I hope you all are doing well. Before jumping into the book review I wanted to share a quick update about my grandfather.
The surgery was early Thursday morning, and surprisingly it was done in about half an hour. His doctor told my mom that they were able to catch it quickly, that it was small and a very easy procedure. I visited my grandparents with Mom once they were home, and Grandpa overall seemed to be in strong spirits, albeit tired from the early wake up time and the procedure. We’re all optimistic about him and his health, and grateful this didn’t turn out to be a big deal.
And now that I’ve shared my life update, onto the topic: my review of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
I have to be honest: I’m actually nervous about writing this review. The book itself is extraordinary and easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s life changing. However, there’s a lot in there and I’m worried that I might not explain everything clearly, thus jacking up some of his main points.
So I’ll start first by talking a little bit about Peterson. For those who may not know, he’s a clinical psychologist with his own private practice and a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. Previously he taught at Harvard and has published hundreds of scientific papers on subjects such as personality and psychology of religion. Sam introduced me to his lectures on YouTube, where he incorporates stories from the Bible, major world religions, mythology and even Disney movies to explain various elements of human nature and society.
I was immediately sucked into the book by his storytelling and how he’s able to pull the examples he uses – which at first can seem random – together to make his points in ways that anyone can understand and enjoy reading. Originally I expected some dry, pretentious parts – he is a professor and a psychologist, after all – but Peterson at heart is a frank, small-town boy who isn’t looking to hit a word count or listen to the sound of his own voice. He makes his points perfectly and writes in a way that is equal parts magical and inviting, giving the reader plenty of opportunities to discover truths about their own life.
Peterson’s main point is that we all have a Being within us that we have to make a conscious decision (or decisions) to improve in order to live a meaningful life that doesn’t get destroyed by external suffering or our own insecurities. Individuals have to be honest with themselves to develop the Being and keep their own lives in order. Otherwise, chaos finds its way in via self-delusion or hedonism.
To paraphrase one of Peterson’s examples, alcoholics drink because the drunkenness chases away the self-awareness that they’re unhappy and deludes them into feeling giddy and on top of the world, like no problems exist … until the following morning and the hangover come. Reality is back, and they have to confront it. Chaos is present.
He explains that the universe is order and chaos, which lives in all of us. Order is the known, masculine, patriarchal side of the universe. At its best provides moral and social foundations, cultural norms and limitations to ensure the inner chaos – brute force, antisocial behaviors, etc. – doesn’t get to come out and disrupt society as a whole. On the flip side, it’s possible to have too much order, which historically was used to create Nazis goose-stepping through Berlin, Warsaw and Paris.
Chaos, meanwhile, is the unknown, feminine, maternal side of the universe. At its best chaos represents the unknown where all matter originates and is created from, including artistic endeavors and (arguably) the most important of all, gestation and childbirth. On its flip side, chaos is also the uncontrollable elements of life, like hitting black ice and sliding off the road, or encountering a mother bear of a grizzly cub pack.
Peterson makes it very clear that the point isn’t order/masculine = always good and chaos/feminine = always bad, but that every Being and part of the universe uses both order and chaos in order to function. It’s important to keep order to keep chaos from getting out of hand, and to understand chaos so it can be a channel for good.
Truth be told, in the Order vs. Chaos chapter, I came to realize the root to the philosophical disagreements my boyfriend and I occasionally have. He’s Mr. Plan Everything and I’ve got a habit of doing things by the seat of my leggings, and without realizing it Jordan Peterson gave me some solid advice about my relationship/our differing styles.
I had a little too much fun reading the chapter about parenting – Rule 5 – and why parents should not allow their children to do anything that would make them (the parents) dislike their own kids, keeping a few people I’ve had the displeasure of knowing in mind. The following chapter – Rule 6, “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world” – came as a pleasant surprise. By the title I thought it was going to be in reference to housekeeping and making sure one’s own home is running properly before criticizing strangers.
Turns out Rule 6 is actually about cleaning up your own life, mental state and mindset before going and deciding the world is simply an evil place that must be destroyed. I wasn’t expecting the Columbine school shooting to be the example used in Rule 6, but it was, and it was an insightful chapter nonetheless.
By the time I was done reading, I fell in love with Peterson’s 12 Rules.
I’m a younger millenial, and I remember reading a memoir about five years ago, Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke, where Bethke stated the millenials (his generation as well) are one of the most insecure generations. I think he included a source for that statistic, but even if he hadn’t I would still believe him. I’ve lived most of what he was referring to, and I think most of the kids who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s – as well as Gen Z currently – know what he meant. We want meaning, and most of us have heard that it was education!, career!, paycheck!, spouse and kid! that brought meaning. But those answers just weren’t it, and the world has shifted so dramatically in our lifetimes that they may never be “it.”
I’d argue that too much of the advice that’s currently promoted in popular psychology is incomplete. Peterson’s 12 Rules is to the point, practical, profound and doesn’t sugar coat anything. If you’re someone who’s struggling to determine your purpose – or figure out if life itself has any purpose beyond dealing with hardships – I cannot recommend 12 Rules for Life enough. If you’re someone who doesn’t have that struggle – I cannot recommend 12 Rules for Life enough. To sum it up, this is one of the best books to be published over the last 10 years.
If any of you have read 12 Rules for Life, I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments.
Yours in writing,