12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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What does everyone in the modern world need to know? Renowned psychologist Jordan B. Peterson's answer to this most difficult of questions uniquely combines the hard-won truths of ancient tradition with the stunning revelations of cutting-edge scientific research.
Humorous, surprising, and informative, Dr. Peterson tells us why skateboarding boys and girls must be left alone, what terrible fate awaits those who criticize too easily, and why you should always pet a cat when you meet one on the street.
What does the nervous system of the lowly lobster have to tell us about standing up straight (with our shoulders back) and about success in life? Why did ancient Egyptians worship the capacity to pay careful attention as the highest of gods? What dreadful paths do people tread when they become resentful, arrogant, and vengeful? Dr. Peterson journeys broadly, discussing discipline, freedom, adventure, and responsibility, distilling the world's wisdom into 12 practical and profound rules for life. 12 Rules for Life shatters the modern commonplaces of science, faith, and human nature while transforming and ennobling the mind and spirit of its listeners.
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|Listening Length||15 hours and 40 minutes|
|Author||Jordan B. Peterson, Norman Doidge MD|
|Narrator||Jordan B. Peterson|
|Audible.ca Release Date||January 23 2018|
|Publisher||Random House Canada|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #6 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#1 in Social Philosophy
#1 in Ethics & Morality (Books)
#1 in Philosophy (Audible Books & Originals)
Reviewed in Canada on April 6, 2023
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While, as my title suggests, I have found this book immensely helpful in helping me to sort out some of my daily life, I found it hard to read at times.
For someone like myself who doesn’t have a terribly expansive vocabulary, I did find it hard to read in that the language he used, in my estimation, is there to make the readings sound more intellectual than they need to be.
Now, I’m not entirely sure how true that statement is because in listening to JP talk both in lectures and interviews he sure goes deep into the “Webster” well in pulling out his vocabulary.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is it would have been nice to have the language toned down for those people like myself who may not have the same level of literary education.
So that’s one complaint.
The 2nd complaint that I have and have seen mentioned in other reviews is the heavy reliance on Christianity in this book. Specifically the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Although I can see where and how he is using these examples to tie into some of the rules, again, it makes for a tough read.
At times I found myself having to re-read the same page because I had zoned out. Or found myself having to “push through” certain sections.
All in all the book is a wonderful tool in trying to make improvements in Being. I have found it in some ways life changing. Well worth the time
After reading this book I have revised my opinion of him, not to say, a person to idolized but a decent human with a strong sense of Being.
Peterson is a passionate writer, able to connect to his readers with emotional antidotes. This book has encouraged me to reflect deeply on who I am, and who I ought to be. I have never been fully swayed be antidotes so it’s good to see so many citations to so many credible sources. You may wonder why I have only given it 4 stars, well, one, nobody is perfect and two, I had a few exceptions to some of what he wrote; maybe a little too black and white, maybe a little misleading, or maybe I’m just a little to pedantic?
Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on April 6, 2023
Top reviews from other countries
One of the main themes of this book is: Personal change is possible. There's no doubt you can be slightly better today than you were yesterday. Because of Pareto's Principle (small changes can have disproportionately large results), this movement towards the good increases massively, and this upward trajectory can take your life out of hell more rapidly than you could believe. Life is tragic and full of suffering and malevolence. But there's something you can start putting right, and we can't imagine what good things are in store for us if we just fix the things that are within our power to do so.
The 12 Rules for Life:
In Peterson’s own words, it’s 12 rules to stop you from being pathetic, written from the perspective of someone who himself tried to stop being pathetic and is still working on it. Peterson is open about his struggles and shortcomings, unlike many authors who only reveal a carefully curated façade.
Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back. People have bad posture, and the meaning behind it can be demonstrated by animal behaviors. Peterson uses the example of the lobster. When a lobster loses a fight, and they fight all the time, it scrunches up a little. Lobsters run on serotonin and when he loses, levels go down, and when he wins, levels go up and he stretches out and is confident. Who cares? We evolutionarily diverged from lobsters 350 million years ago, but it’s still the same circuit. It’s a deep instinct to size others up when looking at them to see where they fit in the social hierarchy. If your serotonin levels fall, you get depressed and crunch forward and you’re inviting more oppression from predator personalities and can get stuck in a loop. Fixing our posture is part of the psycho-physiological loop that can help you get started back up again.
Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. People often have self-contempt whether they realize it or not. Imagine someone you love and treat well. You need to treat yourself with the same respect. Take care of yourself, your room, your things, and have respect for yourself as if you’re a person with potential and is important to the people around you. If you make a pattern of bad mistakes, your life gets worse, not just for you, but for the people around you. All your actions echo in ways that cannot be imagined. Think of Stalin’s mother and the mistakes she made in life, and how the ripple effects went on to affect the millions of people around him.
