I’ve read 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson.
I’ve heard about Professor Jordan Peterson because of my colleague, who is a fan of him. I’ve watched the famous BBC interview with Cathy Newman. The interview itself is fun to watch as a lesson in debating. Feel free to google it, there are a plenty of recording and analysis of the interview on youtube. I’ve got intrigued and decided to give Peterson’s latest book a shot.
12 Rules for Life #
The book is structured around 12 rules that the author believes are essential. I think the book is a bit chaotic and the author mixes life advice, philosophy, describing famous stories and authors. In some places, it is a good read, in others a bit boring. The book is full of various ideas, below I’ll describe what resonated with me the most. There are a few places where I don’t share the author opinions, and I’m ignoring them here.
Main themes #
Take responsibility #
This is probably the most important theme in the book. Peterson seems to look at responsibility in a stoic way. Life is suffering and pain, but you need to take the responsibility and do your part.
To me, this sounds similar to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who was never a military man, nevertheless spent most part of his reign fighting the Marcomannic wars, instead of pursuing philosophy. He did succeed, although he had never really enjoyed it.
A conflict is hard, but sometimes a conflict now can prevent further suffering or losing something important. E.g. in a marriage, it is better to discuss the issues now, instead of letting them eat your relationship slowly. Also, people willing to enter the conflict (use violence, discuss the issues at hand), actually need to engage in it less often.
Take responsibility for your dependents, make the effort to teach your children; articulate your needs to the loved ones. Also, imagine you’re responsible for someone — act yourself like you’d want that person to act.
Make sure your life is in a good order, before attempting to fix worlds problems. Which reminds me of this image by A. Mleczko:
Gospodarka, głupcze translates to Economy, stupid. The man in the picture reads a newspaper with articles about conspiracy theories, foreign agents, and communist regime apparatchiks.
Delayed gratification #
Purse what is meaningful. Be disciplined and improve problems around you. Like in the hacker way, focus on the most important things first.
Smile and the world will smile back at you #
Surprisingly, when you smile, you feel happy. Take the posture of a confident person — stand up straight with your shoulders back. And live up to it.
Learning is somewhere in between what we know and what is dangerous. Too safe environments are not fun, and won’t teach you too much.
Retrospect, start noticing things. Fix what you can fix. Don’t worry about the rest. Especially, don’t try to compare with the other folks. Compare against your previous self.
Again, surprisingly stoic.
Conversation is a learning opportunity #
True listening is really rare. Try to listen what others have to say, instead of waiting for your turn to talk. Routinely summarize what the other participants said during a conversation.
Thinking is listening to yourself.
We need to think and talk to clarify the ideas and to unclutter our minds. One can say that we outsource our own sanity.
So, listen, to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.
Helping others #
Don’t solve problems for folks — listen instead of giving the advice (side note: you give an advice to feel superior). Sounds a lot like Socrates. Implementing this in full is Freudian psychoanalysis, which is a long process. In practice, you can’t be that orthodox. But don’t jump into giving unsolicited advises, really, listen first.
Only help, if the person wants to improve. Don’t play saint, as it may end up badly for you. Especially, if the person doesn’t appreciate it. If someone genuinely needs help and wants to improve then engage.
Brutal honesty/simplicity #
Articulate your needs or wants. Especially to folks that matter to you. Know what you want. Be honest with yourself. On the one hand, understand what you want and articulate it. On the other, be the first one to confess and notice your own misdeeds.
Choose your friends wisely. Litmus test — imagine recommending a friend to your daughter or mother. Is he or she good for them?
Similar to the brutal honesty of Steve Jobs in Insanely simple.
Also, keep it simple. When interacting with other, (1) limit the rules, (2) use minimum necessary force.
Life is suffering #
There is a hardly a family without tragedy or suffering. This is a natural state of affairs. If it happens to you, don’t go into nihilism. Accept it, live up to it, and find joy in little things.
Authors world is a cutthroat place, whit a lot of suffering. But you need to do your duty, improve your position where you can, help the ones that deserve it. Also, appreciate wonders around you.
Raw Notes #
Taken while reading the book.
- Without rules, we become slaves to our passions
- Set your house in order first.
