A 30-Minute Summary of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
Find out what’s inside the mind of this controversial professor of psychology
Why do the top 1% have more wealth than the bottom 90%?
Why do people keep getting into toxic relationships again and again?
What actually turns normal people into criminals?
Why the wrong leaders acquire powerful positions?
How to protect your reputation by listening and speaking right?
The answer to all these questions, and a lot more, can be found in this summary of the book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.
It took me a few months to write this article. First of all, I had to read the book a few times. Then I listened to the audiobook several times while driving and working out.
Woah! That’s pretty intense, isn’t it? But hey, I’ve summarized this 448-page book into a 30-minute article for you to read. Jordan Peterson has mentioned several stories from his own life and some relevant fictional stories to support his arguments. You’ll enjoy some of those in this summary.
This book is pretty deep — even though the titles of chapters sound like generic self-help advice, the content within is really, really deep. After all, it’s written by a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
Some people say that Jordan Peterson is obsessed with lobsters. Let’s find out why in the summary of the first chapter (or rule #1, as they call it).
Rule #1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back
“To those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken.”
Jordan Peterson talks about Lobsters in this chapter and he compares humans with lobsters. Now you might think, why compare humans with lobsters? Well, Lobsters are one of the most archaic creatures on planet earth and have been in existence for 350 million years. And like humans, territorial conflicts between male lobsters are common.
I think the reason why he chose lobsters as an example is to show us that it doesn’t matter if you’re a human living on land or a lobster living in the ocean, territorial conflict and dominance hierarchy will always be there. In the dominance hierarchy, the more dominant (or competent) creature gets a higher status. It has been present for millions of years and is prevalent in almost all forms of animal life.
The lobsters fight for the best territory, and after a few conflicts, they understand who the boss is. The victorious male-lobster occupies the best territory, and the other males accept their lower status. They’re probably just happy to be alive. Not only this, but the alpha lobster also demonstrates his dominance by harassing the subordinate lobsters every once in a while, just to remind them that he’s still the king.
When it comes to mating, the female lobsters are attracted to the victorious lobsters. Those males, who have the best territory, the best food, and the best resources in general. The female lobsters start hanging around the top male lobster and spray attractive scents to seduce him.
Now you might think, how does all this apply to human beings? Well, humans compete — just like lobsters. And the competition is not just physical. It includes financial competition, market share, political boundaries, social media followers, and so many other aspects of our day to day lives as humans, in which millions of humans compete, but only a handful win and gain more money, territory, sales, followers, etc.
The richest 85 people have as much money as the bottom 3.5 billion people. There are millions of musicians in this world, yet we only remember a few. More than a million books are published each year, yet only about 500 of these sell more than 100,000 copies. Jordan Peterson says that the dominance hierarchy (or the higher ranking of the more dominant/competent creature) has been present for half a billion years.
It doesn’t matter if human societies are capitalist, communist, patriarchal, religious, or non-religious — competition amongst animals has always existed and it always will. There’s no getting rid of the competition. But being at a higher position in the dominance hierarchy has its own perks. You get the best territory, the best resources, the best food, the best mating opportunities. People are willing to work with you when you’re at the top.
However, the bottom of the hierarchy is a dangerous place to be. The pain of being at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy leaves you mentally weakened because you’re mostly by yourself and people usually avoid you. This decreases the levels of happiness hormones in your body. On the other hand, the people who are higher in the dominance hierarchy get all the affection and attention from their fellow human beings, which keeps the level of their happiness hormones high.
Lower levels of happiness hormones affect you physically as well. You feel weaker, you tend to slouch and your body’s immunity gets lower than it should be. That’s how being at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy affects you both mentally and physically. And your physically and mentally exhausting being is of no sexual interest to anyone. Which might make it very difficult to find a partner.
And even if you do find a partner, they might get sick of your frailty and leave you, or cheat on you with someone who is a few steps higher in the dominance (competence) hierarchy. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy, you might age faster than your peers, get sick a lot, or die young. Because when you’re at the bottom, not many people care about you. Even your family members might not treat you well.
“The bottom of the hierarchy is a terrible place to be,” Jordan Peterson says. Emergencies are common there. The slightest problem could appear to be a life-threatening danger, and it will make you react and freak out because you know that you’re on your own. The issues that might not even raise the eyebrows of most people will give you panic attacks! The bottom of the hierarchy is a terrible, disempowering, pitiful place to be.