Rule 3: Choose your friends carefully. It is appropriate for you to evaluate your social surroundings and eliminate those who are hurting you. You have no ethical obligation to associate with people who are making your life worse. In fact, you are obligated to disassociate with people who are trying to destroy the structure of being, your being, society’s being. It’s not cruel, it’s sending a message that some behaviors are not to be tolerated.
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. You need to improve, and you may even be in real bad shape, but many unfairly compare themselves to some more seemingly successful person. Up till around age 17, random comparisons to other people can make sense, but afterwards, especially age 30+, our lives become so idiosyncratic that comparisons with others become meaningless and unhelpful. You only see a slice of their life, a public facet, and are blind to the problems they conceal.
Rule 5: Don't let children do things that make you dislike them. You aren't as nice as you think, and you will unconsciously take revenge on them. You are massively more powerful than your children, and have the ability and subconscious proclivity for tyranny deeply rooted within you.If you don't think this is true, you don't know yourself well enough. His advice on disciplinary procedure: (1) limit the rules. (2) use minimum necessary force and (3) parents should come in pairs.It's difficult and exhausting to raise children, and it's easy to make mistakes. A bad day at work, fatigue, hunger, stress, etc, can make you unreasonable.
Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. Life is tragic and there's malevolence. There's plenty to complain about, but if you dwell on it, you will become bitter and tread down a path that will take you to twisted places. The diaries of the Columbine killers are a chilling look into minds that dwelled on the unholy trinity of deceit, arrogance, and resentment) . So instead of cursing the tragedy that is life, transform into something meaningful. Start by stop doing something, anything, that you know to be wrong. Everyday you have choices in front of you. Stop doing and saying things that make you weak and ashamed. Do only those things that you would proudly talk about in public.
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). Meaning is how you protect yourself against the suffering that life entails. This means that despite the fact that we’re all emotionally wounded by life, we’ve found something that makes it all worthwhile. Meaning, Peterson says, is like an instinct, or a form of vision. It lets you know when you’re in the right place, and he says that the right place is midway between chaos and order. If you stay firmly ensconced within order, things you understand, then you can’t grow. If you stay within chaos, then you’re lost. Expediency is what you do to get yourself out of trouble here and now, but it comes at the cost of sacrificing the future for the present. So instead of doing what gets you off the hook today, aim high. Look around you and see what you can make better. Make it better. As you gain knowledge, consciously remain humble and avoid arrogance that can stealthily creep on you. Peterson also says to be aware of our shortcomings, whatever they may be; our secret resentments, hatred, cowardice, and other failings. Be slow to accuse others because we too conceal malevolent impulses, and certainly before we attempt to fix the world.
Rule 8: Tell the truth—or, at least, don't lie. Telling the truth can be hard in the sense that it’s often difficult to know the truth. However, we can know when we’re lying. Telling lies makes you weak. You can feel it, and others can sense it too. Meaning, according to Peterson, is associated with truth, and lying is the antithesis of meaning. Lying disassociates you with meaning, and thus reality itself. You might get away with lying for a short while, but only a short time. In Peterson’s words “It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people.”
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't. A good conversation consists of you coming out wiser than you went into it. An example is when you get into an argument with your significant other, you want to win, especially if you get angry. If you’re more verbally fluent than the other person then you can win. One problem is that the other person might see something better than you, but they can’t quite articulate it as well. Always listen because there’s a possibility they’re going to tell you something that will prevent you from running headfirst into a brick wall. This is why Peterson says to listen to your enemies. They will lie about you, but they will also say true things about yourself that your friends won’t. Separate the wheat from the chaff and make your life better.
Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech: There is some integral connection between communication and reality (or structures of belief as he likes to say). Language takes chaos and makes it into a ‘thing.’ As an example, imagine going through a rough patch in your life where you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong. This mysterious thing that’s bothering you—is it real? Yes, if it’s manifesting itself as physical discomfort. Then you talk about it and give it a name, and then this fuzzy, abstract thing turns into a specific thing. Once named, you can now do something about it. The unnameable is far more terrifying than the nameable. As an example, the movie the Blair Witch project didn’t actually name or describe the evil. Nothing happens in the movie, it’s all about the unnameable. If you can’t name something, it means it’s so terrifying to you that you can’t even think about it, and that makes you weaker. This is why Peterson is such a free speech advocate. He wants to bring things out of the realm of the unspeakable. Words have a creative power and you don’t want to create more mark and darkness by imprecise speech.
