Summary of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

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  • Post last modified:January 24, 2023

Rule 9: Assume That the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t

Psychotherapy is not advice. Advice is what you get when the person you’re talking with about something horrible and complicated wishes you would just shut up and go away. Advice is what you get when the person you are talking to wants to revel in the superiority of his or her own intelligence. If you weren’t so stupid, after all, you wouldn’t have your stupid problems. Psychotherapy is genuine conversation. Genuine conversation is exploration, articulation, and strategizing.

People that go to therapy often have a problem of a lack of order in their lives. This is why any type of therapy (Jungian, Freudian, etc) works. They put order in the lives of people.

When you remember the past, you remember some parts of it and forget others.

Furthermore, the meaning of the past depends on the future. If something bad happens to you but everything works out in the end, it’s a happy story. If it doesn’t, the past becomes a sad story.

Memory is a tool that guides us in the future based on what happened in the past. If something bad happened in the past, you can remember it in the future. That’s the purpose of memory.

Figure It Out for Yourself

True thinking is rare and difficult. True thinking is listening to yourself and disagreeing.

Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world.

We imagine these little avatars of ourselves in different situations. These avatars argue with each other. This means that to think well, you need to tolerate conflict. If you can’t think well, you talk. And to talk, you need someone to listen.

That person reflects the crowd, the opinion of “everyone”. By not talking, the listener invites the other to talk, hence to think, hence to fix his problems by himself.

Carl Rogers said that almost nobody listened, because it requires courage. He encouraged people in the midst of a despite to only speak after they had summarized the thesis of the person in front of them.

That helps clarify things. But it’s also dangerous as it puts you in the shoes of that other person, so both you and your mind can be changed.

The second advantage is that the summary replaces the story in the memory. The story is then felt differently.

The third advantage is that one person can’t be out to “get” the other.

Not all talking is thinking. Some use it to assert dominance in the hierarchy.

Eg: one tells a story, another one tells a story with “more” of what happens in the initial story.

Since the participants don’t listen to each other, the conversation often ends up in awkward silence, until the people leave or say something witty.

Another type is the conversation where one participant tries to win for his point of view.

It happens this way.

  1. He ridicules the viewpoint of anyone holding a contrary position
  2. He uses selective evidence
  3. He impresses the listeners (many of whom are already occupying the same ideological space) with the validity of his assertions.

The goal is to gain support for a comprehensive, unitary, oversimplified worldview.

Most political or economic discussion happens this way, where participants, instead of trying to learn something, enforce what they already knew before the discussion.

People organize their minds with conversation. If you have no one to talk to, you lose your mind. In a way, you outsource your sanity by talking to others and getting their feedback.

This is why it is so important to render your child social. He turns crazy if no one wants to speak to him.

Men and women often misunderstand each other in conversation. Men tend to fix problems very early on in the conversation with a woman that often thinks about the problem by just talking about it. She often wants to feel listened to first.


Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech

We name things that are valuable in the environment. When it’s not valuable, it doesn’t have a name.

We see things for their usefulness. Eg: we see a floor to walk on and a door to go through.

The world reveals itself to us as something to utilize and something to navigate through—not as something that merely is.

When we look at the world, we perceive only what we need to make it work.

It’s an enormous oversimplification. Despite that, we often mistake what we perceive, for the world.

This is why we need to be precise. If not, we drown in the complexity of the world.

Our self also includes other people. Eg: a mother will sacrifice for her child. And the other way around. When our football team loses, we feel as if we were the ones that lost. In fact, testosterone in male fans rises and falls according to whether the team wins or loses.

In the past, people would not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for their country. This shows our hyper-sociability.

You and I Are Simple Only When the World Behaves

When things break down (your car), you see then what you have been ignoring. Was your car purchase the right one? Should you buy a new one?

This shows that when things are not accurately described, maintained, and cared for, chaos rushes into our lives.

The past, present, and future evolve through time. Imagine being in a loving relationship with your partner. One day, you discover he or she has been cheating on you.

The past, present, and future changes. The identity of your partner, and yours, change too.

Everything is affected by everything else. We only perceive the relationships between things that we care about, but it’s only a very tiny part of what is.

When things collapse, we stop perceiving them, and act instead to put back order into the chaos.

Yet things seldom suddenly collapse. Chaos happens bit by bit, slowly, but we don’t see it until it’s big enough – and too late. Chaos is resentment, unhappiness, hatred, loneliness, despair, boredom, and jealousy, that silently pile up until they explode.

This is why you should be precise. Precision helps you pay attention and see when chaos is about to be unleashed.

Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission.

When something does no longer work in your relationship, fix it. It won’t get fixed by itself if you don’t.

Avoidance now is poison for the future. Confront the problem directly so that it doesn’t grow and if it does, you can at least prepare yourself for it.

But why don’t people do that?

Because first people need to admit there is a problem, then they need to define what a successful resolution looks like. Hence, that means they would de facto know what a failure would look like. By refusing to specify both, they avoid directly knowing when they fail.

Precision enables you to know. And when you know, you can fix.


Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding

People do risky stuff to triumph over the risk. This makes them competent, hence, take fewer risks. So, when things get too safe, people find a way to make them risky again.

There is a dark side to everything. In The Road to Wigan Pier George Orwell observed that the English socialist in the early 20th century did not like the poor. They hated the rich.

So, when people say they stand for something, the real question is: what do they stand against?

When a city council prevents a group of boys from skateboarding for their safety, do they, really?

