Revisiting 12 Rules for Life: Make Friends With People Who Want the Best For You

Note: This is a repost of a blog series that I started in January 2018. Because this was prior to the blog being syndicated on PeakD, and it was some of my most-viewed content on the old blog. I’m going to be editing these slightly, but I’m also going to be adding my own thoughts as I re-read what I wrote. You can find the original post here.

For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link).

After reading this chapter, it should be of little surprise why Peterson is appealing to the burned out youth of the Millennial generation. After all, growing up in a small town with little future other than a vague promise of “leaving”, and watching many of his friends with even less possibilities will naturally resonate with the disaffected.

The storytelling at the start of this chapter is wonderful and compelling. While I grew up in the city, my family originates from a small town and I was drawn back there; the narrative also reminded me of novels like If I Ever Get Out of Here, where people find themselves in situations where their destiny is decided by their birth in a world where certain things are inadvertently taboo by their nature as being outside the microcosm of the environment.

• Peterson talks about the effects substance abuse had on the idle youth of his hometown. While I’m personally predisposed to have a reactionary view toward recreational drugs, Peterson paints them in the light of a potential destroyer (without demonizing them) by pointing out how they become ends to themselves in a world where few other options exist.

• His fundamental point in this chapter is that finding functional friends, at least for a definition of functional that roughly maps to “wanting others to find their potential” is key.

• Peterson cautions that devoting your life to helping “friends” who have fallen into self-destruction is likely dubious. How much of this is informed by his own experience versus professional judgment is unclear, though he does cite some evidence that this is dangerous both because of the nature of the temptation to help and the psychology behind it:

  1. Wanting to help could be a sign of desiring martyrdom. By overlooking what your actual duties and contributions are, you can dedicate your life to helping someone who neither wants nor will respond to help, even if it is given with the best intentions in mind. As Peterson is a clinical psychologist, I feel it is important to point out that the tone he takes is not “don’t help people” but rather “becoming friends with people to try to reform them is dangerous” to avoid the accusation of hypocrisy that could otherwise be leveled against him.His point is, in essence, that it is easy to find oneself in a bad situation if you replace your friends, who should be a support net, with people who are dysfunctional. Another point he makes is court-mandated therapy: if the patient doesn’t want to be there, they don’t improve (something that is easily observable by laypeople who come into contact with this sort of situation regularly).
  2. Joining in with others is going to come naturally with the act of acclimating to their ways. Peterson cites a number of psychologists and general trends to back this up, but I remember the early parts of Proverbs having something to say about this:

My son, if sinners entice you,

Do not consent.

If they say, “Come with us,

Let us lie in wait for blood,

Let us ambush the innocent without cause;

Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,

Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;

(Proverbs 1: 10-12)
  • One of the important things that Peterson talks about is the power of comparison (which he continues to talk about in Chapter 4, because I’m always running a little behind on writing up my reflections), in this case as a destructive force for apathy:

Your raging alcoholism makes my binge drinking appear trivial. My long serious talks with you about your badly failing marriage convince both of us that you are doing everything possible and that I am helping you to my utmost. It looks like effort. It looks like progress. But real improvement would require far more from both of you.

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

The third chapter of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is much sleeker than the others so far, and shorter too. I was quite sad when the chapter ended, despite having the consolation of a future chapter. Despite this, it feels just as long and meaningful, if for no other reason than the personal nature of its contents. Peterson’s musings and reflections do not leave out details to paint him in a better light, and their raw honesty gives a strength and power rarely seen in this sort of work.

Reflections from 2021

One thing that I’m much more conscious of now than I was when I originally made this post is what the nature of a good relationship is.

A good relationship is one that you can be honestly grateful for and one that is met with reciprocal gratitude.

This is Peterson’s point.

It also looks like this was more or less where I started finding my flow regarding the reflections.

I’ve evolved on drugs. While I still consider them absolutely detestable–I don’t even drink)–I’m not so sure that there’s a legal solution to them. Barring my personal perspective, I think there’s another understanding that I have that I didn’t have back in the day.

If someone wants to destroy themselves, they have essentially infinite ways to do so. Drugs are one, but the list of destructive behaviors is nearly infinite. Even mere laziness can be a reflection of destructive tendencies.

I heard someone say somewhere that the seven deadly sins are essentially universals; while people don’t always agree on virtues, they understand the sins in every culture.

And the reason for that is this: vices are destructive. Conscious vices are one aspect of that, but there’s also moral weakness that can lead to unconscious vice.

One conception of friendship that I now understand in a different light is that you don’t give your life to your friends. You spend it with them. When you think of it that way, it’s clearer that you can choose to spend your life with people who are virtuous and who help you build a better world and self, or people who lack those qualities.

I like that I caught the danger of comparison back in the day, but I can say that I didn’t apply it very well to my own life. One dangerous potential that we all have is to set metrics that fit our desires, rather than our needs. Another case is that we consider things more fully in our own case than in others’ cases. Sometimes you need to look at a relationship or a thing and see that it has some cost that is too great to pay.

Or, rather, how much are you willing to lose by experimenting with power tools as an absolute novice? You might make something really cool, but the obvious danger and cost there is much greater than the potential.

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