Revisiting 12 Rules for Life: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping

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). The second chapter focuses on self-care, and provides some interesting insights and information, plus a lot of actionable advice.

The second chapter of Peterson’s work is engaging. I certainly enjoyed it more than the first, though I also am a fan of archetypes, and the Judeo-Christian imagery in the chapter resonated well with me (I know from looking at Amazon reviews that this is not universally the case).

Emphasizing the real-life cases of when things go wrong is something that Peterson can do well as a clinical psychologist, and he paints an interesting message of self-worth. In the first chapter he talked about guilt, and how people often cannot confront the potential of their own wrong-doing; they ignore it or fall to it, but they rarely strike a balance with it.

This chapter draws on similar themes. I don’t know that I cared for how obtuse this chapter got, and many of the notions that Peterson raises regarding the formulation of creation myths may give too much credence to a sort of genetic memory (i.e. indicating that early humans had the knowledge of their ancestors who were not yet what we would consider homo sapiens and this then shaped the imagery of the Fall in Genesis).

However, I think there were some really good points here, and here are a few of them:

• Drawing from Carl Jung, he points out that to “love one’s neighbor as thyself” one must have some degree of self-love and self-care attached. This ties in nicely to the whole “dealing with one’s nature” element.
○ To build on the above, we don’t begrudge a dog or a cat their violence when they eat other creatures, because they are not conscious beings. We, however, hold ourselves to greater standards and turn ourselves into martyrs in service of others because we do not recognize our potential for goodness.
• Our own goodness is not necessarily in a particular character trait, but in the way that we contribute to each other, and to society. By building each other up, we accomplish what none of us can do alone, moving beyond the current world and to a greater future for ourselves and posterity.
• Another big point has to do with the notion of preparing others for the world: “This is the great Freudian Oedipal nightmare. It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.” [Emphasis Peterson’s]

All-in-all, I’m enjoying the book, though it’s something that I would naturally enjoy. As far as applying it, I think some of that is easier said than done. Since I picked up the book out of academic interest, rather than any pressing concern about turning my life around, that’s probably to be expected to a degree, but I have noticed that many of the good things I’ve already been doing I am freeing myself to do more intentionally, and some of the worse habits I have are becoming more obvious to me.

Moving into the second chapter of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, I have noticed that he definitely draws heavily from an archetypal approach to psychology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having already started on Chapter 3, I can tell you that it doesn’t continue to dominate his work (quite as heavily, at least) and it gets more readable as the text continues, though Chapter 2 is not particularly difficult as a read.

Perspective from 2021

I didn’t really have more than a casual understanding of Jung before reading Peterson, and since then I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that much of what Peterson talks about is a lot more nuanced than it seems to the uninitiated.

One element that I didn’t really get is the idea of the collective unconscious.

Since reading more of Peterson’s work and also Jung’s work, it makes more sense to me. The idea here isn’t that there’s some passed down memory, per se. It is the structures of biology and reality that establish universals between all people.

Because these structures have deep and archetypal underpinnings that tap into the universe, there is really no distinction between the primitive and the modern or the primordial or the contemporary from the right perspective. A live electrical wire might now pose the threat a snake posed, but the numinosity embodied by either of these are identical.

After all, what is a lethal current but a venom that invades the body? What is a snake but a power that we barely understand?

This is the source of the archetypes, and the reason dream symbols and metaphors take on their peculiar forms.

I find it interesting that my call-back to the first chapter covers things I largely didn’t cover in the first chapter. I attribute this to the early development of my method of breaking down texts for the blog.

Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself

I’ve still found this “love thy neighbor as thyself” point relevant. It’s something that really sticks with me, and something that helped disabuse me of some more toxic elements of my thought. When I first read this book, I was going through a rough first year as a teacher, though I don’t think I yet came to appreciate how rough it was on me.

One element of my philosophy was self-sacrifice. I taught because I had been blessed during my younger life to have great mentors and role models, and I wanted to be that for other people.

However, a consequence of this is that I would work eighty-hour weeks and then not live up to my potential due to fatigue, stress, and anxiety. My striving for excellence came at the expense of any understanding. Where I said in the previous entry that I was engaging out of academic interest rather than a feeling of needing help, I was probably being honest but I was also wrong about my assessment of my situation.

My next year teaching still had some rough patches, but I came to value myself as an individual and work around my limitations. I was doing a forty-hour week, rebuilding my social life, and by the end of the year my students and I were better off for it.

Martyrdom and Goodness

This notion stuck out to me because I was conscious of my martyr complex, though I hadn’t quite accepted that it was dangerous.

One thing that I find interesting is the work of Ayn Rand. While the only piece of hers that I’ve been able to finish was Anthem (both her longer fiction and non-fiction proved repellent to me), her idea of the virtue in being a self-serving individual with properly aligned goals is something that I think is worth considering.

Of course, anyone with a basic understanding of price theory and economics understands that one benefit of free exchange is the interplay of values; what one person values less they exchange for something more valuable to them, but that relationship is reciprocal.

The positive way to approach this, as laid out by Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Amazon affiliate link; free for Prime members and highly recommended by me!), is the win-win relationship. You strengthen yourself and your partners going forward, and any relationship that isn’t based on that reciprocity breeds at the very least resentment but also potential dysfunction.

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