Rule 11: Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding. This is mainly about masculinity. Peterson remembers seeing children doing all kinds of crazy stunts on skateboards and handrails, and believes this is an essential ingredient to develop masculinity, to try to develop competence and face danger. Jordan Peterson considers the act of sliding down a handrail to be brave and perhaps stupid as well, but overall positive. A lot of rebellious behavior in school is often called ‘toxic masculinity,’ but Peterson would say to let them be. An example would be a figure skater that makes a 9.9 on her performance, essentially perfect. Then the next skater that follows her seems to have no hope. But she pushes herself closer to chaos, beyond her competence, and when successful, inspires awe. Judges award her 10’s. She’s gone beyond perfection into the unknown and ennobled herself as well as humanity as well.
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street. This chapter is mainly autobiographical and he writes about tragedy and pain. When tragic things are in front of you and you’re somewhat powerless, you must keep your eyes open for little opportunities that highlight the redemptive elements of life that make it all worthwhile. The title of this chapter comes from his experience of observing a local stray cat, and watching it adapt to the rough circumstances around it. Another thing you must do when life is going to pieces is to shorten your temporal horizon. Instead of thinking in months, you maybe think in hours or minutes instead. You try to just have the best next minute or hour that you can. You shrink the time frame until you can handle it, this is how you adjust to the catastrophe. You try to stay on your feet and think. Although this chapters deals about harsh things, it’s an overall positive one. Always look for what’s meaningful and soul-sustaining even when you’re where you’d rather not be.
Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back
This is the chapter about lobsters.
Cathy Newman and other commentators have been choking on the crustaceans Peterson offers as evidence for his first rule, but I wonder if they have actually read the chapter. It's all pretty self-explanatory and obvious: dominance hierarchy is "an essentially permanent feature of the environment to which all complex life has adapted." That's true for lobsters, and it's true for humans: "It's permanent. It's real. The dominance hierarchy is not capitalism…It's not the patriarchy."
If you're at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy - as either lobster or human - life is harder on you. Low status lobsters and humans produce less serotonin. "Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency…higher serotonin levels…are characterized by less illness, misery and death."
So what to do? Put your shoulders back! "Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence."
Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
This is the chapter that explains why people will buy prescription medicine for their dog, and carefully administer it, but fail to do the same for themselves.
It boils down to this: "Why should anyone take care of anything as naked, ugly, ashamed, frightened, worthless, cowardly, resentful, defensive and accusatory as a descendant of Adam? Even if that thing, that being, is himself? And I do not mean at all to exclude women with this phrasing."
That humans are like this provides Peterson with what I think might be the most important insight into the problem of evil since Augustine identified original sin with pride. This is how JP describes it: "We know exactly how and where we can be hurt, and why. That is as good a definition as any of self-consciousness. We are aware of our own defencelessness, finitude and mortality. We can feel pain, and self-disgust, and shame, and horror, and we know it. We know what makes us suffer. We know how dread and pain can be inflicted on us - and that means we know exactly how to inflict it on others. We know we are naked, and how that nakedness can be exploited - and that means we know how others are naked, and how they can be exploited."
The solution? "You could help direct the world, on its careening trajectory, a bit more toward Heaven and a bit more away from Hell. Once having understood Hell, researched it, so to speak - particularly your own individual Hell - you could decide against going there or creating that. You could aim elsewhere. You could, in fact, devote your life to this. That would give you a Meaning, with a capital M. That would justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature, and replace your shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of someone who has learned once again to walk with God in the Garden."
Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you
This is the chapter about not casting your pearls before swine.
Sometimes helping is beyond us.
"But Christ himself, you might object, befriended tax-collectors and prostitutes. How dare I cast aspersions on the motives of those who are trying to help? But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you're you. How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won't instead bring them - or you further down?"
So, how to help? "Before you help someone, you should find out why that person in in trouble." The thing is, that often takes more effort than just helping - it's easier to throw money at a problem than really understand why the problem is there. But that is to cast our pearls before swine - and it was Jesus, not just Peterson, who warned us against that.
And help yourself, by making friends with people who are going to genuinely help you - with people who are prepared to put the work in, because they want the best for you.
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
This is the chapter about silencing your internal critic.
Is this the very heart of Petersonism? Perhaps so. Certainly, it's something I've heard him talk about in pretty much every clip and lecture of his I've listened to. It's this:
"Aim small. You don't want to shoulder too much to begin with, given your limited talents, tendency to deceive, burden of resentment, and ability to shirk responsibility. Thus, you set the following goal: by the end of the day, I want things in my life to be a tiny bit better than they were this morning. Then you ask yourself, 'What could I do, that I would do, that would accomplish that, and what small thing would I like as a reward?' Then you do what you have decided to do, even if you do it badly. Then you give yourself that damn coffee, in triumph. Maybe you feel a bit stupid about it, but you do it anyway. And you do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And, with each day, your baseline of comparison gets a little higher, and that's magic. That's compound interest. Do that for three years, and your life will be entirely different. Now you're aiming for something higher. Now you're wishing on a star. Now the beam is disappearing from your eye, and you're learning to see. And what you aim at determines what you see. That's worth repeating. What you aim at determines what you see."
