Gordon Book Review Blog

12 Rules of Life - by Jordan Peterson

Our discussion of Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life - an Antidote to Chaos began with criticism of his verbose prose and slightly scattered style, contrasted with appreciation for the jewels of wisdom about exploring and developing lives of meaning.  On balance we all felt it was well worth the effort.   A summary of our book club's meeting necessarily leaves out the depth and breadth of the content, but this brief list of chapter highlights and comments gets us started.  Overall, this book prompted some of the deepest personal  discussions we’ve had as a group in a while.  Highly recommended.

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back 

We all heard this from our parents and grandparents (a recurring theme to many of the rules), but agreed that when you act the part, you can BE the part.   Bill reminded us that in competitive sprinting, form and structure are critical. As in life.  This chapter's dive into the brain chemistry of the lobster, and human, drove home the point that some of our deepest traits are hardwired into our Being.

  1. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping 

As they tell you on the airplane, look after yourself first, so you can look after and help others, better.  His example that many people look after their dogs better than themselves was a good springboard into this chapter.  A corollary, recognize, to avoid, self-destructive behavior. 

  1. Make friends with people who want the best for you 

This chapter was unique in that it was all formed in Peterson's own personal experiences, unlike others  where he draws from philosophers, clinical research, and religious traditions.  Said otherwise, if you had a  friend whom you would not recommend as a friend for your brother, sister, or other loved one, why do you have that person as a friend? 

  1. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. 

Success can be measured in so many ways today, because there are so many games being played across the fields of life. Some are measured by their nature: sports and business, for example.  When viewed from the Long View, small steps, in the right direction, add up over time.   But comparing yourself to others is too often a dark and unproductive path.

  1. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

Most of us liked this chapter and we all like our kids.  For a group of guys, several with grandchildren, we talked about the state of college bound students today.  College and university resources dedicated to psychology and socialization (and coddling) dwarf those from our ‘sink or swim’ generation.  Too many college kids today have the emotional IQ of 2-year olds and that's a shame.

  1. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world 

We can't know other people's dances. In the words of the great philosopher Thumper, if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all.

  1. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient). 

This chapter delved into evil, whose roots are in expedience.  Just make things better; you don't have to make them perfect.  In the words of Mrs. Raymond, ‘There is little value in things easily attained.’   Evil is so far worse than tragedy; the differentiation is foundational to life. 

  1. Tell the truth – or, at least, don't lie. 

The most dangerous lies are those we make to ourselves, justifying empty lives steeped in ideologies, detached from human interaction or reality.  Little lies enable big lies, and big lies by ideologues led to over a hundred million innocents murdered in the 20th century.

  1. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't 

Rick and Geoff talked about Emotional Intelligence, and its effectiveness within organizations today.  EQ (as distinct from IQ) allows us to listen and understand: ‘he who speaks first loses (control over the direction of the conversation.)’   Several of us have found emotional intelligence training in business to be equally valuable in life.

  1. Be precise in your speech 

And be especially careful what you tell yourself. The world is simple only when it is predictable. When things go wrong is when chaos rules.  These rules are the antidote to Chaos.

  1. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.

This  chapter admonished the general public for closing skateboard parks, but Peterson rejects that, asking why would we discourage such dedication to improving at something.  For me personally, this moved the dial on what others, younger people in particular, do to fill their time, to improve. 

  1. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street 

We don't understand other people's struggles, so don't assume their motives are any less pure than our own.  Even if you prefer dogs.  This rule covered pain and tragedy, so central to humanity. Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you. 

We discovered from several reviews that this book has come under criticism for its matter-of-fact discussion of the difference between sexes, hierarchies, and a focus on the individual.   While some of these criticisms may have merit, Peterson's overall message to look after yourself first, seems to be good advice.  We all liked this book.  

 Here's a link to the book:

The book prompted a discussion on Emotional Intelligence, a topic embraced by several of us, and widely employed in business today.  This book includes an overview and a self assessment test as part of the price.   Worth it.

  Our next book about Justice John Marshall will help us to understand Justice Kavanaugh better


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