilance that counteracts the fact that things unattended fall apart. The truth ‘will keep your soul from withering and dying while you encounter the inevitable tragedy of life.’
There are so many wonderful nuggets in this chapter. You will just have to read it for yourself.
I will tell you a bit about Chapter 9 tomorrow!