So how to rise from the bottom to the top? You should start by following rule #1 and standing up straight with your shoulders back. Your mind and body are interrelated. When you stand up straight and carry yourself like a dominant man, your brain thinks you’re a dominant man who’s ready to take on the world. This is the posture of a confident man, who is ready to fight if necessary.
Like I said at the beginning of the article, it doesn’t matter if you’re a lobster or a human. It doesn’t matter whether you’re living in a capitalist or a communist country. You will have to work hard and fight to stake your claim. Standing up straight with your shoulders back signifies that you accept the responsibility of life; that you acknowledge the fact that it’s going to be tough, and you will have to work hard to get what you want.
Rule #2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping
“Every individual is involved in creating the history of the world, and the majority of them don’t even know it.”
When Jordan Peterson’s son was three years old, he became aware of the fact that being naked is bad. He’d close the washroom door tightly and would not appear in front of people without clothes. Peterson failed to understand how his son, at such a young age, become aware of the fact that being naked is against the norms and he should always wear clothes.
Being naked exposes your flaws and weaknesses. No one teaches us to “not” be naked, we know it naturally. It’s hardwired into us. Maybe because unlike other creatures, humans carry themselves in an upright posture with their delicate body parts being exposed and vulnerable. And so you naturally feel like covering them. Why? Because you’re afraid of judgment.
But covering your body and your flaws doesn’t make you immune from your own judgment. You know you’re not perfect. You know your flaws. And this makes you feel like you don’t deserve the kind of love you show to your dog, or your friends, or your girlfriend. You will take your dog out for a walk regularly and take them to the vet if they’re sick. Because you want them to stay healthy.
But you will probably eat junk food yourself and procrastinate seeing the doctor even when you’re sick. You will spend hours texting or seeing your crush, even though you know that you have a project due and it’s going to affect your future if you don’t complete it on time. But you won’t take it personally if your crush draws boundaries and refuses to see you because she’s busy with work or study.
You will advise your friend to get over that job rejection and say, “Hey, it’s alright man, the world is your oyster and you’ll find another one.” But when you get rejected, you might start hating yourself and think that you’re worthless because an employer found someone else whose skills were more aligned with the job requirement.
But why is it that you don’t treat yourself like you treat others? It’s because you don’t value yourself as much. The awareness of yourself, your flaws, your insecurities, and your vulnerabilities make you think that you don’t deserve to be treated that well. Jordan Peterson says, “do what’s good for you.” Now, this sounds like a piece of generic advice your bro would give you, but it’s actually pretty deep.
Doing what’s good for you doesn’t mean doing what makes you happy. Well, eating three pizzas every day will make you happy, but is it good for you? Absolutely not! I’ll tell you what’s good for you — a smoothie, which contains kale, spinach, carrot, and any other vegetable that you hate, but it's good for your health.
Doing what’s good for you also doesn’t mean getting what you want. Is wanting an expensive car, which you can’t really afford without a huge loan, good for you? Not really. Doing what’s good for you means taking care of yourself. Doing what’s good for you is doing the things that challenge you and provide massive value to the world. You must do what’s good for you, even if it’s not good for someone else, so that when your life ends, you’re satisfied and are not pointing fingers towards people, saying, “I couldn’t enjoy my life because of my parents, teachers, girlfriend, and bullies.”
You must draw boundaries to protect yourself from the people who are taking advantage of you. This might include telling your friend that you won’t play video games with him until your project is done or telling your girlfriend that you’re going to have to cancel that expensive holiday as it out of the budget right now and you need that money. “Start With Yourself,” Dr. Peterson says, and in this way, you can make the world a little better than you found it.
Rule #3: Make Friends With People Who Want the Best for You
“You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
When Jordan Peterson was a teenager, he had a friend named Chris. Chris was really intelligent and Dr. Peterson thought that he would have a bright future. But despite being intelligent, Chris was angry and resentful deep within. Maybe because his father didn’t pay attention to him as he was too old and in poor health. Chris had a cousin named Ed who was equally talented and intelligent.
