Jordan Peterson on Telling the Truth and Building Character

There are two types of ambitions. One is external. This would be the gain of power, the gain of status, financial rewards and this willingness to do whatever it takes to get what you want. The other is internal. This type being where one is building discipline in their life. Building work ethic. Building consistency. Telling the truth. Being reliable. Of course, it is not as black and white as this. External ambition may require the development of things like discipline and consistency. However, it is the mindset behind it that matters.

Why do you do the things you do? What is the reason behind your actions? The why is what matters. If the why is external rather than internal then, there is little personal growth towards a positive direction.

One of the rules, in Jordan Peterson‘s book 12 Rules For Life, is Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie. In this chapter, Jordan Peterson explains how as a young psychology student, he worked at Douglas Hospital where he observed and interacted with individuals with mental disabilities, patients suffering from issues like being bipolar, having schizophrenia and other psychotic episodes. Here, Jordan Peterson found the value of telling the truth, and how through truth one gets to know themselves.

I soon divided myself into two parts: one that spoke, and one, more detached, that paid attention and judged. I soon came to realize that almost everything I said was untrue. I had motives for saying these things I wanted to win arguments and gain status and impress people and get what I wanted. I was using language to bend and twist the world into delivering what I thought was necessary. But I was a fake. Realizing this, I started to practice only saying things that the internal voice would not object to. I started to practice telling the truth – or, at least, not lying. I soon learned that such a skill came in very handy when I didn’t know what to do. What should you do, when you don’t know what to do? Tell the truth. So, that’s what I did my first day at the Douglas Hospital.

To accept the truth means to sacrifice – and if you have rejected the truth for a long time, then you’ve run up a dangerously large sacrifical debt.

This to me is the proper ambition. Ambition to develop one’s character. The focus should be aimed internally, consciously and objectively ripping apart the things that you don’t want to be and constructing the ideal you.

Set your ambition, even if you are uncertain about what they should be. The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability, rather than status and power. Staus, you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity. Knowing this, tie a rope to a boulder. Pick up the great stone, heave it in front of you and pull yourself towards it. Watch and observe while you move forward. Articulate you experience as clearly and carefully to yourself and others as you possibly can. In this manner, you will learn to proceed more effectively and efficiently towards your goal. And, while you are doing this, do not lie. Especially to yourself.

Do not lie to yourself. If you can’t trust yourself, then, who can you trust? If you can’t tell yourself the truth, then, who can you tell the truth to? To be objective about your actions comes through a type of struggle. To understand the why behind what you do. It can be uncomfortable, unveiling the lies behind certain things, the comfortable lies that mask the ugly truth. However, that ugly truth is beautiful for you.

Like everything, a balance can be achieved. The internal and external ambition can live in harmony together. There is nothing wrong with wanting financial freedom. Materialistic ambitions are neither good nor bad. They are simply ambitions. It is our intent that places feelings of good or bad upon them. If our intent comes from a higher place, then the balance can be made.

Perhaps it is better to conceptualize it this way: Everyone needs a concrete, specific goal – an ambition and a purpose – to limit chaos and make intelligible sense of his or her life. But all such concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal, which is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves. The meta-goal could be “live in truth.” This means, “act diligently towards some well-articulated, defined and temporary end. Make your criteria for failure and success timely and clear, at least for yourself (and even better if others can understand what you are doing and evaluate it with you). While doing so, however, allow the world and your spirit to unfold as they will, while you act out and articulate the truth.” This is both pragmatic ambition and the most courageous of faiths.

This is a pursuit of ambition without compromising your character. First, one needs to build their character, to know their limits and lines that they will not cross or be pushed back from. Then, one can join external ambition along with that character and achieve what one wishes to achieve in life. The external always being kept in check by the internal through the process of objective reflection.

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