A lot of people have a saint disgust of themselves, of the world, and of others. As a result, they seek to destroy because it makes them feel better. In doing so, they appoint themselves saviors of the human race and seek to destroy them for their own sake.

This is the thesis of mass shooters. Many people think this way.

While such a discourse is generally accepted by the extreme ecological-leftist movements, would the same be welcome if instead of saying that the world would be better without people, it said that it would be better without Blacks, Jews, or Arabs?

No. Yet, there is little difference.

Why does it so often seem to be the very people standing so visibly against prejudice who so often appear to feel obligated to denounce humanity itself?

This hate is bad for boys. They are taught to hate themselves because of the “patriarchy” or their propensity to “rape”.

Boys like to disobey. In this world, it means challenging school authority.

This partly explains why girls do better at school, at university, and in life in general.

While girls can play both girls’ and boys’ games, boys cannot. If a boy wins against a girl, it’s bad and he should feel guilty. If he loses, his life is over, beaten by a girl.

Boys can only win in boys’ games, against boys.

Girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friends, even though they might like them, whatever that means. They are attracted to boys who win status contests with other boys.

If the boys’ game turns into a girls’ game, the boys leave. Eg: university.

Over the last twenty years, the share of women that said that a successful marriage was important increased. Men’s shares decrease.

Most women that don’t “believe in marriage” decide to prioritize their careers. Then, at thirty, they quit to have a family instead as they realized that work isn’t worth it.

The increasing success of women at university or in the work environment, while men are failing, is bad news for both. Women want to date men that are, if not better, at least as good as they are.

Women don’t date down, they’re hypergamous by nature. The more successful women are, the less likely they will be to find a husband because the less likely they’ll find a guy as or more successful than them.

Why are women hypergamous? Because they become more vulnerable when they get a child, so they need a strong husband to rely on.

Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx

Gender studies and other Marxist disciplines are derived from the following ideas.

  • Individual freedom and the free market are used to hide the true nature of the Western system rooted in inequality, domination, and exploitation.
  • Intellectual activity should be devoted to social change to free the oppressed.

These ideas were taken to life by a few Marxist intellectuals like Jacques Derrida or Max Horkheimer, people who neither worked in fields nor factories but earned comfortable salaries as the intelligentsia.

They were supporting an ideology that killed 25% of Cambodia (enacted by Kieu Samphan, a student from La Sorbonne that outlined his genocidal ideas in his thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. for it) or millions of Russians that were killed in the gulags, or, of hunger.

Some intellectuals became aware of it, but most weren’t – or refused to look. Orwell, who had fought with the communists against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, warned everyone of communism by publishing Animal Farm.

No other countries welcome as many Marxist intellectuals as France, like Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, who kept on advocating Marxism even after the Soviets had repressed the revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Despite Solzhenitsyn’s publication of the Gulag Archipelago, these intellectuals did not see fit to change their mind about communism.

If dozens of millions had to die to reach utopia, so be it!

Obviously, they were completely wrong in their reasoning.

It is competence, and not power, that enables people to reach the top of the hierarchy.

The best surgeon becomes the best because he is good – not because he is a tyrant.

IQ and consciousness are the biggest predictors of success in the developed world.

A lot of people have problems because they’re not aggressive enough. They are too nice and other people use them.

This creates resentment, which is a toxic emotion. If you want your demands met, you need to state them clearly – people aren’t going to read your mind.

Sometimes, this leads to conflict, but that’s the better option. The alternative is growing resentment, then an explosion. Not good.


Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

The psychologist Henry Tajfel coined the term “minimal group identification”. He found out that people tended to reward members of their groups and disadvantage the non-members, disregarding the way the group had been set up.

Conclusion: people are social because they like the members of their group. And they’re anti-social because they don’t like the members not part of their group.

Suffering and the Limitations of Being

Human beings are fragile. God allows for deep suffering and horrible stuff to happen. Why? In a way, our weaknesses and challenges give us something to fight for in life.

If we were already all strong and happy and rich, we wouldn’t be doing anything and life would be “boring”.

Consider Superman. In the beginning, he had great strength and could run faster than the train. By the 1960s, he flew, carried immense weight, had x-ray vision etc. He was unbeatable, which made him boring.

So DC turned the story around, and made him vulnerable to kryptonite.

A superhero who can do anything turns out to be no hero at all. He’s nothing specific, so he’s nothing. He has nothing to strive against, so he can’t be admirable.

Being means that you need some limitations. These inflict suffering.

When the suffering is too large, people commit suicide because they think it is better not to “be” at all. As for mass shooters, they consider that there shouldn’t be anyone at all.

These thoughts are understandable. When a tragedy strikes your life (cancer, sick child, etc), the idea to end it all may be tempting.

But it often adds unnecessary suffering to life than relief.

Many have thought about this situation and didn’t find an answer. That may be because noticing is better than thinking, in this case. You may for example notice that when you love someone, you don’t love them for their strength – but for their limitations.

So, why should you pet a cat? Because it is the little moments of laughter and well-being that help you go through tragedy.


Coda

When Christ was conversing in the desert with the Devil, he didn’t dare ask God for help.

Many people pray and hope that their struggle will soon end. But this isn’t the right way to do it. Instead, ask God for what you (not Him) can do now to make things right.

Ask Him what you did wrong.

You will not like the answer, but the purpose isn’t to help you win the argument. It’s to maintain or re-establish order.

This is how you should approach life. When wondering what you will do the next day, the next year, or for the rest of your life, the answer is: the best possible.

Set your ultimate goal, then focus on the day-to-day work to achieve it.

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