This is a 12 part chapter review on Jordan Peterson’s book entitled 12 Rules for Life; An Antidote to Chaos. Read it along with me, one chapter at a time and join me each month for a discussion! I look forward to hearing your thoughts about it.
Bishop Barron introduced me to him: Meet the “phenomenon” Jordan Peterson. It sounds like an interesting idea for a blind date. A well-respected Catholic Theologian introduces a high school Theology teacher to a secular psychologist whose philosophical view of the human experience incorporates the historical Jesus and Biblical texts. I wonder how this is going to work out…
Our First Meeting
Chapter 1 (aka Rule #1): “Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back.” It is advice I have been known to give my children. Carry yourself well. People will notice and respond accordingly. It’s the male version of Oprah’s admonition: “You teach people how to treat you.”
The chapter begins with talk of territories and pecking orders as evidenced in the animal kingdom. Dominance hierarchies. According to Peterson, it’s a biological truth and it isn’t just a reality for birds and lobsters, it’s part of our evolved DNA. Peterson takes a real life look at the mentality of scarcity (although he doesn’t use that term) and it is hard to argue with: “the poor and stressed always die first, and in greater numbers… When the aristocracy catches a cold…, the working class dies of pneumonia.” I wish it wasn’t the world I know. It is the world Jesus came to overthrow and two thousand years later he continues to enlist us to turn the tables. The Kingdom is at hand.
In contrast to the mentality of scarcity and in the context of his teachings on prayer, fasting and almsgiving Jesus says: Look UP! Depend on God. You are the crown of creation and He will provide for you. The true personification of wealth, Jesus warns the wise, is spiritual not material. Be careful where you focus.
“Look at the birds in the sky,” Jesus encourages us optimistically, “they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” Imagine how would the world would look if we all lived like this was Truth?…
I admit that Jesus’ perspective is much harder to see than Jordan’s. I’m working on it.
Simplify. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Peterson, for his part, has practical advice for keeping the epidemic of anxiety at bay as we walk through this fallen world: control, or at least balance, the chaos with order. It is more advice I’ve offered my children and yet still need reminding of myself: get enough sleep, eat a good breakfast, establish healthy habits and routines – organize structure around the chaos. We are a spiritual being in a physical body.
I found the last part of the chapter particularly challenging, especially as a woman and a Christian. It speaks of both bullies and the bullied in psychological terms. About “naïve beliefs that can become a positive invitation to abuse.” About “qualities of compassion and self-sacrifice which make us more vulnerable to bullies.” About “cycles of oppression” and “forces of tyranny.” About bureaucracies with “petty authoritarians” who seek to “express and cement pathological power”. I sure wish I didn’t know anything about those things. Bullies know no age limit and the Church is not immune.
In no uncertain terms Peterson challenges me to confront the bullies where I see them at work: “the willingness of the individual to stand up for him or herself protects everyone from the corruption of society.” Call me convicted.
Not content to leave me playing the role of the bullied, Peterson challenges me to see the bully within. We all have one. He describes acknowledging this as a “waking.” “When once-naïve people recognize in themselves the seeds of evil and monstrosity, and see themselves as dangerous (at least potentially) their fear decreases. They develop more self-respect. Then, perhaps, they begin to resist oppression.” Otherwise, he says, we will “feed on resentment” and become “genuinely monstrous.” God forbid.
Stand up straight with your shoulders back. “If you can bite, you generally don’t have to.” “Emotion is partly bodily expression” and “if you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing.”
God help me, there is a part of me that says, “so what.” I don’t want to gain the whole world and lose my soul. I’m not interested staking out my territory or clawing my way to the top for fear of losing. God help me, I will wisely discern when to stand up where I see injustice but I also understand that doing just that is precisely what got Jesus run out of town, mocked, whipped and ultimately killed. I can’t imagine who believed he was winning at the time.
I want to be a Christian not a crustacean.
I’m sure he already knows this but I want to suggest to Peterson that things may not be as they seem, that perhaps “rising up” often (only?) comes only after surrender and defeat. That standing up straight is not about a physical posture or about exerting my will over another’s but about standing in the will of God. That evil is exposed and defeated by absorbing it. That “love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken, hallelujah.” (Jeff Buckley) And that for all the world, standing in the will of God may look very much like defeat. Like weakness. It may resemble a posture that is foolishness to the intellectual, a posture that prevents many seekers from finding.
Jesus looked to the animal kingdom and offers this advice to those who dare the proclaim the Good News of Christ crucified: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”
May God grant me the wisdom to know when to rattle and when to cooo, and the strength to always stay within His will regardless of temporal consequences.
I suspect these are things Peterson has already thought through and I look forward to reading his response as well as yours. 12 Rules is the best kind of reading. It is the kind that both answers questions and asks them. The kind you want to talk about with friends. The kind that challenges you to think about, articulate and live what you believe. Suffice it to say that I find Peterson incredibly intelligent and intriguing and I’m looking forward to our next date! Let’s make it a double — See you next month. Bring a friend.
Allison Welch lives in SW Virginia with her husband, Barry, a Deacon in the Catholic Church. They are recent empty nesters, with two boys in college. She has a Masters in Theology, has taught high school Theology for 9 years and loves to share her faith. “I hope someday to meet God, because I want to thank him for the flowers.” Robert Breault