- Life is suffering, if we (or our families ) suffer, there is nothing special about that. It is not because of a plot or conspiracy theory.
- Virtue signaling is not a virtue, but rather a vice.
- Take responsibility for your life.
Rule 1 / Stand up straight with your shoulders back #
- When the aristocracy catches a cold, working class dies of pneumonia.
- The premise is that hierarchies are rooted in millions of years of evolution. It is better to be at the top. Winning boosts your self-confidence and improves the chance of positive outcomes in future, losing quite the opposite.
- Conflict may not be fun but sometimes is the only option.
- If you are willing to use violence, you may need to do it less often
- To those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken Mt 25:29 — which probably means that you should make the best use of your talents.
- “Smile and the world will smile back at you”
- Walk straight, look forward, speak your mind, feel that you have a right to your desires. Act like a winner, and let the body produce serotonin.
Rule 2 / Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping #
- How hard is it sometimes to convince your grandmother to go to a doctor, or take pills? Don’t be that person, help yourself and help others to help you.
- Position yourself on the edge of what you know, and what is new and terrifying.
- Human chooses evil, the worst enemy is internal.
- You should make the people you’re responsible for competent, so they can help themselves (instead of protecting them all the time).
- Boy named Sue.
- By making yourself a slave you make the person who cares for you a tyrant (so a relationship needs to be fair).
- He whose life has a why can bear almost any how Nietzsche
Rule 3 / Make friends with people who want the best for you #
- Avoid repetition compulsion (daughters of alcoholics often marry alcoholics).
- Do not try to help people who don’t want to be helped (woman falling for an evil man, a man helping a prostitute, low flyer moved to a stellar team — results on low quality work spreading), as you will (most certainly) go down. Down is easier than up, chaos trumps over stability. You need to make sure first that the person is indeed in trouble (and lazy, or enjoying no responsibility, etc.).
- It is impossible to start a therapeutic relationship if the person doesn’t want to improve.
- Do not have friends whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend for your father or sister.
- Make friends with people who want the best for you.
Rule 4 / Compare yourself to who you were yesterday #
- Not to who someone else is today (we’re not equal in our abilities/outcomes).
- It takes time to know yourself (how much pleasure do you need => negotiate with yourself, don’t be a tyrant).
- The retrospective is key (–> getting things done), famous Simons experiment with the gorilla, people don’t notice if they are focused on something else.
- Being conscious about desires, and prioritizing them makes us sophisticated.
- You won’t achieve if you are undisciplined and untutored.
- Pay attention, if something bothers you && if it cloud be fixed => fix it.
- Have a sympathy for your fear (notice it for start!).
- Ask, and you shall receive; knock and the door will open.
Rule 5 / Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them #
- People usually grow up and get better over time.
- Chimpanzees are willing to murder each other.
- In general, societies also improve (so noble savage is just a myth, it is enough to look at the murder rate).
- Discipline requires effort:
- It is hard to put a proper attention to children,
- even more so you need to negotiate with other stakeholders,
- nevertheless, you should do it,
- children should be though to comply with the civil society.
- Crying child:
- Sad or hurt is not the only reason for crying,
- Anger is the most common,
- Young children test the limits and learn the social norms.
- Pain is more potent than pleasure
- fear and pain is a learning device,
- you shouldn’t shelter the kids from it, but rather make sure their learning is maximized (to limit the exposure).
- (Rule 1) limit the rules,
- (Rule 2) use minimum necessary force.
Rule 6 / Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world #
- –> Spark a candle instead of cursing the dark.
- Life is hard, but you shouldn’t blame the world; nihilism is not the solution.
- Retrospect, articulate your desires, talk with your family, etc.
- Start noticing broken things, if they can be fixed, fix them.
Rule 7 / Purse what is meaningful (not what is expedient) #
- The hacker way — focus on the most impactful things first
- Sacrifice now to gain later
- reality can be bargained with,
- this works, because future is composed of other human beings, how to expect good things to come after the sacrifice,
- contrary to the animal instincts.
- A newcomer should ask someone in the neighborhood for a favor.
- Be humble, know what you don’t know (pride manifests itself in bad things) (–> I know that I don’t know).
