I better come clean for those of you who may not know of Dr. Jordan Peterson and his work. I have reading this book for the past say two years. I liberally use his work often and scatter it continuously through my own thoughts and beliefs. As to flesh my ideas out amongst some of the most insightful and mind opening words I have ever heard spoken. I will not have that understated so I will say it once again – the things Dr Peterson has continually talked about, the opinions and thoughts he has shared with me and the world have connected with me in a way that no teacher has ever done before and certainly no subject.
If you’re unfamiliar with who exactly Dr. Jordan Peterson is, in the quickest history of a great man; he is a Clinical Psychologist and Professor at Toronto University who gained fame rapidly as he stood against a government bill to force the use of certain pronouns on individuals to be punishable by law. After this his numerous years of superbly crafted deep dives into the archetype of story and mythos as it relates to the human psyche as well as the human condition caught wind online amongst those who sided with what he had to say. Following this Peterson became a sort of cultural icon for a couple of years touring the world sharing his thoughts and beliefs about everything from Pinnochio to Political discourse. Some of you reading and certainly many in the world as this all happened did take some controversy to Dr Peterson and his thoughts. Though it is clear to most that Dr Peterson has never been about division or Political agenda. In fact focused more on the prosperity of people on the individual level – some have labelled him as an alt right figure. Which as someone who does not consider himself anywhere firmly on the political spectrum and certainly not anything close to alt-right. I will assure you he is not that.
You may now be thinking – “jeez this guy is a real fan boy” and you’d be right. I think there is a lot to be said about the stereotypical audience for Peterson – the “young white male” as I am. It’s not exactly something society can ignore (though it has and it is something Peterson talks about himself) that groups of political and cultural change and somewhat radical thought (in the strictest sense of the word – lets not create division here) want to silence this individual. Speaks so connectively to a large portion of a frankly vilified group of people. This is the part of my review that if I hadn’t already lost all the Peterson haters, now I have and rest assured they probably hate me too for feeling even remotely like white males are made out to be born of original sin. But I don’t really care to have that argument, especially not here so just to say that if you hadn’t already caught on to Peterson’s words echoing in my posts. He is a spiritual mentor of mine, a hero and certainly someone I want to learn from.
Which brings us very nicely to his book – 12 RULES FOR LIFE: AN ANTIDOTE FOR CHAOS. It’s a very serious title for what is kinda a serious topic of discussion. As mentioned earlier I have reading this book for quite some time. I’d be lying if I suggested this was not sheer distraction induced but I will say that I think part of me wanted to take real methodical care with my time reading this book. The things Peterson speaks about often feel like they illuminate the world into colour for me. So I upon completion of a chapter I often spend time ruminating about it, thinking of the many things I see in my own life in relation and thinking about if this is something I should implement and then how. I also sort of subconsciously put this book aside when I felt particularly at peace (a mistake) and turned back to it when in times of turmoil. Which is why over the last few weeks in this particular stint in the jailhouse of Hel, I turned back to it with determination to finish it. I’m not really sure how exactly to go about reviewing a book, especially one not exactly concerned with story, characters and the like as its non-fiction (perhaps the first I’ve read to be honest) but I will tell you why I believe this book to be important, what exactly is the content and some of my thoughts and feelings.
So the first and most obvious question for most is why should you take on the set of rules, let alone listen to them, from a man who for all intents and purposes is just a man. Well lets talk about these rules briefly and the content with them. Here are all 12 for your consideration;
- “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”
- “Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping”
- “Make friends with people who want the best for you”
- “Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today”
- “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them”
- “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world”
- “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”
- “Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie”
- “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
- “Be precise in your speech”
- “Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding”
- “Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”
They can at first glance admittedly, fall short of any grandiose to the point understanding. But when you dive into these explanations, they can turn everything into colour. It’s through these rules that Peterson has maliciously thought about (and it shows) that he seeks to explain many different aspects of life and philosophy and even psychology that he has also thought deeply and extensively about.
It shows remarkably in his writing that although he is talking about things on a huge scale (being life and all) that he can subtly and expertly weave in humour into the stark words of someone truly trying to help you be a better version of yourself. He also weaves in delicate personal stories, these I found to be far the most illuminating when reading about, to see the gleeful often times cruel stark natures of reality presented to you with the application of how such a rule could work to bring the joy or keep Hell at bay. Is nothing short of tear inducing, which I’m not afraid to admit happened on numerous occasions during my read. Perhaps it was an overwhelming feeling of a hand on my shoulder telling me its going to be okay and there was ways to be better and to do better. At the core of all of Peterson’s rules is exactly that. He talks about the grand suffering of life that we all have felt and feeling on a daily basis, some of us more than others and the cold harsh realities of being a human being – then how we might stand up straight with our shoulders back, so like the Lobster who has won a fight we can reap the benefits.
