In yesterday’s class it became obvious that most if not all of us subscribe to the idea that a little white lie never hurt anybody. Hiding the truth or inflating things a little bit can keep others from being hurt, we think. Sugar coating a response in a tense situation can avoid violence, we say.
It also became obvious – at least I hope it did – that Jordan Peterson, in his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, takes just the opposite position. He says that lies – even those we might consider innocent – are like living things and that their effects are unpredictable and may be long lived. We may mean well, but when we don’t tell the truth we can set dynamics in motion that we did not foresee and may be powerless to stop.
Peterson contends that speech itself is far more powerful than we generally think it to be. He points to the Biblical truth that God “spoke” the universe into being: “And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” He reminds us that “In the beginning was the Word.” He could have taken the Biblical theme further and mentioned that the life-changing force of the gospel is transmitted – is effective – through the spoken and written word. Speech, Peterson argues, is a creative force. We speak things into being.
So the lies we tell may have unfortunate and unpredictable effect in the world, but Peterson also emphasizes that one principle effect of a falsehood is actually on the speaker. The lies we speak affect ourselves. Once again, I am struck by the symmetry or harmony between what Jordan Peterson is saying and the way Eugene Peterson (I don’t think they are related to each other) translates the New Testament. Here’s Eugene Peterson’s translation of Galatians 4: 25:
What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
Now here is Jordan Peterson, from 12 Rules:
. . . hiding from others also means suppressing and hiding the potentialities of the unrealized self . . . If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward
When things fall apart . . . we can give structure to [life] and re-establish order through our speech. If we speak carefully and precisely, we can sort things out and put them in their proper place . . . and navigate