Jordan Peterson, Chris, and Ed would cruise around the city to get rid of the monotony of the small town they lived in. They would have house parties with some of their peers, drink alcohol, play loud music, and make the time pass as it was a boring small town and there wasn’t much to do. After some years, Jordan Peterson moved out of that small town to attend college where he befriended new people who were enthusiastic, took their lives seriously, and aimed high in general. He was inspired to do the same and he started taking life more seriously.
Years later, he moved into an amazing apartment. One day, he learned that Ed was in the city. So he invited him over to his place because he wanted to see how Ed was doing. Ed showed up to Peterson’s place with a stoner friend. He was balder, weaker, and his friend who accompanied him was stoned out of his mind! Dr. Peterson’s sister was also there in the house and he was really offended to see Ed and his friend behaving like that. Soon, he asked Ed and his friend to leave.
Also, Chris had some psychological problems in his thirties and eventually committed suicide. It was sad to see two very smart and intelligent kids, who could have had a bright future, turn into a total train wreck. Maybe they were just irresponsible? Maybe they wanted to surround themselves with the people who had the same amount of self-contempt as they did? Maybe they were unconsciously driven to repeat the horrors of the past? Who knows.
Jordan Peterson says, “Do not be friends with the people whom you can’t introduce to your sister, brother, or a loved one.”
Befriend people who are moving upwards, not downwards. This doesn’t mean leave your friends when they’re having a tough time. But ask yourself, “Does my friend really need my help, or has he decided to completely destroy his life and there’s nothing anyone can do?” It feels good to be the hero, to catch the one who is falling. But did you double-check if it’s your friend’s irresponsibility and reckless behavior that got him in the rut that he’s in?
It’s true that you want to help your friend, but does your friend really want to accept your help? You are putting so much energy into rescuing your friend that it’s affecting your personal progress, not to mention the increased negativity in your life which will affect your relationships with other people as well.
The friends who are moving upwards will motivate you to rise to their level. On the other hand, the people who are moving downwards will drag you down as well. These are the types that offer cigarettes to someone who has quit smoking after a lot of effort. These are the types who offer drugs to their friend who just came out of rehab and is glad to be alive. Be very careful about who you befriend. Not all your friends want to see you grow, some might be jealous and insecure.
Rule #4: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else Is Today
“What you aim at determines what you see.”
Way back in the day, when we lived in villages and small towns, everybody knew everybody. Success and status were easier to earn and sustain. In the whole village, there would one doctor, a couple of mechanics, one school principal, one good singer, and these people would have their happiness hormones constantly secreted because of the daily validation they got from their peers.
But these days, people have moved to bigger cities and we’re all connected by the internet. Competition is tougher. Even if you were the best guitar player in your small town, there’s a high chance that there are at least twenty homeless buskers in New York City who are ten times better than you. They will make you insecure and you will feel like throwing your guitar off the Manhattan bridge! What’s worse? You don’t even have to go to New York City to watch them play — someone will upload it on YouTube for you to see.
If you’re a boxer who has won all the ten fights you have participated in, there’s someone who has won twenty-five, thirty, or even fifty fights and hasn’t lost yet. No matter how much someone has accomplished, every individual has their own set of problems that you don’t have — physical, financial, and emotional problems. That is why comparing yourself to others is not a smart idea.
Then what should you do? Well, every morning ask yourself, “What can I do today that will make me proud of my accomplishments when I go to bed tonight?” Is it doing a hundred push-ups? Is it moving that school project a bit forward instead of procrastinating? Is it asking her out for a date? Start with these little things and in the next three years, you will notice that you have reached a whole new level. “That’s compound interest,” Jordan Peterson says.
Before people buy a new house, they hire an inspector to list all the faults in the structure. They pay someone to find faults and give them the bad news. Similarly, you need an internal critic who could walk you through your psychological house and if you listen to it, he’d point out the flaws which you could fix. For example, you can let your internal critic (your ideal self) ask you:
Why do you wake up at 8:30 AM if your work starts at 9 AM?
Why do you keep stalking on your ex’s Facebook?
Why do you keep eating macaroni and cheese every day?
Or any other issue that’s hindering your progress.