Peterson is brutally honest about the human condition: "What do you know about yourself? You are, on the one hand, the most complex thing in the entire universe, and on the other, someone who can't even set the clock on your microwave. Don't over-estimate your self-knowledge."
So, you - amazing, ignorant you - aim at something, and "compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today."
Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
This is the chapter every parent needs to read.
If you are a parent you must read it. And if you are not a parent but know someone who is, you need to persuade them to read it.
Peterson sees, "today's parents as terrified by their children." We are heirs of the revolutions of the 1960s and have forgotten what children need and what parents are meant to provide. What children need is parents who will give them the right kind of attention, and that means parents remembering that they are parents. "A child will have many friends, but only two parents - if that - and parents are more, not less, than friends. Friends have very limited authority to correct. Every parent therefore needs to learn to tolerate the momentary anger or even hatred directed towards them by their children, after necessary corrective action has been taken."
Parents must learn to correct their children, and socialise them. After all, "Two-year-olds, statistically speaking, are the most violent of people." If parents don't take this responsibility seriously, their children will be disciplined by the much harsher realities of the world. "If a child has not been taught to behave properly by the age of four, it will forever be difficult for him or her to make friends. The research literature on this is quite clear."
So what should parents teach their kids? Peterson suggests the following:
"Do not bite, kick or hit, except in self-defence. Do not torture or bully other children, so you don't end up in jail. Eat in a civilised and thankful manner, so that people are happy to have you at their house, and pleased to feed you. Learn to share, so other kids will play with you. Pay attention when spoken to by adults, so they don't hate you and might therefore deign to teach you something. Go to sleep properly, and peaceably, so that your parents can have a private life and not resent your existence. Take care of your belongings, because you need to learn how and because you're lucky to have them. Be good company when something fun is happening, so that you're invited for the fun. Act so that other people are happy you're around, so that people will want you around. A child who knows these rules will be welcome everywhere."
And that is why so many children are unwelcome, pretty much everywhere. If you are a parent, don't let this be your child.
Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
This is the chapter that tells you to take responsibility for yourself.
"Don't blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don't reorganise the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your own household, how dare you try to rule a city?"
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
This is the longest and densest chapter.
"Life is suffering. That's clear. There is no more basic, irrefutable truth. It's basically what God tells Adam and Eve, immediately before he kicks them out of Paradise." The way to deal with this is by learning delayed gratification - that is, to work and to sacrifice. Be Abel, not Cain. "Cain turns to Evil to obtain what Good denied him, and he does it voluntarily, self-consciously and with malice aforethought." Don't do that. Aim higher.
It is here that Peterson gives the clearest definition of his ethic, his "fundamental moral conclusions":
"Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don't be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency - your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it's not the world that's at fault. Maybe it's you. You've failed to make the mark. You've missed the target. You've fallen short of the glory of God. You've sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don't lie. Don't lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It was the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people."
And that leads us to the next chapter…
Rule 8: Tell the truth - or, at least, don't lie
This is the chapter to put courage into your moral spine.
We lie in order to make others like us more than they otherwise would, to make ourselves look better, to avoid difficult tasks or conversations - because we think lying makes life easier. But lying makes things worse:
"If you say no to your boss, or your spouse, or your mother, when it needs to be said, then you transform yourself into someone who can say no when it needs to be said. If you say yes when no needs to be said, however, you transform yourself into someone who can only say yes, even when it is very clearly time to say no. If you ever wonder how perfectly ordinary, decent people could find themselves doing the terrible things the gulag camp guards did, you now have your answer. By the time no seriously needed to be said, there was no one left capable of saying it."
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't
This is the chapter Cathy Newman should have read.
Peterson is not only an academic, he is a clinical psychologist, and he knows how to listen. He has some things to teach those of us who aspire to hear people.
Peterson recounts the case of 'Miss S' who came to see him, saying, "I think I was raped. Five times." Peterson explains how he could have convinced her of the truth, which could have been either, "You are an innocent victim" or "You have made yourself a victim." To have done so would have been to give her advice; but Peterson didn't give advice, he listened.
