This is the third post of Spectrum’s 2019 Summer Reading Group. Each post will be drawn from chapters of the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson. You can view the reading/posting schedule here.
My gut reaction to this book has been a mix of “Yup, that makes sense,” sprinkled with “Whatever, dude.”
I’ve been frustrated by the idealistic ease with which Peterson seems to write. I have also felt, however, that this is his attempt to make sense of various pieces of our multi-faceted lives. Aren’t we all trying to make it all make sense?
Rule 3, “Make friends with people who want the best for you,” initially felt like an obvious conclusion that needs little new discussion. But Peterson doesn’t simply sit on the obvious; he delves both into the reasons people don’t want to experience a better life and the reasons some of us may feel as if his critical finger is pointed our way.
As someone who’s often looking out for the relational underdog in a community, I initiate connection with people who don’t necessarily want the best for me. But because I want the best for them, I introduce myself and attempt to help them experience welcome. I don’t do it from a sense of religious duty but with the memory of what it feels like to be the outsider. I know the feeling well and want to help others walk through it.
But not everyone’s an outsider as a result of being the new kid. Some aren’t living well because, as Peterson describes, they have chosen to be where they are even though it’s hard. Changing is harder. Plus, actually become friends is much more involved than momentarily helping someone feel welcome. Friendship steps into an influential space — over time, we are changed and Peterson argues that we’re more likely to be pulled down rather than help someone up, no matter how noble our intentions.
I found it helpful to review the reasons Peterson gives for why some of us choose friends who aren’t good for us. It’s also helpful to consider the voice of Christian duty (often presumed to be faith) that would cause some of us to refute his ideas. There’s the desire to rescue to which Peterson says, “But not everyone who is failing is a victim, and not everyone at the bottom wishes to rise, although many do, and many mange it” (76). He also posits that “the attempt to rescue someone is often fueled by vanity and narcissism,” to which I’m sure some of us may reply, “No, I’m just being like Jesus” (76). And Peterson’s response to that is, “But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you’re you” (78). In other words, in case you missed it, you and I aren’t Christ.
We would do well to assess just how often our noble actions are a failed attempt to be like Christ. And perhaps we should critique what we think it means to “be like Christ” because it’s likely that our desires to be like Christ are misplaced and loftier than even Christ intended.
Can we be Christ followers and intentionally choose to only be friends with people who want the best for us? Doesn’t that sound selfish and aren’t we supposed to be selfless?
We use similar selfless aims as reasons to not take care of ourselves. Massage? “No, too luxurious. I can’t have meaningful down time while children in all of Africa are starving.” (Please feel my sarcasm.)
On to Chapter 4.
Rule 4, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today,” speaks to a less common opinion, I’d guess. To compare ourselves to our past selves just isn’t the norm. It’s also very involved which isn’t very appealing — the last thing we need is more work.
I do agree with Theodore Roosevelt’s often quoted words: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Yet, just the other day, I sat in a concert and found myself not only admiring one woman’s wardrobe choice but wondering how I’d look in her outfit, if it would be as simple-chic on me. I then revisited my desire for a daily uniform, a well-defined personal style that is attractive regardless of the weight fluctuations I’m currently working through, and on and on. Comparison was an effortless breath.
One of Peterson’s conclusions is that as we mature, the “conditions of our lives become more and more personal and less and less comparable with those of others” which is why comparison to each other doesn’t make sense for adults (89). We’re too nuanced. Our stories don’t match. We’ll never seem to measure up. To be honest, that’s not a perspective I’d heard before and I immediately found meaning in it.
The more helpful way to live is to aim for a better life. This can happen when we pay attention, Peterson says, to our physical and psychological surroundings. By paying attention, we grow in our ability to see what we want to change and work toward it in realistic ways. The focus is on ourselves, our lives, the personal pieces that matter to us and that we desire to improve. Because, in Peterson’s framework, comparison is a chaos we want to get rid of.
I get it and I’d like to pause long enough to try it. It actually feels like trying minimalism. The very act of thinning out closets and bookshelves is an outgrowth of intentionally looking at and working through changes that matter to me. Though Peterson doesn’t say it explicitly, time is a vital part of what he’s proposing, time that I struggle to set aside. Time that I’m sure most people don’t readily have at their disposal. Paying attention to the details of our lives feels even more luxurious than getting a massage. Paying attention looks unrealistic.
Nothing changes well, however, if we don’t slow down and pay attention to all the pieces. The weight of that is real to me. I want to dismiss Peterson’s perspective as being too idealistic for the world we live in but, for now, in this unhurried moment, it make sense.
Michaela Lawrence Jeffery lives in Athens, GA with her husband and children. She pastors the Athens Georgia Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Book cover image courtesy of Random House.
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