Its miraculous how Peterson can take Lobsters and turn them into one of the most fascinating and reflective (of humanity) all why showing us how one simple thing, explained with all the depths of the oceans of knowledge that Peterson does – can change your lives. It may sound silly and for the cultish mind of the fanboy. But I assure you reading this book if it does little else, with make you feel like you can stand a thousand feet tall…in time, if you work at it, consistently, if you aimed at something larger than your daily life and dont lie, take on board the suffering of life and bear it, accept responsibilities and find meaning over happiness, be stable and treat yourself like someone you are looking after and a take moment to pet a cat because sometimes life can be unbearable but at least by some magic a cat will actively want to engage with you.
I often found myself laughing at the humour, perplexed by the grand scale of the ideas Peterson was distilling down to the bare basic while actively treating me as someone intelligent enough to engage with on complex intricacies of the world and the human condition, while shedding tears of joy and sorrow at the deeply human and personal stories he shares to illuminate those things. It’s a wonderful work of writing that you have more engagement with as a dialogue of conversation rather than a tome of biblical proportions – but I have to say, that is exactly what it is.
The God Interference
Throughout the book, you’d be hard pressed – to not feel like you were reading a religious indoctrinating text. It’s a criticism of the book by many that for something aimed to be universal, is so deeply rooted in Christianity. As someone who has lived his life since as far back as he can remember – dismissing the idea of faith, higher beings and God. As a barbaric opiate of the masses for a time when backward ideas of silly ideas of someone watching over us was needed. You’d wonder how I stomached reading pretty much every other page of this book.
While I found myself cautious going in as Peterson never has interjected faith into his ideas in the numerous podcasts and such so strongly before hand. I found myself wondering if this would put me off reading the book. Peterson wastes no time jumping straight into the most foundational story of the Bible – Adam and Eve…and absolutely left me jaw dropped to the applicability of the story to our lives, the human condition and the psychology of human beings. It was staggering to say the least of how I felt after reading this, enough to make me question my of lack of faith even a little bit for a devout atheist – I hope says a lot to which how flawlessly Peterson can express an idea and use irrefutable evidence to support that idea. It speaks to the depths Peterson has formulated these rules and why they apply, how they apply and why you should apply.
Of course I resolved afterward that I did not believe in a God but echoing Peterson’s “well you can never be certain” faith, I implemented the same branch to my lack of faith. Perhaps that makes me agnostic and him also – but he leans strongly into his faith while I sit calmly in the waters of well I’m not sure but I dont buy it entirely. But again, Peterson could likely formulate an argument and set of examples and evidence that would make Richard Dawkins pause for thought if he remained open minded. I suppose what I’m getting at is that I did not believe this to be a hindrance on what Peterson had to say, he talks a lot of biblical stories and God and especially Being. But I do believe in a strange sense he does make these ideas universal, the biblical stories, as he outlines, are seen throughout archetypal stories across all of our stories, Pinnochio, Little Mermaid – whatever it might be – he can find evidence of human psychology there and how it redresses ideas long embedded in mankind and thus in our religions. Being takes on the place of the soul, so to speak. How we explain that indescribable part of our consciousness and how exactly we appease, boost and grow that part of our selves.
It’s difficult to give this book the proper justification it deserves, especially since I’m not that well versed in processing how good a book is. I’d like to spiel off in the vain of the book, how it has affected me and made me look at things in my life. How I’ve implemented these rules, how I’ve noticed them and the evidence he points to happening every single day. How changing has lead to real growth in my life and how it continues to do so, how in brings hope into my psyche and gives me room to think about complex ideas. How Peterson stands as a figure head, a father to so many people out there searching for guidance on how best to take on and bear the inevitable suffering of life. How all of this, his writing, his words, his tone, his stories, his explanations and such give me hope for my future, inspiration to tackle the day, the week, the year. But I could not formulate the words to properly do this book justice, to this thinker and this man the justice he deserves.
I pair him on equal ground to the great many philosophers that came before him. To many his ideas may seem simple made complex, given enough flair to seem enticing but what this book demonstrates more than anything. Is that above all else, Dr Jordan Peterson understands that we all face tough times, we all face suffering and we all want better, to be better and to do better. He gives us guidance and words of encouragement and hope to move towards a better future. Firstly for ourselves and then the world. This is a book that will spark a light in the darkness when you need it, it will fill your heart with courage and tenacity. It will paint a picture of a tomorrow that is greater to than today, it will show you the first step on the long journey of life and provide you with the map to best deal with all the trouble that lies ahead.
For most people I recommend this book simply as I believe it is vital to all of us. But to those who have faced hard times. To those who are in Hell. To those who feel stuck. To those who feel corrupted. To turn the page on this esteemed piece of writing that will bring you out of the darkness. This book is a treasure and while I would have done anyway, the fact I have a signed copy I will treasure this book and carry it with me through life. Turning to Peterson’s words when I need them most, when I need to be reminded and shown the light at the end of the tunnel once again.