• Kamya Vishwanath

Understanding Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules of Life - Part 3/3

As I reached the last page of this book, I began to read slower. I was almost apprehensive to let go of what seemed to me like some of the most valuable advice I have gotten thus far in my life. To be able to actually head out and apply all that I have learnt through the journey of these 12 rules seems like a mammoth task. But if there is one takeaway from this book that I wish to carry with me throughout my lifetime, it is to be honest with myself about every situation I am in. That takes care of the sorting out any apprehension that would come my way.

Part 3 deals with Rules 9 to 12 of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life. Without further ado, here’s what each one says.

Rule 9: Assume that the person you’re listening to might know something you don’t.

The essence of this rule is to help people understand that nobody fully knows everything. The people that we meet have different takes on life and might view the very same circumstances through a different lens. Their experiences are different and they come from a different place altogether. It is important to be able to live vicariously through the tales of their experiences.

Conversation often seems to highlight the talking aspect of it. Very few today bother to listen. Peterson delves into the merits of psychotherapy. He says it is not simply listening to someone only to be able to give them a solution so that they shut up about it. Psychotherapy entails listening, not hearing. It requires one to pay attention to them fully and to engage in “genuine conversation that is exploration, articulation, and strategizing”.

“...it’s amazing what people will tell you if you listen. Sometimes, if you listen to people they will even tell you what’s wrong with them. Sometimes they will even tell you how they plan to fix it. Sometimes that helps you fix something wrong with yourself.”

The problem with not listening enough and giving advice as and when necessary is that one begins to force his or her own ideology onto someone else. He takes an example of a common clinical practice to reiterate this point and says that this is manifested in how numerous psychotherapists tend to force out false memories from their clients by taking them back to a so-called dark place where they focus their attentions and energies on a particular event, forcing the poor clients to believe that such a problem has occurred.

The next segment grapples with how we tend to think. Very few people truly think. Peterson argues that one often has to change the way they see a lot of things in order to make sense of one single thing. Even when we think that we’re finding out what is wrong with ourselves, we tend to be more self critical than view our actions objectively.

“To think, you have to be at least two people at the same time…Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world.”

One of the greatest psychotherapists Carl Rogers had once said, “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.” You can only articulate your response to someone only after you have fully understood what he or she is saying. Here, the merits of listening are therefore manifold. Different types of conversations exist in order to prove one’s point in the dominance hierarchy. In order to truly listen, one must give the floor to the person talking.

“…people organise their brains with conversation.”(sic)

One must respect the personal experiences of the other person that they’re listening to. “It’s as if you’re listening to yourself during such a conversation”, he says, because in doing so, you are telling yourself how you would respond to the information that you’re receiving. Through mutual exploration, you can understand where the other person lies on the issue and where you lie; strangely enough, you might not be all that far from one another.

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech

We are surrounded by that we identify with, and they become our extensions. That means that when things assume some utility, we find that they tend to belong to us.

Similarly, cooperation and negotiation come easily when we feel the need to protect the ones we love. We do that with the relationships that we wish to nurture by taking a step forward in the direction of truth in order to protect that extension (person) of ourselves.

When everything goes according to plan, the world is simple. At that point in time, the only knowledge necessary to function with is the knowledge that makes sense up until then.

When a problem eventually creeps up on us, there is now an invitation to alter our existing information and learn new things according to experience. Denying that the problem exists does not solve it; it is only admission and active steps taken forward in the direction of changing that solves the problem.

“...the limitations of our perceptions of things and selves manifest themselves.”

This means that the problem could either be arising out of our own ignorance to take care of the situation or something external that has caused it to happen in the first place. In either case, the ultimate solution lies in our hands.

The entire chapter then revolves around one example: that of an honest and loyal wife who comes to understand that her husband has been unfaithful. At first, it will shock her, and then she will slowly grow to understand how the warning signs that she had once ignored used to blatantly stare her in the face.

“The limitations and inaccuracy of her former perceptions become immediately and painfully obvious.”

She is then confronted with another stranger through this discovery- herself. Peterson then says that we must find some merit in these types of situations: Emergency - emergence(y). Our bodies react first; we freeze. Then we realise that we had been wrong, and so adrenaline and cortisol come rushing in as stress levels begin to rise. We then rely on the stored physical and psychological energy that we’ve saved up and then prepare for the worst - or the best. The only thing to do in such situations is to confront them. If you try and sweep the dragon under the rug and continue to feed it with material, it will only grow large enough to blow out of proportion.

“Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission.”

There could have been a number of reasons for the collapse of this relationship, he says. They could only ever be discovered through precise discourse between the parties. Only when they nip the problem in the bud, when they even begin to feel traces of discomfort - not by simply saying that their partner’s mere existence bothers them, but that their one particular feature makes them tick- only then will they be able to tackle the future head on. One must be willing to sacrifice the comfort of the present for long-lasting truth (rules 7 and 8 combined). This can only happen if one is precise in one’s speech and honest not only with their partner (or person intended) about their problem by being specific and to the point, but also with themselves.

Rule 11: Do not bother children when they’re skateboarding

“…if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.”

Referring to children who used to skateboard on the railings in University of Toronto, Dr. Peterson says that out of a fear to protect them, the authorities eventually deemed it fit to put an end to this risky behavior. What Peterson argues is that these children often seek out these activities:

“they were trying to become competent — and it’s competence that makes people as safe as they can truly be.”

The rule focuses around the idea that we do and say a lot of things to stop people from doing things thinking that we’re protecting them, when in fact we’re suffocating them. Instead of doing this, he urges us to,

“strengthen and encourage those who are committed to your care instead of protecting them to the point of weakness.[W]hen untrammeled — and encouraged, we prefer to live on the edge.”

He says. The idea is that we can only see how far we have come once we’re faced with situations demanding enough to challenge our expertise. If we don’t, we are merely bodies “unconscious, unformed and careless”.

This sort of protectionism is then likened to how social justice warriors today act like they’re protecting the interests of certain communities, but their motives for the same might be wholly different. There is a “dark side” to everything, as Freud and Jung have said. The question instead of what one stands for must be converted into what one instead stands against.

“When someone seems to be acting from the highest principles, for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine.”

As self-appointed judges of the human race, people tended to become critical of everything. Some people restrict these emotions to dinner table conversations and some others act on these indoctrination and shoot up a school. “Even their own being does not justify the existence of humanity”. The sense of guilt and disgust that members of a community take on behalf of the rest is now widely prevalent amongst men who often tend to have their accomplishments looked down upon since they are attributed to the patriarchy that they have supposedly earned this from.

Whether patriarchy is a form of help or hindrance is a tricky question to answer. Peterson acknowledges that culture is an oppressive structure by its very nature, and societal inertia is an undeniable reality. While on the one hand, it can lead to wasted potential, it is also a blessing. All that surrounds us is a product of our history and culture, and it is of utility to us.

Peterson adds that historically, both women and men have had to fight horrors of a society, but women tended to suffer more because of their added physical difficulties. However, the idea that all of them were subjugated to extreme forms of oppression must not be swallowed directly. Peterson alludes to the inventor of tampons, takes the example of Arunachalam Muruganantham’s period pad idea instead of using a cloth, among others, to highlight the many instances in which men have even potentially bettered the lives of women. He argues that today, feminists push the idea that men and women must be socialized identically, to avoid stereotyping. This is linked to the idea that aggression in men will lessen. However, Peterson contends that violence and aggression are not learned, but inherent abilities, while peace is a learned trait. Untrammeled efforts and less protectionism could help one truly understand their fullest potentials, and that is why he spends a good deal of time on this rule.

Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

Simply put, this last and final rule tells us to appreciate the little things that life has to offer us. Human beings have limited powers. While we tend to admire those greater than us, we only truly appreciate them when we recognize in them the flaws that make them human as well. That is one of the reasons why superheroes have weaknesses as well. The limits on human potential are what keep us striving further. “Being requires Becoming”, Peterson says. He is not suggesting that those who suffer must suffer in silence the horrors that they are faced with. People think too much and force themselves into a deep, dark point of no return. That is not what he is suggesting we do. Instead of that, he asks them to start noticing. Constantly thinking about it and talking about it leaves little room for progressing. He says that one could instead keep a specific time in their day allocated to just that. Take a chance when you see a cat on the street and be willing to pet it and greet it, he says. The small opportunities that come our way often present themselves in dark times and those must be taken advantage of.

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About the Author

Kamya Vishwanath is a first year law student at the Jindal Global Law School. She is extremely passionate about her political opinions and reads extensively about the subject. A strong advocate of mental health and combating stigma around the same, she has interned with the Spastics Society of Karnataka and the Center for Law and Policy Research and continues to write passionately about mental illness. A strong believer in the philosophy of individualism, Kamya aims to leave behind a lasting legacy in every task she undertakes.

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