I’m late to the party when it comes to Jordan Peterson’s work. Prior to last year, I hadn’t read a word of his books and only given his speeches, and interviews, a cursory listen.
My first impressions weren’t good. I didn’t like his whiny voice or his pompous delivery (does he ever smile?).
And that might have been that if it wasn’t for the new book I’m writing.
Noticing the success of 12 Rules for Life and 48 Laws of Power, I was inspired by the idea of adding to this sub-genre. I wanted to come up with my own rules/laws for unconventional thinkers.
Thinking I might find some inspiration by reading one of the classics in the field, I bought Peterson’s follow up to 12 Rules for Life, Beyond Order. (I’d also been commissioned to write a piece for it on the memod app. Read here.)
Despite my initial misgivings, I actually enjoyed it. So much so, I went back and read the first book as well.
Peterson’s work is well thought out, excellently written and cuttingly insightful. There’s a lot you can learn from both books. But, and this is a BIG BUT, there’s some advice which you absolutely MUST NOT follow.
Despite bring brilliant at times, when Jordan Peterson gets something wrong, he gets it horribly wrong.
In fact, the next 3 pieces of advice/outlooks should come with a public health warning. They have the potential to REALLY damage your life.
There’s one phrase that Peterson constantly repeats throughout 12 Rules for Life (I must have read it 5 times). “Life is suffering.”
Why is this outlook so destructive?
Because our brains are constantly affirming our beliefs.
In his documentary series, The Brain, Dr David Eagleman explains how our brains process information. It starts with our eyes, observing something in the world and then sending signals regarding this observation to our thalamus and then on to our visual cortex.
At this point, something incredible happens. The signals are processed in the visual cortex and then leave to continue their journey back through the thalamus and on to the cerebral cortex with an additional 80% new information added.
This is incredible because the visual cortex is the storehouse of our memories and beliefs. Therefore, these are being added to, and influencing, the information we take in about the world.
Can you see why this is a problem?
If you hold the belief “life is suffering,” it’s going to prejudice the way you look at, and interact with, the world (and not in a good way).
You’ll always be on high alert, expecting and anticipating the next disaster to strike. When a friend gives you some good news, your brain won’t process an exciting opportunity. Instead, you’ll immediately start looking for the danger that must be inherent within the possibility.
This is a terrible way to live. It leaves you prone to depression (something Peterson openly admits to experiencing throughout his life – I wonder why!), unable to enjoy life’s genuinely pleasurable moments and lacking in the spark that makes people fun to be around.
Living with this belief will cloud your entire life and this is why you MUST reject it.
Life isn’t suffering.
Peterson is wrong. Not only that, he’s guilty of writings’ cardinal sin – presenting his biases as the truth. He mistakes his worldview with the worldview.
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest suffering, at some point, won’t enter into your life. However, it’s not the basic condition of life and the backdrop against which all of your experiences will play out.
You could use any number of metaphors to explain life (metaphors that, if you are wise, you’ll consciously choose). If you can say life is suffering, you can just as easily say life is joy. Life could be a game or a lesson. Or, you could use one of Tony Robbin’s favourites, “Life is a dance.”
Are any of these the truth?
No, but that doesn’t matter.
When it comes to interpreting life, there’s no objective truth. How you see the world is how you’re going to experience it. Therefore, it behoves you to reject any overly negative worldviews and instead, choose one that will enhance your experience of life.
In Rule 11 of his second book, Peterson states,
It may therefore be that it is not the present that is most real – at least as far as our consciousness is concerned. We have to fight to “be here now,” the advice of the sages. Left to our own devices, we turn our minds instead to investigating the future: What could be? Attempting to answer that question – that is life. That is the true encounter with reality.
Peterson considers the future more real than the present. As a result, he advises his readers to live, and act, with their future selves in mind.
This is not terrible idea.
Thinking of your future self when resisting the urge to eat junk food, or doing an hour of writing on your book while lacking motivation, is a great way to live. However, when you combine this future focused approach with the belief you must “prepare for the worst” in order to “keep the horror at bay” (both quotes from Peterson’s books), you have a recipe for an anxiety disorder (which surprise, surprise is exactly what Peterson has. He opens his second book with a painful account of his battle with benzodiazepine withdrawal. He initially took the drug to medicate against anxiety).
Despite what Peterson claims, reality is not found in the future. The only place you can experience reality is in the here and now.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should discard planning, working towards your goals and sacrificing immediate pleasure for long term gain. These traits are fundamental to success. However, when your attention is constantly on the future, and you believe there’s a strong possibility a disaster is imminent, you end up depleting yourself through worry, stress and tension.
By contrast, living in the now strengthens you.
The multiple fears you have are released and, as a result, your creativity is enhanced, you’re more fun to be around and you’re in a better state of mind to appreciate the positives in your life.
Prepare for a positive future but live in the now. This is far better advice for a successful and enjoyable life.
Peterson doesn’t believe in couples living together before they get married. He recommends that, if you’re in a relationship with someone, and it’s going well (and presumably you’ve been together for a while), the next step is to get married.
To back up this claim, he cites research undertaken by M. J. Rosenfeld and K. Roesler in the Journal of Marriage and Family. His interpretation of this research is that marriages amongst couples who didn’t live together before tying the knot, have a better success rate than those that did. However, if you read the end notes of Beyond Order, you’ll see Peterson is being economical with the truth.
Here, Peterson admits the above research does not apply to the first year of marriage. During this period of time, far more couples who didn’t live together before marriage divorce than couples who did.
Presumably, these couples, who took the incredibly foolhardy decision to get married without gaining a deeper insight into their partners habits, behaviour and psyche, discovered what a calamitous mistake they’d made.
I’d also wager that many of the couples who remain married, after never previously having lived together, did so because of religious and cultural pressure (not necessarily because their marriages were happy). My rationale for this is that marrying without first, living together is more common among arranged marriages and people who are devoutly religious (and, therefore, less likely to divorce).
So, I’m pretty sure Peterson’s claims are bunk.
Furthermore, I’m really hoping you’d never be so stupid as to follow this particular piece of advice.
If you are going to get married to someone, you must live with them before. You have to gain a deeper insight into how the two of you can coexist in a confined space and deal with the day-to-day realities of life.
Relationships can be amazing when you’re out on dates and seeing the best of the person who’s the object of your affection. But what are they like at their worst? You’ll, probably, only discover this when living together.
With this insight gained, you’ll be far better positioned to decide whether they’re marriage material.
I don’t want to appear too harsh on Jordan Peterson’s work. His books contain a great deal of wisdom, often presented in a well thought out and engaging manner.
In fact, I recommend you read them (I gave them both 4 stars out of 5).
Just remember one thing while doing so.
As with any author you read (including myself), DO NOT mistake their opinions and worldview for the truth.
Instead, you must discover what works best for you. It’s often foolish to adopt an influencer, or authorities, approach in its entirety, believing it’ll save you. Only you can do that!
If you want to discover a passion you can make a living from and overcome the fears that are holding you back, check out my free course 30 Days to Escape The System. Click here to get the course right now! (You will find the unconventional approach to developing belief and self-confidence fascinating!)
(image curtesy of Gage Skidmore photostream flickr.com)