Annette Poizner
Annette Poizner
This Way Up: Psychological Means to Spiritual Ends

The truth about truth

Scott (not his real name) was a handsome, well-dressed university student who looked like he had it all. He requested counselling, though because he had a compulsion that he could not control. He had been raised by an abusive, critical father who berated his every move. In defiance, Scott had picked up a habit of lying. As a youth, he would go to a football game, but tell his dad he was off to play baseball. This lie left him untouched when his dad then ranted about the stupidity of baseball. Scott was embarrassed about the silly things he would lie about. Still, he couldn’t stop himself. He didn’t remember ever going a day without telling a lie.

I told Scott that changing such an ingrained pattern was going to be challenging. I agreed to work with him, though, and offered the following homework: I asked him to memorize two short statements that I would write on a piece of paper. He would recite them to himself right before he told each lie. Then, he could proceed with his lie. Intrigued, Scott agreed.

Scott came back the next week to report, in amazement, he had gone a full week without lying. He described a feeling of strength and as you read on, you will likely understand why. The mystic notes that the word for truth in Hebrew, Emett, is composed of the first, middle and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Linked, these positions comprise a straight line. Rabbi Akiva Tatz reflects that when you are on a straight path, you look behind you and clearly see where you’ve come from. Looking ahead, you see where you’re going. In contrast, a winding path obscures your vision. You can’t see your point of origin or your destination.

The straight path, therefore, affords a clarity that is empowering. On the winding path, you are potentially weakened by confusion and uncertainty. The Jewish people are advised to maintain the course, to keep on the straight and narrow. The name Yisrael actually breaks up into two Hebrew words which describe that mission: “the straight ones of G-d.”

Indeed, as I’ve elaborated in In Good Standing, each person, Jew and non-Jew, is endowed with an intrinsic structure that must be brought into proper formation. That structure is graphically represented in the shape of the Personal Pronoun I. See it? Three words back! There’s that line! We are, as psychologist Jordan Peterson asserts, meant to stand tall with our shoulders back. We are the line! We need to be straight-shooters. We need to tell the truth.

In light of all this there was really only one thing to write on the piece of paper I gave Scott, who needed the curative power of truth. I wrote down a new mantra for him to recite in order to undermine the fallacious idea that had clearly taken root inside:

“I’m not good enough so I have to lie. And that’s a lie.

The truth will set you free. And that is the truth about truth.

About the Author
Annette Poizner is a Columbia-trained clinical social worker who graduated with a Doctorate of Education in Counseling Psychology. Her work has been featured extensively in the media and in academic venues. She founded Lobster University Press, an imprint which explores the work of Jordan Peterson. Her books summarize Peterson's ideas and explore the intersection between his insights and Jewish wisdom. She also produces animations which relay some of Peterson's insights in short soundbites.
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