You must do this in a peaceful place without any distractions. You must spend some time with your internal critic, get to the root of the problem, and fix it. Gradually, you will see some changes and growth. Then, it will be the right time to compare yourself with who you were yesterday. But as Dr. Peterson says, “Don’t compare yourself to who someone else is today.” It’s not a fair competition. That’s why you should only compare your past-self with your future-self.
Rule #5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them
“A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.”
Now this one is really useful for the people who have kids or want to have kids in the future. When Jordan Peterson’s daughter was a child, a kid hit her on the head with a toy. Dr. Peterson was pissed off, but he didn’t do anything. Next year, he saw the same kid being aggressive with his little sister. But what raised Jordan Peterson’s eyebrows was not the kid’s behavior, but his mom’s behavior after she picked up the violent kid. She didn’t shout at him to stop harassing his sister. She picked him up and gently told him not to do that while patting him soothingly.
Patting someone is a gesture of approval. She was subconsciously encouraging the kid to be more aggressive and violent. Jordan Peterson says, “Two-year-olds are the most violent people.” They want to explore, and they will get violent if you stop them from doing so. They will punch, kick, and bite, and if all that fails, they will cry and yell. Some people willingly let their kids, quite often sons, behave like that. Some mothers will get really angry when they hear news about a woman being a victim of domestic violence, but most of them wouldn’t care when the aggressor is their own son.
Although it’s good to encourage your kids, it’s necessary to create some boundaries. Kids who are raised with respect and compassion tend to be happier adults. But sometimes, when love and respect go over the top, those same kids become arrogant adults and fail to sustain relationships in the future. They expect a pat on the back when they do something wrong, just like their moms use to pat them. But when they become adults, they’re more likely to get handcuffs, unemployment, and a divorce — instead of a consoling pat on the back.
Even though too much love is risky and could potentially ruin your kid’s life when they grow up, it can also take them on the level where average people don’t reach. A great example of this is Alexander the Great. Alexander’s mother Olympias firmly believed that he was born after she slept with the Greek God Zeus and not King Philip II (his actual father). Alexander was given so much affection and validation by his mother, that he actually believed that he was half human and half God, and nothing can ever defeat a God.
Well, that’s exactly what happened. Anyone who stood up against Alexander was crushed. And every victory just kept reinforcing his inner belief of being the son of a God. Eventually, he became the king of the world — his empire ranged from Greece to India. That is really, really huge! It’s gigantic. So, as you can see now, it’s really risky. Although Alexander ruled the world, he was also responsible for innumerable deaths, which in today’s world is a big no-no. But the concern is not just about your child hurting other children. Your child might harm you, too.
You might ignore it for a while, but eventually, you’ll get sick of it, because after all, you’re a human and no one likes to face hostility. If you continue to let your children do the things that make you dislike them, the bitterness and resentment might get released at the wrong place and time. For example, when your child wins the school basketball match and says, “Hey dad, we won. I’m so happy.” You might respond with, “Fine, whatever. People win and lose all the time.” This will happen because you’re still bitter and resentful about your child’s past behavior.
Soon, your child will become resentful towards you, too, due to this passive aggression. Resentment leads to vengeance and family feuds. “Things turn murderous,” Jordan Peterson says. If you don’t correct your child’s behavior for short-term gains, you could face a lot of trouble in the long-term, which includes estrangement, domestic violence, cops, lawsuits, and the list goes on. So act when the time is right and don’t let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
Rule #6: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World
“The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the Earth back to the animals. They deserve it infinitely more than we do. Nothing means anything anymore.”
— Eric Harris, Columbine High School Shooter
In this chapter, Jordan Peterson talks about how people overreact whenever they face a tough situation. Not all of them become mass murderers though, but the reason behind such overreaction is the same — contempt for the whole human race because of something that very few humans did.
Let me tell you about the shocking story of Carl Panzram, who was a serial killer, rapist, burglar, and arsonist. When Carl was eleven years old, he stole from his neighbor’s house. His parents sent him to the Minnesota institution for rehabilitation. Instead of receiving help, he was beaten, tortured, and raped by the staff members. He developed a deep resentment for human beings. The humans who were supposed to help that child, tortured, and raped him. Carl killed a lot of people, damaged properties, committed burglaries, and other crimes. He was hanged on the 5th of September, 1930. That’s really tragic. Although what happened to Carl shouldn’t have happened in the first place, he could have made different choices if he wanted to. He killed people. Both good and bad people.