Rule 8 / Tell the truth — or, at least don’t lie #
- Lies (even white) produce unintended consequences
- we have a limited knowledge of the world, so lying may make sense in our model, but as we don’t know we may be simply wrong.
- Truth is hard and harsh (–> insanely simple).
- Words can manipulate reality (acting politically, to spin).
- Remove the beam in your eye before concerning yourself with a mote in your brother’s.
Rule 9 / Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t #
- Listen, instead of giving advice. Advice is what you get when the person you are talking to wants to revel in the superiority of his or her own intelligence.
- Do not solve problems for folks, listen and let them solve it.
- People need to think, and they think while talking. Sounds almost like Socrates.
- True thinking and true listening are rare. Thinking is listening to yourself.
- Routinely summarize what folks tell you.
- Retrospect: what, why, what to do to avoid it in future. The reason for memories is to learn for the future.
- Telling the story to someone unclutters our minds. We outsource the problem of our sanity.
- Men want to jump and solve the problem, but women want to be heard and have a conversation about the problem and the solution.
- During a lecture
- Speak to a particular person in the audience, watch the reactions, then speak to another one.
- So, listen, to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.
Rule 10 / Be precise in your speech #
We see tools and obstacles, not objects or things. In other words, we are focused on the outcomes, not on the objects themselves.
Screwdriver or car seems an extension of our body.
We don’t notice the familiar obstacles (ties to the model of learning).
We use our bodies (or out lizard brain) when there is an emergency:
First, we freeze. The reflexes of the body then shade into emotion, the next stage of perception. Is this something scary? Something useful? Something that must be fought? Something that can be ignored? How will we determine this — and when? We don’t know. Now we are in a costly and demanding state of readiness. Our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. Our hearts beat faster. Our breath quickens. We realize, painfully, that our sense of competence and completeness is gone; it was just a dream. We draw on physical and psychological resources saved carefully for just this moment (if we are fortunate enough to have them). We prepare for the worst — or the best.
“There is a dragon, Mom.” Instantly, it starts to shrink. Soon, it’s cat-sized again. The monsters grow when we fail to acknowledge them.
Only three stable states of relationships:
Blueprint for a hard conversation: This exact, precise thing — that is what is making me unhappy. This exact, precise thing — that is what I want, as an alternative (although I am open to suggestions if they are specific). This exact, precise thing — that is what you could deliver so that I will stop making your life and mine miserable.
Rule 11 / Do not bother children when they are skateboarding #
We are hard-wired for living on the edge. What we know is boring, so we need to explore. But we can’t go too far outside of what we know. So we have one foot on the solid rock and the other over the edge, in the air.
The danger is the point, only competence can make people safe. And you train to be competent.
Are you a socialist because you love the poor or because you hate the rich? The true intention may be hidden. Look at the consequences, infer the motivation. Cui Bono. BTW I think this is a bit controversial, if you love the poor you may be St. Francis or Mother Theresa. IMHO socialism (in a philosophical sense) is about fairness, not about love/hate of poor/rich.
Two major reasons for resentment:
- being taken advantage of,
- refusal to adopt responsibility.
In case of a conflict:
Strategically, so that when you confront that person, you can give them several examples of their misbehaviour (at least three), so they can’t easily weasel out of your accusations. It might mean failing to concede when they offer you their counterarguments. People rarely have more than four at hand.
This is genuine conflict, however, and it’s neither pleasant nor easy. You must also know clearly what you want out of the situation, and be prepared to clearly articulate your desire. It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you would like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing.
Rule 12 / Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street #
Tajfel’s studies demonstrated two things: first, that people are social; second, that people are antisocial. People are social because they like the members of their own group. People are antisocial because they don’t like the members of other groups.
- Life is suffering (this is the main tenet of all major religions).
- The idea is that life is suffering, and you’re going to encounter difficulties at some point. But you should do your duty, don’t whine and enjoy happy moments (so pet a cat when given a chance).
- If you encounter such a crisis:
- Set aside some time to talk and to think about the illness or other crisis and how it should be managed every day.
- You’re in a war, not a battle, and a war is composed of many battles.
- So it is paramount to keep your sanity and energy.