I’ll start by saying this, I do not agree with all of what Dr Peterson says, however, A LOT, if not all, of what he has written in this book is very useful information and some of the rules are great guidelines to live by. One of the rules that makes this list is related to this topic of “because you may dislike someone’s viewpoints doesn’t mean that everything they say should now be dismissed.” (Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.)
Still, though I like a lot of what he talks about. One of the main reasons that I was drawn to and am interested in what Dr. Peterson has to say is his point that before pointing blame others or a system that does not favor you, first focus on the things that are in your control. Don’t give something or someone else control over the outcome of your life, otherwise, you will forever be powerless in the face of any chaos. That helpless feeling can be a very taxing one, one that can be debilitating, even fatal.
The following list is my 5-takeaways (or top 5 rules in this case)of 12 Rules for Life, hope you too can take something away.
1. Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
Peterson uses many religious stories throughout the book, as he has studied the psychology of the many archetypical stories found throughout the Bible and a few other religious texts. He also touches on a variety of literature and movies, including Disney classics and works from notable thinkers like Nietzsche, Solzhenitsyn, and Descartes.
One such reference that stood out was T. S. Eliot’s explanation of a character in his play The CocktailParty, who “is not having a good time of it.” And Peterson’s take on it, as follows:
“She speaks of her profound unhappiness to a psychiatrist. She says she hopes that all her suffering is her own fault. The psychiatrist is taken aback. He asks why. She has thought long and hard about this, she says, and has come to the following conclusion: if it’s her fault, she might be able to do something about it. If it’s God fault, however – if reality itself is flawed, hell-bent on ensuring her misery – then she is doomed. She couldn’t change the structure of reality itself. But maybe she could change her own life.”
As a human being, you have sole responsibility of your attitude towards life, and if you can take on the burden of knowing that your outcome is dictated by your actions then you can make a start of improving, not only your life but the lives of those around you. Peterson is famous for saying “clean up your room,” in his Alberta-Canadian accent. This is not meant in a “do as your told,” way, it is meant as a, “start with something small that is easily available and achievable” way. Then once you have cleaned up your room, move on to the rest of the house, and bit by bit, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, even in the face of setbacks, slowly your life will be more in order. Leading on to the next rule.
2. Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
This is something that I constantly struggle with, I wish that I could be traveling more, or I could own a few houses already, or be a business owner. Whatever it is I forget that the person that I desperately want to be worked hard to get to where they are now. That for my own self-esteem, the comparison does not have the desired effect. When I get reminded that I am on my own path and that I should use the person’s success as motivation for what I could become, that’s when I focus on being better than the me of yesterday, it might be in the gym, or learning something new, sorting out my life in some fashion. That is when I move forward, one step at a time. Knowing full well that I need to put in the work and have the dedication to persist in the task.
“You are discovering who you are, and what you want, and what you are willing to do. You are finding that the solutions to your particular problems have to be tailored to you, personally and precisely. You are less concerned with the actions of other people because you have plenty to do yourself.”
Of course, to improve you must see the faults that you need to work on. To not see your flaws means that you are the perfect human and that you have nothing to work on. Which would be a lie, not only do you have to make constant adjustments in yourself for your well-being but for the well-being of those around you. Of course, you can lie to yourself and those around you that everything is fine, however, your internal voice/subconscious will become louder as you keep lying, and deeper you will fall into a pit that only you will be able to drag yourself out of.
3. Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
If I could write out most of this chapter I would, but then I might be up for plagiarism. Peterson uses a lot of religious and personal anecdotes of patients or clients that have come to his practice.
However, if you only take one thing from this it would be the paragraph below:
“As God himself claims(so goes the story), “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”According to this philosophy, you do not simply belong to yourself. You are not simply your own possession to torture and mistreat. This is partly because your being is inexorably tied up with that of others, and your mistreatment of yourself can have catastrophic consequences for others. This is most clearly evident, perhaps, in the aftermath of suicide, when those left behind are often both bereft and traumatized. But, metaphorically speaking there is also this: you have a spark of the divine in you, which belongs not to you, but to God. Weare after all – according to Genesis – made in His image. We have the these-divine capacity for consciousness. Our consciousness participates in the speaking forth of Being. We are low-resolution (“kenotic”) versions of God. We can make order from chaos – and vice versa – in our way, with our words. So, we may not exactly be God, But we’re exactly nothing, either.”