But not everyone who has been a victim has the same mindset. You can either seek vengeance or you can seek transformation. And this what one of Jordan Peterson’s clients did. Let’s call her Sarah. Sarah didn’t have a great childhood. Her mother died when she was young, so she was raised by her grandmother. Sarah had a healthy relationship with her father, but he was an addict who died badly. So she was left with her grandmother who would routinely discourage her from being creative and intelligent. Sarah could have grown resentful towards her own children, but she didn’t. She chose not to. Sarah chose not to project any of her past traumas on her son and she raised him with love.
Her son grew up to be a smart, healthy, and successful human being. She could have thought, “Well, I had a terrible childhood, why should my son have an easy one?” and made her son’s life terrible. But she didn’t. And in the end, it did her much good. It’s true that no one deserves to be tortured, bullied, or ridiculed. The culprits who do this should get punishment. But if someone has done something wrong to you, why do you blame the whole human race?
How many humans are there in the world? Billions of them. How many have you met? Let’s say you have met ten thousand. Are you going to judge billions of people based on the ten thousand you have met? Jordan Peterson says that if you can’t even create peace at your own house, what gives you the right to rule a whole city? Be humble and fix your own flaws first. You will feel way better and you will start to notice the things that you are doing wrong. Stop trying to fix the world, fix yourself first. Soon, you will become stronger and even the bad things that happen to you won’t be able to destroy you completely. And this will stop you from injuring other people from your own human race.
Rule #7: Pursue What Is Meaningful, Not What Is Expedient
“If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life, because I’m giving up mine.”
— Tom Brady
Now, this is where the winners are separated from the rest. The winners know how to delay gratification, whereas the mediocre get carried away by their impulses. Jordan Peterson says that if you’re willing to give up something you have in the present, you might gain something better in the future. It could mean giving up video games until your university assignment is done, or not eating junk food until you reach your fitness goals, or not going to parties until you create a source of passive income
We are talking about sacrifice here. Sacrifice some things that you have in the present and you will thank yourself in the future. Dr. Peterson mentions Socrates in this chapter and how he embraced death without fear. Socrates was one of the greatest philosophers in ancient Greece. He was charged with various crimes against the city-state of Athens, including brainwashing the youth. He was sentenced to death. While he was still alive, he was given a lot of opportunities to leave Athens and avoid execution. He could have done that. He could have chosen what’s “expedient” instead of choosing a meaningful option.
But he didn’t. He didn’t want to make the safe decision to prolong his life. He firmly believed that he hadn’t done anything wrong, and accepted his death like a man. That is why we still remember his name after almost two and a half thousand years. As the saying goes, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” We have heard it so many times that we have forgotten the deep meaning behind it. The most successful people, who create history, are also the people who are willing to sacrifice what they hold dear to reach the next level.
The level where average people will never reach. Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer, once said that he hated every minute of training but he told himself, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” “Suffer now,” he said. Meaning he was willing to sacrifice the comfort of the present to be one of the greatest boxing champions of the 20th century. He could have avoided all the discomfort of training by not showing up at practice and smoking weed or binge drinking with his friends, or just sitting at home watching sitcoms while eating a bag of chips. But he chose something that was meaningful, not expedient. History will never forget Muhammad Ali.
And there are hundreds of examples of such great personalities who delayed gratification for the greater good. The people who get rewarded in public, spend hours and hours by themselves — practicing their skills and getting better and better at it. The things which are expedient only last for a moment. The high you get from drugs or casual sex is temporary. Drinking a lot of alcohol makes it easier to party — but it’s temporary. Not saying that having fun is bad, in fact, it’s necessary, but you need to know where to draw the line.
Do you want to die nameless? Do you want to make no contribution to mankind or the universe in general? Are you happy with being average? If the answer’s no — start pursuing what’s meaningful, not what’s expedient.
Rule #8 Tell the Truth, or at least, Don’t Lie
“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
I know it sounds like something that a primary school teacher will tell their students, but it’s written by a clinical psychologist and has a deep meaning. Back in the day, Jordan Peterson and his wife Tammy used to live in a rented apartment. The landlord used to be the president of a biker gang and his girlfriend probably had a borderline personality disorder. She killed herself while Jordan Peterson used to live there. Anyway, the ex-biker landlord also had a massive alcohol problem. I mean this guy could drink, a lot, and he would spend a lot of money on alcohol.
