The Truth about Truthfulness, As I See it
A message of Jordan Peterson’s really hit home yesterday. It lead to a conclusion he’s mentioned before, but that I only recently fully understood.
There are two ways to use your voice: to manipulate, that is, to employ language in order to achieve a predetermined outcome by altering the behavior of another; and to tell the truth as you see it, which comes with no guarantee that your audience will behave afterward in your preferred fashion. Some people don’t listen to truth when they hear it.
The big connection to me was how this relates to communication. There are to basic types of communication: showing, and telling. I can tell you that something is valuable, or I can show you why it does in fact have value. I can tell you it’s good to save for retirement, or I can show you how after taxes and inflation you can expect to have this or that passive income later in life. The teller asks that the audience to take his word for it, whereas the shower grants the authority to choose to believe the facts of the matter or not to his audience.
Tellers tend to manipulate. Showers tend to tell the truth as they see it.
It’s obvious why people wouldn’t want to be manipulated, but why would people care to know the truth? Then came another sequence of thoughts: well what we care about isn’t necessarily truth, but reality. So what’s the truth got to do with reality?! Well, as it turns out, if you do eat that fruit, you will feel better. If you do drink that water, you will feel better. If I touch on this screen, words will appear. In short: truth and reality are fundamentally intertwined, like the double helix. Or take a second and intertwine your index and middle fingers like you did when you told your parents that you really did clean your room and did all your chores. That’s truth and reality.
I said they’re linked, so what links them? It occurred to me: causality. The manifestation of truth into reality transpires through causality. As Peterson would say, ‘you have to act it out in the world.’ If you do, and things happen according to theory, there just may be some truth to the matter. It’s the same theoretically too. What makes four out of two and another two is the casual process of addition. That’s *true. And to the extent that the physical world is governed by mathematical relations, one can bet good money that it is in fact causality that links truth to reality for much of our human purposes.
What the hell is the point of all this? Well if you’re ever told to use your voice for something other than to tell the truth as you see it, you can safely arrive at the conclusion that manipulation is a greater motivation to the one telling you to act accordingly. But suppose that you’ve been told to use your voice manipulatively in order to achieve a valuable end. Sound at all like “the ends justify the means?” And if the end in mind is in fact valuable for real, truthful reasons, why manipulate in order to bring it about? Why not just tell the truth as you see it?
This thought process brought me to the following conclusions.
First, it makes no sense to use your voice for anything other than to tell the truth as you see it. Because people like truth; after all, it’s fundamentally intertwined with reality. It’s *literally necessary to live, and even more, to live better.
Second, show people the truth, don’t tell them what it is. After all, if it’s the truth you’re interested in relating, and if the truth helps us to live better lives, why not just explain the nature of the causal link between the truth you want to communicate and the reality you want to see? It makes no sense to manipulate others in order to communicate the truth.
So if you’re a salesman, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a student, an employer, an employee… If you’re a person who wants to live better in the world, just tell the truth as you see it. Doing anything else with your voice either doesn’t make sense or is motivated by a sort of shortsightedness that confuses short term gain with the good life.
Well duh Ryan, everyone knows that. Well then why do so many who communicate tell, rather than show? Why do I see so many should’s and ought’s instead of is’s and would’s? Why is the authoritarianism of ‘do this’ and ‘dont do that’ so pervasive? Why is truth-telling so elusive?
Maybe it’s because too few of us try every day, every minute, with every bit of our being, to just tell the truth as we see it.