According to clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, global change begins with self-awareness and self-improvement. “If you can’t even clean up your room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” Peterson writes and lectures on personal responsibility, mythology, and mental health.
I had the opportunity to see Dr. Peterson speak last week. He was discussing his latest book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Peterson was surprisingly soft-spoken. This was in contrast to his passionate (and often aggressive) on-air personality. Peterson appeared well-dressed and well-read, sophisticated and intellectual. Professorial and engaging. It’s clear how this formerly unknown University of Toronto professor has risen to fame. And politics aside (Peterson is vocal about his opinions on amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, as well as his theories on the “competence hierarchy”), the majority of his lecture was applicable to a successful life in recovery.
An honorable position
In preparation, I read 12 Rules for Life and listened to his interviews. Always the intellectual, I took so many notes in 12 Rules you can barely read the original text (the metaphor is not lost on me). I disagreed with some of the doctor’s ideas, agreed with others. Mostly, I respected his grasp of psychology as we currently understand it.
As a therapist, his words are inspiring. As a feminist, they’re uncomfortable… Jordan’s concept is that modern, third wave feminism has nothing to do with equality. Rather, it dismantles traditional male role models and “patriarchal” structures…Peterson makes a strong case for the cisgender white male. According to his teachings, young men are under attack. Peterson denies the existence of white privilege, the patriarchy, the need for safe spaces. This is difficult to stomach- or even follow- as a feminist. Many of his arguments boil down to an it’s always been so… evolutionary (or mythological/archetypal) underpinning. Recently, he’s come under fire for his comments supporting “enforced monogamy.”
But, I attended the lecture with an open mind. Below are the points that shone the brightest. I use these principles in my work as a counselor. They rely on a perspective I model for, and encourage in my clients. A position of self-responsibility, awareness, and change.
1. “Voluntarily and courageously confront the evils of the world. With open eyes. And position yourself in the world in such a way that you’re prepared to do so.”
Afraid of conflict? Sobriety? Go into the world and walk right up to what frightens you. We must. Because when we’re put in challenging situations, we’re forced to rise to the occasion. This is how we grow.
2. “Worth it and difficult are parallel ideas… The two are tightly tied.”
Nothing worth working towards is easy, and nothing easy is worth working towards. To clarify, this does not invalidate ordinary tasks that are perceived as difficult. To a severely depressed person, the “ordinary” task of making her bed may be a great accomplishment. Similarly, to a person in recovery, walking down the liquor aisle without purchasing alcohol may be a difficult task. It’s all about perspective, folks, and perspective is all about lived experience.
3. “Responsibility is inherently admirable, proving it’s utility. We admire responsibility in others, and admire our own demonstrations of responsibility. Responsibility is also difficult. Therefore, responsibility, and recognizing our capability for being responsible, is a worthwhile goal.”
In this way, Peterson argues, responsibility is the meaning of life. And the more responsible the path, the more meaning we’ll find there.
4. It is not his problem that an individual should be judged by ” ___”, it’s how that individual chooses to deal with it. Or confront it.
See point 1. Choose is the operative word, here. When things go wrong, we can’t always make them better. But we can prevent them from getting worse. Our actions set off a chain reaction in the world. Positive decisions increase the likelihood that those around us will make positive decisions. The wings of a butterfly… and all that.
5. “Ask yourself, do you want things to be better, or are you so vengeful that you will allow your resentments to make things worse?”
Here, Peterson reminds us that we are our actions. And for this reason, it’s important to do everything to the best of our ability (even tasks we view as insignificant). And if you aren’t viewing your actions in a realistic light, don’t bother. “Pay attention to what you’re actually like, not what you think you’re like.” Take stock of your decisions, interactions, and reactions. Notice how you tend to respond to people or circumstances. How you approach tasks. Is your view of yourself accurate? This can be painful to come to grips with, especially in early recovery.
The good news? You can choose new choices.
Jordan Peterson is vehemently passionate, almost intimidatingly so. His face looks worn and smart, and he articulates himself beautifully. He clearly loves his family, and his work. It’s easy to be hypnotized by his resolution. While he spoke, Peterson sounded so sure of himself that he convinced me, too. After coming out the post-lecture haze and excitement, however, I had questions.
And isn’t that the mark of a good teacher? To encourage us to think critically? In session, I remind clients to personalize the material they’re given. Really digest it. Allow yourself time to process the information. It is always okay to question.
Like many revolutionary thinkers, Jordan Peterson sounds extreme. But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the (radical) bathwater. Acceptance of new ideas, seeing beyond our worldview, trying on a new perspective… can be beneficial. And reminds us why we believe what we believe.
More information about Dr. Jordan B. Peterson can be found here: jordanbpeterson.com