I know it’s a lot to take in, however, the words have that kind of remembered-truth, “remembered” in the sense that deep down every human knows that they have the potential to be great or do great things. All anyone has to do is treat themselves with the respect that they would give to the person that they could become, not the person they were or are currently.
4. Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the street.
Suffering is part and parcel of Being, Being in the sense of the state of existing or existence. At any point in life, either you yourself are struggling or a loved one is. Very rarely, and I would say that close to never has there been a point in my life when neither I nor a close friend or family member was dealing with some obstacle. I currently have no ailments; however, a close family friend is currently battling cancer for the third time. And yet, somehow, through all his and his families suffering, he still has the attitude he has always had, one of never giving up, one of child-like wonder and humor and a thorough love of life. He may not know it fully, but the impact that he has on many is almost as large as his personality.
Peterson touches on his daughter’s life-long degenerative joint disease and how it has impacted him, how he could have cursed the world and human existence, yet faced with the limitation of being – suffering is the limitation placed on humans– Peterson understood that suffering is a part of living, much like Viktor Frankl in his classic, Man’s Search for Meaning which I have reviewed: Part1, Part2
“If you are already everything, everywhere, always, there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could happen already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitations, no story. No story, no Being.”
Make a story, despite your limitations. Always remember though, that when an opportunity arises, to pat a dog or cat, or do something to distract you from all the sorrow life has to offer, only for a little while.
“Maybe you can steal ten or twenty minutes to do some little ridiculous thing that distracts you or reminds you that you can laugh at the absurdity of existence.”
5. Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
If you remember this is the rule I mentioned in the intro, and this I reckon is one of the more important rules Peterson lays out in the book.
I myself struggled with this one growing up, I still check myself sometimes especially when meeting someone new, or someone who I have heard about from friends or family. Which as awful as it sounds, a lot of people will unknowingly make biased assessments of people and will automatically either give their undivided attention or completely disregard everything they say. The chance that they know something you don’t is higher than you think. Obviously, this goes the other way too, so when mutual respect of the other person’s knowledge is achieved, the conversation can become a more productive one, where common ground can be established.
The other point of this rule is to listen, not think about how you will retort and flatten their argument with something witty, but to actually listen. Listen with the intent of taking in what the other person is saying. Peterson includes a Carl Rodgers quote that I thought was an interesting take on this topic.
“The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.”
I know what you’re thinking, how could listening be dangerous? Well, the danger hides in your own insecurities, maybe you’re not right, maybe you are completely wrong. The main danger, however, is not in being wrong, but having your outlook or views changed, and these may be views that you hold so dear and close that they hold up part of your personality. Continuing:
“some of you may be feeling that you listen well to people, and that you have never seen such results. The chances are that your listening has not been of the type I have described.”
Everyone thinks that they are good listeners, I know I did until I started really trying to pay attention when speaking to people. Oh how wrong I was, I always would try to come up with an “I’m-better-than-you” retort, or be extremely dismissive of what they had to say. Straw manning their point of view. Definitely not a great way to listen. Peterson notes that the form of listening that Rodgers suggests is one where you repeat the person’s argument back to them, at a standard that they see fit. This does two things, you listen, but you understand their point of view.
As I have said, Peterson is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he is very good at translating complex ideas for those of us who have no prior background in psychology or mythology. The life advice found throughout the book is amazing and the 12 rules can be used as great guidelines to navigate the chaos and suffering. If you have no idea who Jordan Peterson is and enjoyed this article I can definitely recommend looking him up, his lectures can bewatch on YouTube and on multiple podcasts, such as the Joe Rogan Experience and the Jocko Podcast.
If you liked my 5 takeaways and want to pick up the book for yourself, consider buying through my affiliate link. If you do, I will receive a small commission.
Book link: https://amzn.to/2PYGeII
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