Don’t keep your mouth shut

If you don’t speak, it won’t go well for you.

It’s a risk – saying it loud. The thought inside that just won’t go away, not matter how much you try to dismiss it.

“Hey man. I know you’re telling me you’re committed to this new venture. But sorry, I just don’t think you are. Your words don’t ring true to me. I think you’re kidding yourself.”

Because maybe you’re wrong.

Maybe he’ll be pissed at you, and attack, verbally or emotionally.

Maybe he’ll be really hurt and feel betrayed by you.

Maybe you’ll feel rejected, and it will sting and you won’t know how to make it better.

Maybe you’re totally off the mark, and you end up looking like an ass.

It’s a risk.

But it’s not like it’s not a risk to not say it.

If you keep your mouth shut, the effects are not benign. If you don’t give voice to the unspoken words inside, they’ll start to eat away at you.

Every time he talks about his new venture (that you don’t believe in), you won’t be able to participate. You won’t actually be with him. You’ll stay silent or politely say what you’re expected to. Or you’ll quietly judge him for lying to himself.

And each time you turn down the chance to speak the truth, the trust you have in yourself is eroded a little more.

That vital relationship between thought and action becomes a little more estranged. Your conviction becomes a little bit more flaccid.

The truth is created through words

The truth is formed by speaking, it’s created through words. We’re narrative creatures. We always tell ourselves a story about what’s happening – what the world is. We can’t not do this.

There’s no such things as truth before language. Things just are. It is the split between the territory of existence, and our maps we make of that same existence, that creates simultaneously the possibility for truth and for its opposite.

And so we live in two worlds.

We live in the world of babbling streams, and rustling leaves. The world of fleshy touch and sweaty odours. The world of rock, brick and tower. We live in the territory.

And we live in the world of the ideas of those things. The shape of the names. The interpretations of the notions. The grammar of thought. The hierarchy of abstractions. We live according to the map.

And because we straddle these two worlds, we can contradict ourselves.

I can say things that are untrue. I can give words to a world I do not actually live in. I can mistake the name for the thing itself. I can mistakenly believe that the thing is more authentic before I name it.

It is a central function of life to mediate between this paradox.

And thus the alignment between the map I hold and the territory I walk, can skew, and I will find that “the world doesn’t make sense”.

The slide down into hell

The truth is not simply what is provable or objective. It’s what we collectively believe. And so as he tells himself he’s committed, and you stay silent, it perpetuates his story.

His truth becomes the dominant narrative.

And you both start to believe it.

You must have been wrong. Your sense was off. Because look, he keeps talking about how great his new venture is, and you keep not saying anything to contradict him.

Each layer of apparent enthusiasm he utters further buries that thing you thought was true.

And if you were wrong in this instance, then maybe all those other “inner feelings” you have are wrong too?

In fact, maybe all that inner world you experience is wrong – all those things you believe, or love, or dream of one day creating – maybe all that is untrue too.

The trip down this slippery slope is shorter, and more frequent that we like to believe.

At the bottom of the slope is nihilism.

Nihilism is a philosophical belief that nothing has any intrinsic meaning or underlying truth. Nihilism is not just a conceptual idea though, it’s a place. I’ve been there.

In the pit of nihilism, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t say. It makes no difference.

Because there is no truth.

There’s no deeper code. No deeper meaning. It’s all flat, empty, pointless. It doesn’t matter what you do. Because there is no point.

The pit of nihilism has become a very popular residence in today’s world. A lot of people slid down into it, and don’t know how to get out.

To get out you have to believe in a higher order. You have to believe in universal rules. Things that cannot be broken. Truths that cannot be deconstructed.

You have to believe in Gods that cannot be killed.

One of these I learned from watching Jordan Peterson’s (incredible) biblical lecture series. It goes like this…

When you speak the truth, it is good.

Creating divine order

It may not feel good. The receiver of your truthful speech may not like it. You may not garner the results you were hoping for.

The receiver may be a lover, a friend, a client. It may be you. It may be “the world”. Regardless of who it is, when you speak it, and when it is indeed true, then your act is good.

It has furthered the human project. The naming of the nameless. The existential intimacy that comes from bringing the map and the territory a little closer together. Participating in a moment that is a little more filled with the light of consciousness.

But “good” in the highest sense may not equate to “good” in the immediate sense.

You might damage a friendship. You might traumatise your lover. You might lose a client. You might antagonize the world. You might reveal to yourself a contradiction that you’ve protected yourself from for decades.

It’s a risk.

But never forget. It’s not a risk to not speak.

It’s risk either way.

One leads down the slippery slope into the pit of nihilism, meaninglessness and misery.

The other leads through the gauntlet of the world into the higher orders of consciousness and integration.

You must choose constantly.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ewan Townhead

I hope you enjoyed the article. If you're interested further in my work, you can find out more about me here, and my coaching here.

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  1. Beautiful post Ewan- thanks for sharing your inner world through your inner words …
    speaking your truth – literally walking your talk in this post is very powerful – and delicious .. as is the intimacy it creates.

    I love “The existential intimacy that comes from bringing the map and the territory a little closer together” –

    “To get out you have to believe in a higher order. You have to believe in universal rules. Things that cannot be broken. Truths that cannot be deconstructed. Gods that cannot be killed.” I totally share your perspective on our need for reclaiming the virtue of universal truth

    It evokes for me a few comments.

    – there was a book (and a movement in the US) few years ago named “radical honesty” that was advocating being radically honest – ie .. speaking one’s truth no matter what … not keeping any kind of secret…if you dont read it, it might inspire you.

    – in complement of Jordan Peterson, I would also point to Ken Wilber and the whole Integral movement which masterfully work to build a new narrative that helps us go further Nihilism (or postmodernity, which is very the same thing in many aspects) – a higher level of truth an integral – including and transcending all previous levels of truth.

    Finally your post resonates in my heart with a poem of David Whyte that I love

    All the True Vows


    All the true vows
 are secret vows

    the ones we speak out loud

    are the ones we break.

    There is only one life
    you can call your own
    and a thousand others
    you can call by any name you want.

    Hold to the truth you make
    every day with your own body,
    don’t turn your face away.

    Hold to your own truth
    at the center of the image
    you were born with.

    Those who do not understand
    their destiny will never understand
    the friends they have made
    nor the work they have chosen

    nor the one life that waits
    beyond all the others.

    By the lake in the wood
    in the shadows
    you can
    whisper that truth
    to the quiet reflection
    you see in the water.

    Whatever you hear from
    the water, remember,

    it wants you to carry
    the sound of its truth on your lips.

    Remember,
    in this place
    no one can hear you

    and out of the silence
    you can make a promise
    it will kill you to break,

    that way you’ll find
    what is real and what is not.

    I know what I am saying.
    Time almost forsook me
    and I looked again.

    Seeing my reflection
    I broke a promise
    and spoke
    for the first time
    after all these years
    in my own voice,

    before it was too late
    to turn my face again.

    Reply
    • Ewan Townhead

      Thanks Philippe for your kind words.

      Yes, I read Radical Honesty years ago, and have it on my list to re-read. Thanks for the reminder.

      And I know Wilber very well. I spent my mid 20s rather obsessed with his work. I’ve actually been dipping back in again recently. His model still underpins so much of my thinking. In fact, I find myself “coming back” to the idea of integration more and more. I think his predictions about the integral imperative were absolutely right. I think we all just thought it would come explicitly through his work, or Integral Institute, which of course it hasn’t.

      And thank you for the David Whyte poem. Wow, that’s a stunner. Merits several readings…

      Reply

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