This rule is much shorter and to the point than some of the other rules.
Take a look at Michaelangelo’s David above. What is it? Does it have any meaning? Think about that as we go through this rule.
Peterson opens rule three with stories of his childhood, which we will briefly outline here. He grew up in Fairview, Alberta, where winter temperatures can be forty-below, and the daylight incredibly short. There wasn’t much to do, and the kids he grew up with didn’t want to do much.
Peterson had a friend that he calls Chris. Chris was a smart guy; he read a lot, was inventive, and was a natural engineer. He had a nice family, and his sisters were smart, too.
But something was off– something wasn’t right.
Chris was angry and resentful; he was without hope. Peterson says that Chris’s mannerisms manifested themselves in the form of a pickup that he drove.
It was dented on the inside and outside from wrecks.
“Chris’s truck was the exoskeleton of a nihilist” (Peterson, p. 69, 2018).
Peterson spent his adolescent years with Chris and his cousin Ed. He remembers drunken nights, which he does not look upon nostalgically; and he also remembers the general feeling of the time that the group bought into.
“Doing anything wasn’t cool” (Peterson, p. 71, 2018).
Peterson wanted to be elsewhere, and it wasn’t because a lack of money. He states that he made more money working a plywood mill in town than he would make for the next 20 years of his life. It was the conditions of the setting, the unchanging, negative air of the little town.
Peterson goes to college and finds a group of like-minded friends. He disconnected himself from his past, and he said it was freeing.
“I thought this was just a natural development. I thought that every person who moved would have– and want– the same phoenix-like experience. But that wasn’t always the case” (Peterson, p. 73, 2018).
He recalls an egregious memory he had while in Edmonton finishing his undergraduate degree. He and his sister took an apartment in the city; it was nice and overlooked the the skyline.
Peterson’s companion from earlier– Ed, Chris’s cousin– had moved to the city, too. Peterson invited Ed over to catch up.
Ed brought his friend over. Peterson recalls seeing Ed and his friend in bad condition.
“Ed showed up, older, balder and stooped. He was a lot more not-doing-so-well young adult and a lot less youthful possibility” (Peterson, p. 74, 2018).
Ed had taken a job mowing lawns, which Peterson admits is a perfectly acceptable job for a someone who could not do better; however, it was a wretchedly low-end career for an intelligent person.
Peterson recalls seeing the tell-tale signs of a stoner with no control– red eyes and lifeless– in Ed and his buddy. Moreover, Peterson soon found out that Chris wasn’t doing well either.
What was it that made Ed and Chris unable (or unwilling) to change their circumstances?
Peterson asks questions to get the reader thinking. Was it inevitable? Was it because of their past traumas and their own limitations? People vary, but he makes an interesting point on the nature-nurture debate.
“The degree to which these differences are immutably part and parcel of someone is greater than an optimist might presume or desire” (Peterson, p. 75, 2018).
It turns out that Chris had a psychotic break in his thirties, resulting in suicide. He had been flirting with insanity for years, explains Peterson.
Why did Chris and Peterson’s other childhood friends continually choose to be with people and in places that were not good for them?
This is where it gets interesting
Freud often discussed something called the repetition compulsion. It can be defined as the unconscious drive to repeat bad– horrible– decisions. Sometimes people commit these repetitions to formulate them more precisely, or because no other options beckon.
“It’s partly fate. It’s partly inability. It’s partly… unwillingness to learn? Refusal to learn? Motivated refusal to learn?” (Peterson, p. 75, 2018).
Rescuing the Damned– Is it Possible?
Sometimes people choose friends who aren’t good for them because they want to help them. Peterson thinks this may be a bad idea. He gives the argument credence by mentioning that many view the highest virtue as the willingness to help. However he makes a valid point:
“But not everyone who is failing is a victim, and not everyone at the bottom wishes to rise, although many do, and many manage it. Nonetheless, people will often accept or even amplify their own suffering, as well as that of others, if they can brandish it as evidence of the world’s injustice” (Peterson, p. 76, 2018).
The following paragraphs get rather complex and nuanced, referring to other manners in which helping others is an incredibly unstable choice– specifically when the ‘hero’ is nothing but an individual who wants someone to save but cannot save himself. You need to refer to the book to get a full understanding… However, we will continue:
“When it’s not just naivete, the attempt to rescue someone is often fueled by vanity and narcissism” (Peterson, p. 76, 2018).
Peterson outlines the argument one might make on behalf of himself and Christ. After all, Jesus befriended the downtrodden, so why shouldn’t you?
“But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you’re you” (Peterson, p. 78, 2018).
Peterson goes on to give some practical research, that which may satisfy the evidence-seeking. He references a study by Barrick et al (1998), which found that peer group interventions in the workplace are harmful. The study showed that putting a problematic person in a well-performing group brings the group down as a whole.
Another study showed that putting a delinquent teen among civilized-peers resulted in a spread of delinquency– not stability.
Maybe there are times when you believe your strength and generosity are what drive your actions. Maybe you want to prove something. “Or maybe it’s because it’s easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone utterly irresponsible” (Peterson, p. 79, 2018).
He says that you should assume you are doing the easiest thing, not the most difficult.
It may look like effort and progress, but there is probably some sort of enabling going on. And it may be possible that your contempt is more salutary than your pity…
Consider these circumstances:
- One’s raging alcoholism makes another’s binge drinking seem marginal
- Long talks with a friend over his failing marriage convince you both that you are doing the best that you can
Real improvement requires much more. The person crying out may have already decided that his suffering is acceptable because it is easier than shouldering true responsibility.
Often times people have no plan, and they associate with similar individuals because it is easier– you know it, and so do they– and they have all decided to sacrifice the future for the present.
“Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble” (Peterson, p. 80, 2018).
You shouldn’t assume the person is a victim, that the world is against them, and none of their problems are self-inflicted. That, according to Peterson, is the most unlikely situation.
Failure is easy to understand. Vice is easy to adhere to. It’s easier to not shoulder responsibility. Success is the mystery, according to Peterson. Success and virtue are the inexplicable.
Moreover, assuming that everything is out of one’s hands disables the person from having power over his or her future choices.
“I am not saying that there is no hope of redemption. But it is much harder to extract someone from a chasm than to lift him from a ditch. And some chasms are very deep. And there’s not much left of the body at the bottom” (Peterson, p. 81, 2018).
Peterson continues to give examples, but he comes to a conclusion with this. Maybe one is better off getting his or her act together and leading by example– not continuing a harmful friendship. He finishes by stating that none of the aforementioned is justification for abandoning those in real need.
Before closing the chapter, Peterson asks us to consider our relationships. If you have a friendship you wouldn’t recommend to a family member, maybe you should abandon it. Loyalty isn’t everything; reciprocity is important here.
“You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you” (Peterson, p. 82, 2018).
Remember Michaelangelo’s sculpture at the beginning? It is an ideal, perfection. It says to you: ” You can be more than you are.” It is there to make you uncomfortable in your current state. It challenges you.
Aspire upwards; by doing so you dare others to be better, too.
“Have some courage. Use your judgement, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity” (Peterson, p. 83, 2018).
MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU.
Barrick, M., Stewart, G., Neuber, M., & Mount, M. (1998). Relating member ability and personality to work-team processes and team effectiveness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 377-391.
Peterson, J. (2018). 12 rules for life: An antidote to chaos. London etc.: A. Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books.