by Paul Ursu
Back in December of last year, I was watching a show on YouTube I enjoy once in a while and this time the guest was, you guessed it, Jordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. The theme of the discussion was sort yourself out. I was greatly intrigued by this man’s advice and way of seeing certain issues we all bump into. So I started following his work online.
After listening to his podcast and watching his YouTube videos for a couple of weeks, he announced his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote To Chaos. This was one book I absolutely knew I had to get. The week it hit Waterstones shelves I went to the one on Tottenham Court Road and got my copy.
Writing a review for this book is like trying to sum up the Bible in one sentence. The book goes to so many places: philosophy, psychology, statistics, story telling, self reflection.
But, if I were to point out one theme that I could find throughout the whole book, that would be the battle, but more importantly, the interdependency, between chaos and order. “Bring order to chaos!” I keep reminding myself lately in numerous situations after reading the book. But as Peterson points out, the sweet spot is in the middle. Too much order and you have totalitarianism. Too much chaos and you have, well, chaos.
However, this place of balance is to be found individually. In his words “we must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life” and “shoulder the burden of Being”. Instead of playing the victimhood card, he suggests we should each take a look at the small (or big, as it may be) things around us that we consider need fixing and fix them, look difficulty in the eye and step up to the challenge.
RULE 6: Set your house in order before you criticize the world
To help us in this quest he gives us 12 tools. How exactly do these help? Principles and tradition are order. They are reliable. They are a constant, if you want. They are stability in a world full of random events. And more importantly they give meaning to suffering which, the author says, is intrinsic to life. And between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of meaning, Peterson chooses meaning.
To back his points Peterson turns to personal stories, ancient mythological stories, biblical stories, and even Disney stories, showing us recurring themes throughout history and explaining why certain stories are so attractive and have stood the test of time. When he’s not telling a story, or demonstrating a point through research, it’s like having a front row seat to the theatre, and the play is his pattern of thought.
That’s what I really appreciate about Peterson, that he doesn’t just spray the book with conclusions, but lets us actually see how he reaches them in an intelligible manner. Unlike many other books in this category, he uses citations, footnotes and end-notes, just like a scholarly essay. This just adds to the credibility of his conclusions.
RULE 11: Do not bother children while they are skateboarding
Now, how do I feel after reading the whole thing? This book put a mirror in front of me and showed me the present, with all it’s cracks and dust swept under the rug. Even worse, it gave me the tools to fix those cracks and clean up my mess, which meant that now I’d feel guilty for inaction regarding those faults that needed attending. So proceed with caution. You will feel challenged.