Peterson gives advice (ha!) about how to listen well. And it is this that Cathy Newman should have read and applied before tangling with the clinical psychologist:
"When someone opposes you, it is very tempting to oversimplify, parody, or distort his or her position. This is a counterproductive game, designed both to harm the dissenter and unjustly raise your personal status. By contrast, if you are called upon to summarize someone's position, so that the speaking person agrees with that summary, you may have to state the argument even more clearly and succinctly than the speaker has yet managed. If you first give the devil his due, looking at his arguments from his perspective, you can (1) find the value in them, and learn something in the process, or (2) hone your positions against them (if you still believe they are wrong) and strengthen your arguments further against challenge. This will make you much stronger. Then you will no longer have to misrepresent your opponent's position (and may well have bridged at least part of the gap between the two of you). You will also be much better at withstanding your own doubts."
Rule 10: Be precise in your speech
This is the chapter that might save your marriage.
The world is only simple when it is working. That is so obvious we miss it all the time. Peterson illustrates with the story of a woman who believes herself to be in a happy, stable, marriage, only to discover her husband is having an affair. Suddenly chaos roars, the dragon is unleashed. This is what happens when we don't communicate, precisely.
"One day it bursts forth, in a form that no one can ignore. It lifts the very household from its foundations. Then it's an affair, or a decades-long custody dispute of ruinous economic and psychological proportions. Then it's the concentrated version of the acrimony that could have been spread out, tolerably, issue by issue, over the years of the pseudo-paradise of the marriage. Every one of the three hundred thousand unrevealed issues, which have been lied about, avoided, rationalized away, hidden like an army of skeletons in some great horrific closet, bursts forth like Noah's flood, drowning everything. There's no ark, because no one built one, even though everyone felt the storm gathering."
So, how about this suggestion?
"Maybe a forthright conversation about sexual dissatisfaction might have been the proverbial stitch in time - not that it would be easy. Perhaps madame desired the death of intimacy, clandestinely, because she was deeply and secretly ambivalent about sex. God knows there's reason to be. Perhaps monsieur was a terrible, selfish lover. Maybe they both were. Sorting that out is worth a fight, isn't it? That's a big part of life, isn't it? Perhaps addressing that and (you never know) solving the problem would be worth two months of pure misery just telling each other the truth (not with intent to destroy, or attain victory, because that's not the truth: that's just all-out war)."
Like I say, this chapter could save your marriage.
Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
This is the chapter that refutes the "postmodern/neo-Marxist claim that Western culture, in particular, is an oppressive structure, created by white men to dominate and exclude women."
Boys and girls are different. Sexual difference is biological in basis. Sexual difference is not a cultural construct. The current cultural narrative that denies these things is bad for boys - and for girls. Boys don't know how to compete when they are forced to compete in the girls' hierarchy. "Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy - by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys' hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls." If we insist on going down this path, soon there will be no men left that any self-respecting woman would want to form a relationship with.
It was alarming to hear the president of the Marxist Society at the university where my eldest daughter is a student, defend and promote communism on national radio recently. Marxist ideology always ends in starvation and murder. That has been demonstrated, irrefutably, at the cost of millions of lives. Yet it is this very philosophy that underpins so many current cultural developments. It is Marxism filtered through the French intellectuals and now dominant in our universities and media that says things like, "There are 'women' only because men gain by excluding them. There are 'males and females' only because members of that heterogeneous group benefit by excluding the tiny minority of people whose biological sexuality is amorphous." Peterson retorts, "It is almost impossible to over-estimate the nihilistic and destructive nature of this philosophy. It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt. It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power."
And then he deals with the "equal pay for equal work" argument. You should read that.
This is a powerful chapter, that deserves careful reading, not angry, knee-jerk, liberal reaction. The practical consequences are profound: "If you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of."
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
This is the chapter that will make you cry.
The inevitability of suffering is a recurring theme for Peterson. Here he deals with it through the suffering of his daughter, who endured the misery of severe polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
How are we supposed to make sense of suffering? How are we meant to cope with it?
Peterson says that part of the answer is this: "Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation." It is our human limitations that make us human, and that makes suffering something we have to face. He offers wise counsel for those caught in the maelstrom of suffering - counsel about how to talk, and to listen. And he says to stop and stroke a cat: "And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it."
This is the chapter in which Peterson tells us what he hopes for - he hopes for the best.
So what to make of all this?
There are incredible depths of wisdom here. There is much to glean, much to feed on.
Peterson is courageous, and clear. He loves people, and hates tyranny. He is engaging and funny. Thoughtful and emotional. More of us need to share something of his courage and clarity. He is kicking down doors we should be unafraid to walk through.
In fact, my most serious complaint about 12 Rules is that the fascinating endnotes are endnotes, rather than easier to access footnotes; and that there is an incredibly irritating misnumbering of these from note 33. I don't know how that slipped through the net, but as Peterson often states, things fall apart, and chaos is always waiting to overwhelm us. What we need is order. 12 Rules will help you understand that.