He would try to sell stuff to Jordan Peterson so he could make more money to spend on alcohol. He would be standing outside the door with microwave ovens, toasters, or a poster in his hand. Given the fact that he was his landlord, ex-biker-gang president, and an alcoholic, Jordan Peterson would usually buy the stuff he wanted to sell, pretending that he was interested. But soon, Dr. Peterson realized that he wasn’t being truthful to himself. No, he didn’t need a used microwave oven from an ex-gangster just because the guy wanted some money to get drunk.
That was the truth! It was harsh and could possibly offend a potentially dangerous man with a criminal record. Jordan Peterson mentions in this chapter that he came to a point where he was ready to speak the truth. The ex-biker landlord knocked on his door again, this time he was trying to sell a toaster. Jordan Peterson told him that he would not buy his toaster. This wasn’t the response his landlord was expecting, so he kept staring at Jordan Peterson for about fifteen seconds.
Jordan Peterson reminded his ex-biker landlord that he once said he was trying to quit drinking. “It won’t do you any good if I kept giving you money to buy more alcohol, would it?” Peterson told him. He also added that his wife Tammy gets really nervous when she sees him outside their door trying to sell them stuff. This was very bold of Jordan Peterson. It seems easy when you read it in the book, but speaking the truth is really hard sometimes. The landlord never tried to sell anything to Jordan Peterson again. And their relationship actually got better. Maybe because tough people respect other tough people.
He realized that just because Jordan Peterson has a good job and a stable marriage doesn’t mean he’s a pushover who will do anything to avoid conflict. He drew a boundary and told the ex-gangster the truth. Not telling the truth can have severe consequences. An example of this is failed political systems in which people believed in a lie. Whether it’s the Nazi regime or several failed communists states, people believed that the perfect system to organize human societies has been found and blindly followed it.
Although it’s possible that they knew that it was a lie, no one came forward to challenge the lie and speak the truth. The result? Pain, death, destruction, and lots of other horrible things. Truth is harsh sometimes, but it will do you good in the long run. Jordan Peterson says that truth brings wealth and prosperity, it builds nations, alleviates poverty, and brings safety and security. So speak the truth, or at least don’t lie.
Rule #9: Assume That the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t
“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.”
— Carl Rogers, Psychotherapist
The great Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud would have his patients lay on a couch and look at the ceiling when he used to treat them. Why? Because Freud knew that if his patients looked directly into his eyes, he might transfer some of his personal biases and opinions into them — nonverbally, of course. Jordan Peterson has a different approach though. He looks at his patients in the eyes. He lets them talk and he listens. He might speak in between, but it’s subtle.
And there’s a reason behind that. When Jordan Peterson is looking at his patients in the eye, it prevents them from saying things they don’t want to say or might regret saying. Eye contact is a really powerful tool. It’s possible to communicate using your eyes. Dr. Peterson’s patients tell him the truth because he is actually “listening” and the patients feel it when they’re looking him in the eye.
Oftentimes, what other people say and what we understand is not the same. We listen to things first, and then we interpret them based on our past experiences and inner beliefs. But Jordan Peterson has a different approach to listening. He listens to a person first, then he summarises whatever he has listened to, and then he asks the speaker if he has understood properly. Sometimes he understands the speaker correctly, sometimes he is kind of wrong, and sometimes he is completely wrong.
Psychotherapist Carl Rogers says, “If you really understand a person in this way, and if you are willing to enter his private world and see the way life appears to him, you run the risk of being changed yourself. This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face.” That is why we tend to get aggressive with people who don’t share our views. We are afraid that we might have to change.
This is prevalent in politics and religions. Things turn ugly when two people with opposing views get into an argument. Suppose a person speaks ten sentences, and the listener doesn’t agree with the third one. In most cases, the listener will stop listening to anything after the third sentence and start preparing their response mentally. Such communications are often a waste of time, although entertaining. Jordan Peterson says that if you sincerely listen to someone, you are listening to yourself, too. Your inner self is telling you how this new information is changing your presuppositions and how you’re learning something new.
