This is a series of post on Jordan Peterson’s book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’. It has become popular and it is important to understand why it is appealing to this generation and how it is different from the Gospel. Each post will be on a specific chapter or section of the book and the hope is that we can engage in conversation over these matters. I hope to represent his thought accurately - but due to being human may not always do so.
Summary Chapter 9
Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
The highest form of wisdom is the continual search for knowledge. Genuine conversation requires having one foot in order, in our current beliefs, and the other foot in chaos as we entertain the possibility the person we are talking with knows something we do not and we may need to question our most basic assumptions. You must begin by assuming your conversation partner has reached thoughtful, careful conclusions. A conversation should be about listening deeply to one another and mutual exploration of the order and chaos of our lives. We think in order to plan how to make good decisions in the future and we do that best in communal conversation. “Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priori validity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living.”
Why are these ideas appealing?
What do you think? Why do you think people are attracted to these ideas?
American culture is so divided right now that we all recognize that there is a need for us to listen to and learn from one another. In addition, we all wish that others would engage in this type of thoughtful conversation with us. No one likes talking with someone who is not really listening. The conversations that make our lives meaningful involve deep engagement and mutual respect.
Critique of Chapter 9
Some of the examples that Peterson gave from his clinical studies in this chapter did not seem appropriate or helpful as illustrations, but his point that genuine conversation requires listening I believe is very helpful. However, I would add a few caveats.
If Christ is God’s Revelation, He is Our Solid Ground in Conversation
For Peterson, we must leap out into the unknown when we engage in genuine conversation - one foot in order and one in chaos, one foot on the shore and one in the ocean. But if Christ is God and has revealed Himself to us that alters everything - if God’s Spirit lives in us then we can genuinely listen to and love another person without having to step out into their chaos. Rather, we should seek to show them Christ so that they can also be standing on solid ground.
Now, I agree that we should always be willing to learn from those with whom we speak and be humble. But I do not think I agree with Peterson that humble listening requires one foot in both worlds - ours and theirs. I believe we remain firmly rooted in Christ as we engage the world around us. Peterson has no absolute reference point, so his views are understandable. But we do in Christ.
Peterson Exalts Philosophy as the Best Means to Knowing
Paul the apostle, in Corinthians, makes it clear that the ancient Greek error of exalting the pursuit of wisdom via philosophy does not lead to true knowledge of God.
I Corinthians 1:20-31 - Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.
I Cor 2:10-16 - these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
Quotes from Chapter 9
she didn’t know how to think on her own (that’s not rare)
She had no self. She was, instead, a walking cacophony of unintegrated experiences.
People can be so confused that their psyches will be ordered and their lives improved by the adoption of any reasonably orderly system of interpretation
When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things they shouldn’t do. Then they can not do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking. But we can’t do it alone.
But you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all of this occur inside your own head. What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent.
That is what Freud recommended. He had his patients lie on a couch, look at the ceiling, let their minds wander, and say whatever wandered in. That’s his method of free association. That’s the way the Freudian psychoanalyst avoids transferring his or her own personal biases and opinions into the internal landscape of the patient. It was for such reasons that Freud did not face his patients. He did not want their spontaneous meditations to be altered by his emotional expressions, no matter how slight.
good therapist will tell you the truth about what he thinks. (That is not the same thing as telling you that what he thinks is the truth.) Then at least you have the honest opinion of at least one person. That’s not so easy to get. That’s not nothing. That’s key to the psychotherapeutic process: two people tell each other the truth—and both listen.
You might see it his way, you might find yourself influenced in your attitudes or personality. This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face
If you listen, instead, without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking—and with very little deceit
The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves.
It takes a village to organize a mind.
A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, of genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priori validity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living.
Other conversational types—except for the listening type—all attempt to buttress some existing order. The conversation of mutual exploration, by contrast, requires people who have decided that the unknown makes a better friend than the known.
To have this kind of conversation, it is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption).
It’s as if you are listening to yourself during such a conversation, just as you are listening to the other person. You are describing how you are responding to the new information imparted by the speaker. You are reporting what that information has done to you—what new things it made appear within you, how it has changed your presuppositions, how it has made you think of new questions. You tell the speaker these things, directly. Then they have the same effect on him. In this manner, you both move towards somewhere newer and broader and better. You both change, as you let your old presuppositions die—as you shed your skins and emerge renewed. A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for truth itself—on the part of both participants—that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why it’s engaging, vital, interesting and meaningful. That sense of meaning is a signal from the deep, ancient parts of your Being. You’re where you should be, with one foot in order, and the other tentatively extended into chaos and the unknown.
Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom. It is for this reason that the priestess of the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece spoke most highly of Socrates, who always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest living man, because he knew that what he knew was nothing.