He is probably one of the most controversial individuals that you have never heard of. If you have heard of him, there is no doubt you either love him or you hate him. He’s either the darling of the “Alt-Right” or he is going to be one of the few figures that are going to save the lost souls that are found in a state of ongoing adolescence. There is no middle ground. From clinical psychologist and college professor to becoming best-selling author and YouTube celebrity, there is no doubt that Dr. Jordan Peterson is making a mark on our world.
I became aware of Dr. Peterson through is ubiquitous video lectures and television appearances. A somewhat sturdy, but diminutive fellow, his language, while not overly harsh, gives a sense of a hardscrabble upbringing from being a boy raised in the northern Canadian prairies.
His messages are ones that are not heard very often. He paints the world in very dark strokes. While we may be inclined to see compassion and generosity, Peterson tends to see malevolence and frustration. Furthermore, Peterson is not one to shower anyone with empty platitudes; his assessments are often stark. He argues that no one wants to hear the mantra of the self-esteem movement; rather he believes that we all understand that we have shortcomings and when we hear someone say we can achieve great things as we work through our shortcomings, we are more apt to believe that message. He is clear, though, he is not a pessimist; he honestly believes that we aren’t always willing to understand the dark forces that exist in the world. And it is in that lack of understanding, those dark forces tend to multiply.
It was with this background that I read his latest book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” For those looking for a quick-fix, self-help type of book, this isn’t it. In over 400 pages, Peterson explores the rules he gives in painstaking detail. It’s not enough for him to explain how his rules work, but he goes into places that only a psychologist could to explain how these rules can help combat our own daily battles between good and evil that take place in our world and, yes, even in our own souls.
And while Peterson is probably known better for his portrayal of political commentary, this book is not a political diatribe (though you quickly learn and are consistently reinforced with the knowledge that Peterson is a vehement anti-Communist). It is simply a thesis on how following the rules he brings forward can begin to manifest themselves in improved lives, improved communities and an improved world.
The beautiful aspect of Peterson’s postulates is that they are fairly easy to accomplish and really self-evident when practiced. Perhaps my favorite rule was to compare yourself to where you were yesterday and not where someone else is today. Peterson’s argument for this rule is that one of the greatest gifts we have is the gift of potential. If we systematically and intentionally live our lives to better today than our lives yesterday, we tap into that potential. Furthermore, we end up gaining more and more positive momentum to actually be able to live the life we are meant to live; a life with purpose, not a life lived by accident.
It would have been easy to have left this book feeling depressed and perhaps melancholy about my fellow man. But I actually finished the book feeling extremely empowered and grateful to stumble on some new sources of wisdom. I left the book challenged to be a better, more responsible person.
But I also felt a bit saddened. I felt saddened knowing that I lived a good portion of my life without some of this knowledge. There are lessons in this book that would have clearly applied to me at 20, rather than 40. Lessons such as “assume the person you are talking to knows something you don’t” and “pursue things in life that are meaning and not expedient.” These lessons and others like it ring true.