You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you can always listen. Because when you listen, you learn and learning is necessary for growth. Therefore, assume that the person you’re talking to might know the things that you don’t know and be willing to learn. I repeat, be willing to learn, not change. Don’t change if you don’t want to.
Rule #10: Be Precise in Your Speech
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
— William Butler Yeats
First of all, let me clarify that Jordan Peterson is not encouraging you to take speech lessons to be a public speaker here. We’ll talk about why being precise in your speech is necessary. But before that, I’d like to narrate the story that Jordan Peterson has mentioned in this chapter. It’s about a boy named Billy. Billy sees a small cat-sized dragon in his room and pats him on the head. He then tells his mom about it.
His mom says, “There’s no such thing as a dragon.” So little Billy starts ignoring the dragon. The dragon eventually gets really big and takes off with Billy’s house while Billy and his mother were still inside the house. Billy’s dad comes home to see an empty space and no house. He eventually finds the house and sees Billy with his mom still inside the house. He climbs the house by stepping on the dragon’s head. However, Billy’s mom still insists there’s no such thing as a dragon.
Billy says, “Yes Mom, the dragon exists and pats him on the head again.” The dragon becomes small again, and this time, mom believes Billy.
“Why did it have to get so big?” says mom.
“Maybe it wanted to get noticed”, says Billy.
Now the reason behind mentioning this story is to address the chaos that’s building due to lack of precise communication. That daily resentment over unaddressed issues grows bigger and bigger, just like the dragon. And one day, the resentment grows so big that it’s out of anybody’s control. First of all, acknowledge that there is some issue that needs to be resolved. Jordan Peterson says that if you don’t take the responsibility of confronting the unexpected when things are still small and manageable, you might face uncontrollable chaos in the near future.
After you have acknowledged the issue, precisely define its topic. For example, in marriage, if you, as a husband, need to talk about financial problems with your wife, tell her precisely that you want to talk about financial problems today. If you start discussing the issue without precisely defining it, you’re heading for total disorder. The discussion will slip from talking about financial problems to why you didn’t show up for her favorite cousin’s wedding ceremony. Therefore, be precise from the very beginning.
Say to your spouse, “At this point in time, please, let’s just discuss the issue at hand. Let’s not divert from it.”
But choosing the topic precisely requires some thinking. You need to think about why your marriage is not as good as I expected it to be. Is it because you don’t get enough time for my friends and family Is it because you can’t be free to take risks as I did before? Is it because you can’t save enough money as I did before? Oh, wait! Maybe it’s the money? Bingo! Now you can see the baby-dragon — address it before it gets bigger.
Not only in marriage, but you must precisely define the issues in every aspect of your life. Maybe you need to talk to your flatmate about the loud speaker’s noise that has been disturbing you for a few days. Maybe you need to talk to your employer about your salary being delayed for the third time in a row. Whatever it is, define the issue precisely and talk about it. Don’t let the dragon get too big and out of control.
Rule #11: Do Not Bother Kids When They’re Skateboarding
“If things are made too safe, people start to figure out a way to make them dangerous again.”
— Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson uses skateboarding as an example to explain why it is important to let kids take risks from childhood itself. Kids need challenges to grow because adulthood is filled with challenges. If you’re an adult, you already know what challenges I am talking about. Tax, rent, paying off student loans, then mortgage, finding and sustaining relationships, and the list goes on. The people who have had an easy childhood might not have the strength to face the adversities of adulthood.
They’re used to safety and comfort, so even the slightest challenge might appear huge to them. I personally had a difficult childhood. I have seen some horrible things, including domestic violence and a lack of financial resources. Now, as I have grown older, I often meet people of my age who have had an easy childhood, and I kind of feel sorry for them. Not saying that children should face violence and other traumas, but every child must face challenges.
The children who were born centuries ago, who grew up facing challenges, became the adults who shaped the modern world. Today we take so many things for granted — clean water, air conditioning, cars, flights, healthcare, etc. This didn’t happen overnight. It happened after centuries of facing challenges. Jordan Peterson also talks about how modern school-system is discouraging boys from taking risks. He says that schools demand obedience from kids and taking risks is frowned upon.