12 Rules for Life is an interesting book. Equal parts philosophy, psychology, and self-help book, it covers a broad range of topics, with Peterson drawing from life experiences, religion, and history to build a strong case for his points and provide what seems on its surface to be very good advice for people.
This is where Peterson's background as a clinical psychologist comes in handy. 12 Rules for Life is billed as an "antidote to chaos", and that is what its primary focus is. It's not great at helping you be more successful if you're disciplined and self-reliant already. As someone who always struggled with grasping the world, however, I found it very helpful.
Since I started reading this book, I lost 12 pounds, went from writing five hundred words a day to three thousand words a day, started waking up earlier in the morning consistently, and have been much happier.
Some of that is attributable to the fact that I was already willing to make changes, and many of the things I was doing were obviously bad ideas.
But there is something to be said for the lessons Peterson teaches. They are complicated, sometimes a little indirect, and mired in allegory. This makes them more valuable, if anything. Peterson doesn't use a magic formula, he uses principles of right action. This book provides general ideas and positions that can serve as a great tool to understanding how people think and why things go wrong.
Not everyone will agree with it. There is a chapter in the book where Peterson reflects on the fact that he has opportunities with clients where he could tell them one thing or another and their minds would make it to be total truth either way.
Perhaps that is what Peterson has done here: perhaps most systems like this are sufficient to improve lives if brought diligently into practice.
Or perhaps there is something to Peterson's words. His indictment of meaninglessness and his calls to purpose echo soundly throughout the book. There have been those who say that Peterson's calls for people to get themselves organized and his oft-mystical language is a cover for something sinister.
But I don't think they've ever really listened to him.
Approaching Peterson a skeptic, I was not sure that reading a book would have the power to change anything in my life. The first few chapters were met with nods, hesitancy, and the concession of points that sounded good. I wasn't hostile to him, and I found many of his points quite clever.
But when Peterson delved deeper into the archetypes and depth psychology I became suspicious. I had a moderate distrust of the Jungian method; I use it to teach literature, but I did not believe in using archetypes to assess personality.
Peterson's point is that we are all part of something great and interconnected. Because it is so massive, we need to be working to make sense of it. It won't happen automatically, and if we go for an easy explanation we may find ourselves walking dark, treacherous paths of misanthropy and rejection.
We are complicated pieces in an even more complicated puzzle. Peterson's approach is one of self improvement. When we take steps to sort ourselves out, we also need to enter a symbiotic process of bringing order to our world.
The purpose of this is not to achieve some sort of superiority. It is to achieve survival. The world will change, and we will be forced to adapt.
Peterson states that "life is tragic." His point is that people need to be ready to deal with adversity. Anyone can handle good times, because that's what we are able to rest and relax during. The true test of a person comes when they lose a loved one or a job or their health. They need to make a decision: what will they do in response.
Peterson uses haunting examples to illustrate what happens when this goes wrong. Using everything from Dostoevsky to the Soviet Union (and countless other insights from modern and historical figures), he creates case studies of what happens when things go wrong and people turn to dysfunction rather than improving their situation.
His 12 Rules serve as a guide on how to go from that point of failure to a point of redemption, offering a series of suggestions and guidelines to take a life that is becoming corrupted by hatred of the world and everything in it and turn it into a vessel for growth and self-improvement.
Is it a perfect guide to living life? No.
Is it helpful? Does it give insight to great truths? Yes.
He wrote the bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. It is a self-help book that tries to avoid the pitfalls of this subject by giving sound commonsense advice. God, remarkably, features significantly in this book. Unlike most self-help books, it warns that happiness is hard to hold on to and there are no guarantees. He has been accused of misogyny in his book.
His 12 rules are about not guaranteeing happiness but about putting no obstacles in its way.
His twelve rules have been summarised as
1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don't lie
9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't
10. Be precise in your speech
11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
It is good that God does not occur in this list. But he does emphasise God at times in the book. The emphasis on finding meaning in service to God is erroneous. He says that God's existence cannot be shown to be true but says we must live as if there is a God. That is in fact a call to embrace idolatrous superstition. The only right way to serve a God is by seeing him as real and doing all out of love for him. If he is not real we are wasting our love on him and that is cruel and what about those who emulate us? It is one thing to say you cannot be good without God but another to say you cannot be good without the idea of God. Its a recipe for religious fascism. There is less humility in this than somebody saying, "I know Santa Claus lives on the moon and thinks about me night and day." God by definition is all-love and all important. You cannot truly love God if you use him or the idea of him as a crutch for you cannot do good otherwise. You would end up intolerant of secularism and atheism. The crutch idea of God leads to obscurantism and censorship. If God is just in your head then you create this idol and it says things about you and only you. It is not about you.
