“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” These are the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky in his philosophical masterpiece "The Brothers Karamazov". This quote can be summed as the novel's great warning: tell the truth, or else you will lose your sense of reality. To lose the truth is to lose your soul.
Seems to many something everyone learns in early childhood. Everyone seems to learn from their parents that telling the truth is an important virtue, and one necessary to form a good character. However, the consequences of not heeding Dostoevsky's warning are immense. In fact, the importance of telling the truth transcends beyond "good character."
Jordan Peterson gives us a good idea of how truth affects our day to day life. "When you speak truth, you speak paradise into being, and when you speak falsely, you speak hell into being, and that's the truth. What that means is that with every decision that you make, you decide for yourself and for the world whether you're going to tilt the world a little more towards hell or a little more towards heaven, and that's the burden you bear for your existence."
By telling the truth we submit to a lifestyle that speaks reality into being. Instead of taking the easy way out by lying, and submitting to a false reality, we choose to uphold a genuine character. This genuine character, no matter what the circumstances, remains faithful to the notion that true being is the best possible consequence in the face of life's trials, suffering, and spitefulness. To lie only leads to chaos. Telling the truth is the duty of every individual for if left unchecked, horrible consequences can ensue, as Peterson states "The small sin's of the individual culminate into the great sins of the state."
Peterson goes on to say that when you tell the truth "Everything begins to come together... when you're around someone who tells the truth everything comes together and that's the potential destiny of the world... you can bring forth something again to paradise by speaking the truth and you can start in your own life, and in the lives of your own family... It's not a rule... It's the proper way of wending your way through the terrible world without making it worse than it already is and with the possibility perhaps of making it better."
If someone you loved is destroying their life by destructive actions, would you tell them, even if you knew it would risk the relationship? If you knew something in society was wrong, and denouncing it would lead to social embarrassment and hostility, would you speak up? Would you really stand up for someone or something against evil overwhelming forces? In all these cases, the truth Peterson is talking about stands as an antidote. lying or not speaking in any of these cases would only further suffering, but it is the easier route.
In essence, we begin to understand the Biblical statement that "truth will set you free (John 8:32)." By giving our lives to truth, and seeking what we genuinely believe and see reality to be, we set ourselves free from the standards of this world. We no longer care for what our situation is, or what our actions may lead to. Instead, we choose to act by what is reality. By lying, we make a pathetic attempt to escape reality, and no one can do that.
Personally, I know that living after truth is incredibly difficult. Despite the fact that I know lying only causes more suffering, and that it causes suffering for others as I project false being, I still do it because it’s easy. To say things which everyone else believes and adheres to is easy. As Dostoevsky would put it "Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.”
When I began to make a conscious effort to tell the truth, I noticed that almost everything I said was a lie. So often do I express a false emotion, attempt to flatter others, or avoid the right thing. I did this under the mask of my belief that I was a good person. The more I lied, the more my lie’s became truth to me. When I made a strong effort to tell the truth, reality began to display itself, and everything "came together."
Everyone believes that telling the truth is a good virtue, but only a few make a conscious decision to live by it day to day. It’s hard, but worth it. Great thinkers such as Dostoevsky and Peterson have warned us: telling the truth is essential for the good of humanity. Living by truth has transformed the lives of these men, and my own. Truth isn't just a virtue, but a crucial way to live one's life. In fact, your own sense of reality is at stake.