Well, biologically speaking, an adolescent boy is aware that he is slowly transforming into a man. He realizes that he has to move out of his parent’s house, get his own house, earn his own money, and have his own family. It’s simply because he wants independence and there’s nothing wrong with it. But accomplishing all this successfully requires a massive amount of risk-taking, which the modern schooling system doesn’t condone. According to Jordan Peterson, feminizing men can have dreadful consequences.
He also mentions the movie Fight Club in this chapter. Remember Tyler Durden from the movie Fight Club? He was angry and resentful because men weren’t allowed to take challenges, which we all love. But instead, we were told to do risk-free and easy things by the system. And this resentment took a violent turn because Tyler and his fellow Fight Club members got polarized towards hypermasculinity. Well, not only in movies but this has happened in real life, too. Jordan Peterson says that Donald Trump’s increasing popularity and the rise of far-right political parties is because of the same reason. Some men accepted the obedient and risk-free lifestyle, some just couldn’t.
And they took it to a whole new level. “Enough!” they thought, “From now on, I will do whatever I want to do and I dare you to stop me.” Jordan Peterson also says that women like to date men, not boys. But what if every time a boy tried to become a man, you, or the system, shamed him and told him to shut up. In most cases, if a woman is tough, she wants someone tougher. If she’s smart, she wants someone smarter. If you want to be tough, smart, or anything you want to be, you have to take challenges, and this should begin from childhood itself. So don’t stop your kids from taking calculated risks.
Rule #12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street
“You’re in a war, not a battle, and a war is composed of many battles. You must stay functional through all of them.”
— Jordan Peterson
When Jordan Peterson’s daughter Mikhaila was a kid, she had an extremely painful health problem. The symptoms appeared when she was six years old and started complaining about having pain in her feet. Jordan Peterson bought her about ten new pairs of shoes but it didn’t work. He then took her to a physiotherapist and turned out that she had arthritis with thirty-seven joints affected. It was really difficult for Jordan Peterson to see his little daughter go through this pain.
She had to start taking heavy doses of medication at such a young age. It came to a point where she had to inject medicine into her veins herself. I wish no child has to go through such pain, ever. Now, let’s get back to the “petting a cat” thing. I have heard some comments like, “what if I am a dog person” or “what if I am allergic to cats.” Well, by “pet a cat when you encounter one,” Jordan Peterson means that we should enjoy the little things when we get the opportunity to do so.
When you’re going through a major difficulty like unemployment, breakup, loneliness, bankruptcy, bereavement, or any other problem, it’s so hard to think about anything else. Your brain might keep focussing on the problem and this could drive you crazy. That's why Jordan Peterson advises to shorten the time range when you think about your future. When you’re highly stressed out, thinking about the next six months is not a good idea. Try to plan out one week first (or even one day). And also enjoy those little unplanned moments of happiness that appear out of nowhere, which in this chapter is embracing a cat when you meet one.
I remember a friend of mine who had a really tragic breakup. He was shattered and couldn’t think of anything else. Soon, he started getting a bit paranoid about the future. He believed that she was the last girl on the planet and no other girl would ever date him again. He thought that ten years later, all his friends would have kids and he would still be single.
Well, it wasn’t wise of him to think about the next ten years and drive himself crazy. I was like, “Dude, you need to stop thinking about it and get yourself together.” It was hard to get him socializing again, but once he started doing it, he came into contact with new girls. Soon he had a new girlfriend. He got into meditation because of this, which precisely teaches how to enjoy the present moment and not worry about the future (which is not in anybody’s control anyway).
Jordan Peterson says, “Shrink the time until you can handle it.” But please remember that this is not an invitation to start drinking excessive alcohol to forget about your problems for some time or try new drugs that help you focus on the present moment. These are just temporary solutions and you will regret it later. Also, this might also make you a coward who turns to alcohol whenever things get a little difficult.
Now recall the story of Jordan Peterson’s daughter who had a painful childhood due to arthritis. Jordan Peterson would have had serious mental problems if he kept thinking about his daughter’s future. But he managed the chaos by appreciating the little things that make us all happy.
We all know that Jordan Peterson has been involved in several controversies. And even I don’t necessarily agree with everything that he says in his interviews.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
But he definitely is a well-educated and a charismatic person. This book was indeed a good read. I have learned several new concepts that have helped me grow — some of which I’ve mentioned in this article in detail and there are some more which I’ll discuss in future articles. Stay tuned!
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