Chapter 8 on “Tell the truth—or, at least don’t lie” is probably the most important chapter dealing with the interpersonal realm or social space. It is intertwined with Chapter 7, wherein if you pursue what is meaningful rather than what is expedient, you will choose to do the right thing and speak the truth. The choice before us is not a simple decision among several options, but a fundamental choice between two different worldviews or orientations towards life, between two different ways of existence.
In a polarized world full of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” it becomes increasingly difficult to define or discern what is truth. The same event can be perceived differently, and the same term can be interpreted differently. To make things worse, there is a vast conspiracy to convince us that lying is good for us. This pernicious dark net includes the Devil, father of all lies; the post-modern teaching that all truth is relative; the ubiquitous advertising machinery; government-sponsored brain-washing apparatus; our unconscious fear of shame, rejection, and danger; our conscious intention to look and act better than we are; and the misguided ambition to be rich and famous so that we can be happy.
Even in scientific research, the quest for truth can be compromised in many ways. First of all, truth means more than “factfulness” (Rosling, 2018), because we can always cherry pick statistics to support our position. Secondly, our worldview or point of view not only shapes our perceptions, but also affects how science is done (Medin, Lee, & Bang, 2014). Therefore, we need to examine the lens through which we view the world. Finally, scientists’ own desires for survival and academic success may contaminate their findings (Hesselmann, Graf, Schmidt, & Reinhart, 2017; Watson, 2018).
In a time of universal deceit, what can we believe, who can we trust? How can we discern the difference between truth and falsehood? In this chapter, Peterson argues that truth telling is important for our survival and wellbeing; he is also optimistic that we can escape from the powerful and vast dark net of deception with critical self-reflection, a firm grounding in the truth, faith in a better future, and the courage to speak the truth, no matter what it costs.
Truth telling may sound like an old-fashioned virtue of honesty, but Jordan Peterson takes this simple idea to unexpected levels of depth and complexity, and challenges us to take a good hard look at ourselves and the world we live in. He is asking us some tough questions: “Do you really know what truth means? Can you handle the truth? Do you know how painful it is to face the truth? Do you know that your life can never be the same again once you have confronted and embraced the truth?”
As a simple exercise, I would ask you, “Are you a liar?” What would be your instinctive response? If I were to look into your eyes, and ask, “Are you sure that you don’t lie?” You may sheepishly reply, “Well, occasionally I may tell white lies.” Almost all people deny that they are liars. But the reality may be different. According to a widely circulated quote on the internet, the average person tells four lies a day, and 1,460 lies a year. Some of the common lies are “I’m fine,” “You are fine,” “I’m sorry,” “I didn’t do it,” “I don’t have the time,” or “I don’t remember.”
In fact, I would argue that, on an average, we actually lie a lot more than four times a day. For example, we lie, wherever (a) we say that we are better than we really are (Taylor & Brown, 1994); (b) we make excuses for our mistakes or procrastination (Carmichael & Krueger, 2015); (c) we show self-serving biases in our attributions, such as taking credit for success and denying responsibility or failure (Miller & Ross, 1975; Ross, 1977); (d) we flatter or suck up to someone (Psychologist World, n.d.); (e) we suppress our own feelings in order to conform to the group pressure or to please others (Beran, 2015; Sirota, 2018); (f) practice hypocrisy (Pychyl, 2012; Matthews & Mazzocco, 2017); or (g) practice self-deception (Burdon, 2012; Goleman, 1985).
I can go on and on to cite psychological research that demonstrates the ubiquitous phenomenon of self-deception and lying, regardless of whether we do it unconsciously or consciously. The tragedy is that after lying habitually, one’s entire life becomes a living lie and one becomes a pathological liar while still believing that one is telling the truth (Đurić-Jočić., Pavlicić, & Gazivoda, 2016).
Yes, Peterson insinuates that all people are liars. One may tell lies to avoid embarrassment, protect one’s ego, or gain some advantage, consciously or unconsciously. The problem of lying is compounded by the fact that most people are not aware of the pernicious costs of lying to themselves and to others. Tragically, the path from lying to oneself to living a lie is often imperceptible if one does not engage in