I wanted to break a bad habit so I sent a friend some money. If I do this thing again any time within the next month, I told him, don’t send the money back. It was a nontrivial sum – enough to deter me, I thought. After all, I’d done this before and it had worked. I failed inside five days.
I didn’t tell my friend right away – I didn’t have to tell him until the month was over. Days passed and semi-consciously I started planning not to mention anything about it to him, and after the time had passed I’d just tell him to send me the money back. I knew he trusted me and that he’d do it. That would be that and we’d go on with our lives.
A few weeks later some psilocybin cleared my head and I realized how clouded my judgement had become. Psychedelics, as any psychonaut will tell you, have a special relationship with the truth.
I had to let the money go, but what became clear was that it wasn’t really about that at all. Lying to my friend would have been an incalculable mistake – maybe worse, for some reason, than lying to myself. The day after the trip I sent the amount to charity and got what I’d sent him back later.
This might sound like a story with an honourable ending but the truth is that I was completely ready to lie and the only thing that got in the way was the chance timing of an altered state. I’d slid into a place of clouded judgement without even noticing and was ready to stay there at the cost of degrading the trust in a close relationship.
Tell the truth, says Jordan Peterson again and again, and the right thing will happen. I’m finally starting to understand what this means. It’s not that what you want to happen will happen. It means that when you tell the truth, whatever happens is the right thing.
This is a terrifying position if you think it through. It means that whatever catastrophe, whatever inner pain or outer disaster you create by telling the truth, that’s the right thing to have happened.
Living this way means complete outcome independence. Only the process matters. What happens after is necessarily correct by dint of following that process.
What’s the truth? Simply your best guess as to how things really are. And if you don’t know in a particular case, then the truth is “I don’t know”.
Telling the truth has its own phenomenology. An internal barometer that swings into alignment when you speak from the core depths of your being. And that fades from awareness, spinning in circles when you’re deliberately vague or you downright lie.
Telling the truth is how you stress test the contents of your subjectivity against everyone else’s, and against the external material world, provided such a thing exists.
Freedom of speech – I always knew it was important, but this part only clicked for me the other day. Freedom of speech is required for people to put forward their best guess about how things really are, whatever that happens to be. Without freedom of speech, people can’t say what they really believe, and so they can’t tell the truth.
I was never a compulsive liar, but I’d certainly omit truth when it was more comfortable to do so. And of course sometimes I’d lie too. But concepts like this never click all in one go, and this one has been sinking into me for months now. I do my best to tell the truth to myself and others and I feel my inner world being hammered into shape like hot metal at a blacksmith. I think it’s helping.