The only thing that can be absolutely central is principle. Even God cannot create principle. Religion says his nature is fair and loving in principle and he has not made his nature what it is. If you say morality is just a fiction you are making a moral judgment against anybody who preaches morality and against their moral systems. So principle forces us to think moral. We cannot truly be amoral. This shows there is more to us than fame, fortune and even family and God. Principle is the one thing that is unshakeablely true.
What could a Christian think of the book? Rules 3, 6, 9, 10 contradict what the gospels say about Jesus. 2 is better than love your neighbour as yourself but it too contradicts Jesus who was not saying you are to love yourself but that you do love yourself and must love others the same. The command is about others.
5 by the way contradicts how Jesus told the Jews to stone a woman to death for adultery but only if they were worthy - he meant what he said for we are told he was never conniving or trying to manipulate them not to stone her. His statement is approval for the savage laws of the Old Testament which he said was God's unerring word. A spiritual teacher approving things like that needs to be dismissed on the spot instead of Christians trying to excuse it.
The Christian faith spends more time making historical claims than on spiritual stuff. The resurrection of Jesus is central and compared to it the moral teachings of Jesus do not matter. The faith says Jesus rose bodily and transformed from the grave but even the gospels just say the body was not in the tomb and do not comment on why. Visions are not enough to base a resurrection on but that is what we have here.
The gospel writers offer not evidence for the resurrection of Christ but an interpretation they put on what they think happened. Why should we accept theirs for millions of interpretations are possible? They are the ones that say there is only one explanation so it is up to them to refute all the alternatives even if it takes to the end of the millennium so they have no right to our faith. Worse, there is no proof that the accounts are eyewitness accounts. Christians say they are. They seem to think that eyewitness accounts that have been worked over will do. They will not. We don't want something that was edited. We want the original unaltered written accounts and we want assurance that the witnesses checked over them before they were made public. They can't give us any of that.
Faith in somebody's interpretation of a revelation or miracle from God is not the same as faith in the revelation or God. It is not faith in them at all but in the person doing the interpreting.
Peterson has not as yet made any profession of Christian belief. Let us hope that never happens.
Anyway let us quote Peterson.
Quote: Cultivating judgment about the difference between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom, something that can never be out of date. By contrast, our modern relativism begins by asserting that making judgments about how to live is impossible, because there is no real good, and no true virtue (as these too are relative). Thus relativism’s closest approximation to “virtue” is “tolerance.”Only tolerance will provide social cohesion between different groups, and save us from harming each other. On Facebook and other forms of social media, therefore, you signal your so-called virtue, telling everyone how tolerant, open and compassionate you are, and wait for likes to accumulate. (Leave aside that telling people you’re virtuous isn’t a virtue, it’s self-promotion. Virtue signalling is not virtue. Virtue signalling is, quite possibly, our commonest vice.) Intolerance of others’ views (no matter how ignorant or incoherent they may be) is not simply wrong; in a world where there is no right or wrong, it is worse: it is a sign you are embarrassingly unsophisticated or, possibly, dangerous.
Comment: Relativism should ask why social cohesion matters if all is relative! Relativists are full of pride. If people who claim to know what is moral are bad they are worse. Relativists think they make things bad by thinking them bad. That is magic not morality.
Why is telling people you are virtuous not a virtue? Why is it self-promotion? If it is self-promotion disguised as virtue then it becomes deception as well.
Also tolerance if it is your only virtue is not really a virtue then. It is not virtuous to abandon and reject virtues in favour of one. It is vice.
Decide: morality is either really true (objective morality) or you can make it really true (relativism). Relativism trades objective morality for another objective morality that you make up. Pure relativists do not exist - they just are relativists when it suits them.
Quote: An idea has an aim. It wants something. It posits a value structure. An idea believes that what it is aiming for is better than what it has now.
An idea is a personality, not a fact. When it manifests itself within a person, it has a strong proclivity to make of that person its avatar: to impel that person to act it out.
Comment: Ideas reflect the human tendency to think that all things are just getting that bit better. That is religion's selling point but it remains a non-religious matter. It is psychology - or human nature. Religion hijacks human nature. Religion is fundamentally a lie.
Peterson is right that we should not see an idea as a thing. It is a personality - it is what a personality gives birth to and makes part of itself. The warning is that we must be careful to be truthful and servants of truth for if your ideas are you then it follows that human nature will be unable to truthfully separate hating you from hating your ideas. It becomes another refutation of love the sinner but hate the sin. If hating sin and sinner is inevitable then you blame the sinner for being hated as well. You blame them not you.
If you are a channel for ideas you want to be a channel not a slave. You won't want your bad ideas to harm you or put you at risk. So investigation and revision of belief would be essential.
Quote: Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced— then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.
