I’ve been working through Jordan Peterson’s new book Beyond Order (Amazon affiliate link), breaking down each chapter into halves so I can give each a fair treatment. I just finished the second half of the chapter dedicated to the third rule, and now I’ve gotten into the fourth rule.
As usual, Peterson builds elegantly on previous concepts and ideas when he moves into the next section, but I found this chapter to be much more in a different vein than the others. The mythological analogies are familiar if you’ve read Maps of Meaning, but he moves into Abraham and Horus as his focal points for this chapter.
Find a Place to Work
A key part of becoming good at anything is finding a place to work.
This means more than it says on the tin. It’s not just aimlessly doing stuff, and it’s not just finding a place where one can be comfortable. This is the first step in a grand aim: making the world a better place.
You might object, “Well, I just could not manage to take on something that important.” What if you began to build yourself into a person who could? You could start by trying to solve a small problem—something that is bothering you, that you think you could fix.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
The question is always one of searching. It is necessary to locate a space that is within one’s proficiency but also capable of fulfilling one’s needs and moving upward.
Figuring out a strategy is critical for a well-lived life, but it’s also worth noting that paralysis during the search for a decision can be more disastrous than a few poorly decided choices in the final analysis. As one engages with challenges, they eventually figure out what they really value and how much they are willing to pay for it.
It’s also important to remember that nothing happens in a day. Moving through the small challenges is practice and opportunity, and the rewards can be things you don’t get from big challenges that you’ll face later.
Take-away: Start working on something, then climb the ladder.
The Abdicated Throne
A question that needs to be answered before one orients oneself around doing something worth doing is finding the place one needs to work.
This means finding a place with suffering to solve.
But the suffering and malevolence that characterize life are real, with the terrible consequences of the real—and our ability to solve problems, by confronting them and taking them on, is also real.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
The reason why suffering is such a good metric for this is that it’s something that you’ll see everywhere if you know how to look for it and it’s often something that individual action can fix.
However, it doesn’t have to be suffering in the traditional sense. You can look for anything that induces hardship in others’ lives. One function of reducing hardship is that it also winds up reducing all future suffering as the people whose burdens you lift find themselves able to perform their functions in the world better.
Anything that lets you make the world incrementally better is a valid goal.
Take-away: Find something that impedes your goals and put it in its place.
Sidebar: The Self as Niche-Finder
One point that Peterson doesn’t really talk about, but which I find interesting, is how one of the key parts of this is that you need to look for a place where responsibility has been abdicated but the relationship between that and aspiration isn’t really explored.
Many people seek to occupy the same spot as someone they look up to in an aspirational goal-seeking way. Think of all the people who want to become famous athletes or movie stars in their youth, or who are inspired to follow in the footsteps of some great figure.
This isn’t bad. Striving is good.
But it’s also not getting the point here. If you want to be the best in a field, find something other people aren’t doing within that field. Revolutionize it. Don’t just copy people who come before you.
This speaks to me as a writer. One thing that hindered me in my younger years was a desire to become a writer like the writers I admired.
This isn’t a bad idea from a certain aspirational perspective, as I mentioned earlier. But it wasn’t helpful because I will never be the equivalent of anyone else.
One problem that people have is that they will look to take an occupied spot when their talents could be better applied to some vacancy within their reach. This isn’t settling, because you’ll always change in the future. It’s like a hand-hold on the way to the top, not a place to stop and build a forever home.
Take-away: Don’t look to the stars as your next step, though they can provide guidance.
Playing the Game by the Rules
We often think of rules as something that are brought on involuntarily and that hamper our efforts, especially when we don’t see any fairness in them.
Many of the rules of life are arbitrary. They stem from biology, time, physics, scarcity, and other countless limitations placed upon us by the universe and society.
They are not things that are fair, in fact they often offend our ideas of fairness.
But we can’t change most of them. Societies are massive, and altering them can come with consequences we don’t want to bring on ourselves and our children. The universe seems to be entirely incapable of changing its general rules because of human influence on a cosmic scale, though we can still exercise some influence over our immediate environment.
The consequence of this is that the only way to play the game of life is to accept the rules.
Accept some limitations, however, and the game begins. Accept them, more broadly speaking, as a necessary part of Being and a desirable part of life. Assume you can transcend them by accepting them. And then you can play the limited game properly.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
Figuring out what to do with rules is simple. You don’t resent them. You do what you can to live within their boundaries. You can change some rules, sometimes, when they’re rules that people have made up. But you can’t change mortality. Even if we get rid of clinical death, there will be an end to all things.
Take-away: Do not presume that things are different for you.
Suffering Despite No Fault
One challenging thing to deal with is that finding a place to perform these tasks will expose you to suffering.
Even if you are called by God Himself to venture out into the world, as Abraham was, life is going to be exceptionally difficult.Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order
I’m not really sure how to deal with that and move forward with the points that I want to make. I accept some suffering as part of life, in part because of my religious convictions.
That doesn’t mean that suffering is good.
I guess the lesson to take away here is this.
You can do everything right and still have things not fully work out for you. There’s no magic word that brings about utopia.
But suffering is inevitable. You get to choose whether it accompanies something meaningful, or whether it’s just a constant affliction.
Take-away: Just because you’re doing things right doesn’t mean they’ll be easy.