Comment: Some feel that as our potential for evil is so big that is why even a small sin is no trivial matter. Protestantism says that all sin is an abomination before God. St Paul wrote that sin is in him even though he can find no trace of it when he examines himself but he knows it is there hiding itself. Jesus said that nobody is good only God.
According to our quote, our morality detectors are better for saying what is not good not what is good. That means that non-judgemental people are liars. They are at their core judgers who think they know enough about everybody else's life to form a negative opinion of them or what they do. In reality judging somebody's deeds when you do not and cannot know the whole story is using their misdeeds or perceived misdeeds as a grounds for attacking them and sending "bad energy" to them.
Trying to be non-judgemental when it is not your nature or even possible is an act of violence and violence leads to violence. It may explain why accepting people turn on you fast when they find a bandwagon to get on. That is why religions of peace often surprise you when the climate is right for them to show their true colours.
Quote: Psychotherapy is not advice. Advice is what you get when the person you’re talking with about something horrible and complicated wishes you would just shut up and go away. Advice is what you get when the person you are talking to wants to revel in the superiority of his or her own intelligence. If you weren’t so stupid, after all, you wouldn’t have your stupid problems.
Comment: Praying to God for guidance is an even bigger way of implying that suffering people have only themselves to blame.
OVERALL I find the book insightful and interesting. It just gives us ideas that need teasing out and deeper reflection. That is what I have tried to do and highly recommend the book.
One common thing among The 12 Rules for Life, in essence, is "Honesty".
Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back (make your body/mind honest, straight and strong).
Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping (be honest with yourself about your shortcomings and fix them)
Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you (seek and keep honest, good friends).
Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today (focus only on your honest achievements).
Rule 5: Don't let children do things that make you dislike them (be honest with your kids about life, and prepare them for it).
Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world (be honest with the world about your shortcomings before bashing its imperfection).
Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient (live life being honest with your feelings).
Rule 8: Tell the truth—or, at least, don't lie (say only honest statements).
Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't (converse with an honest intention to learn).
Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech (make honestly condensed messages)
Rule 11: Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding (let less experienced people make honest efforts in risk-taking).
Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street (respect other beings - human included - that made honest efforts, despite how low their status is).
Asians living outside the US tend to do the opposite of Dr. Peterson’s rules. Especially under the Communist Party’s tyrannical grasp of free speech. Sure, we Asians can be quite intelligent and cooperative; but because of the traditional value system that favor group over individuals, Asians can be more predisposed to let the mob mentality win over the personal sense of justice and freedom. We don’t even speak up because our government would make life harder for everyone we know and love. But because of that, we’ve ensured a dishonest, dog-eat-dog society that is far darker and corrupted under the surface than most Western country.
We Asians often tell “white lies” to earn others’ favor. But when it becomes a habit and necessity for climbing the social ladder, every lie is white. Usually, bribery goes like this: “No, I don’t accept bribes.” - “Please, sir. It’s not bribery, just a gift from our heart.” - “I will reluctantly accept it, but no promise to give you favors.” - “That is totally fine, sir. We only worry about your health and family. To us, you are like family as well.” - “Yes, and family should help each other. That is the basic principle of a good society. Don’t you agree?” - “Yes, sir! We’ll be counting on you...”
What I have seen after living in Europe and America, is that the radical left of the Western political spectrum is (ironically) transforming into a totalitarian force in the name of “Anti-Everything-Evil.” They want the government to control the free conversation and wealth distribution, in the name of anti-racism, anti-sexism (prejudice against other genders), anti-misogyny (prejudice against women) or anti-bigotry (prejudice against different opinion, which is hilarious). But let me tell you: when it comes to limiting freedom of speech and distributing wealth from the “rich” to the “poor,” Communist Asians did a very similar thing, in the name of anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, etc. Nothing good came out of it.
What happened, and may happen if Western people don’t follow Dr. Peterson’s rules of honesty, is more chaos. Those who are incompetent and dishonest will become richer, those who are talented will only manage to live their lives relatively comfortable (unless they are willing to become corrupted), and the honest poor will become poorer. The Feminists who fight for free birth control pills are ignoring the fact that China fails to protect woman and child trafficking into sex-slavery. The Liberals do not see that high taxes drove companies big or small to China, destroying the livelihood of millions of their own honest and competent countrymen. Even the Libertarians who preach "free market" idea miss the notion of "fair play" when it comes to economic relationship with China. To me, such people are not so noble, anti-evil nor anti-establishment; they are just too selfish, naive or too simple-minded to criticize the world.
For the final note, as a long-time Star Wars fan, I'd rather spend my time rereading this book than rewatching the new Star Wars movie. Dr. Peterson is the new hope, the returning Jedi sage that would bring balance to our little planet right here in this galaxy. But only if we choose to follow his 12 rules for life (plus subscribe to his YouTube channel and click the bell button).