Clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, has received massive attention from the mainstream media and public eye as of late. He is perhaps best known for his outspoken “controversial” opposition to political correctness, identity politics, and Canada’s anti-free speech laws. His new book, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos, has exploded into an international bestseller, and for good reason. Dr. Peterson’s powerful message still occupies my mind weeks after reading the final page.

12 Rules For Life reads like a self-help book. Each chapter focuses on one of his “rules.” His rules include what is meaningful, tell the truth, assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t – which are essential and universal across people and time. Dr. Peterson’s darkly humorous, analytical, personal writing style seems to resonate with young adults, particularly men. It is as though he embodies a paternal role model with genuine insights on meaning and responsibilities that we are yearning to hear, but can’t seem to find anywhere else.

The central theme that weaves through each chapter revolves around living a meaningful life as it relates to the two concepts of order and chaos. The former, he writes, is inherently masculine. It can be defined as the state of being in which things are familiar, structured, and according to plan.

By contrast, chaos – traditionally feminine – emerges when something unexpected occurs. It is losing a job or discovering your spouse is having an affair. Chaos sends us to a place referred to as the “underworld” where things are “uncertain, anxiety provoking, helpless, and depressing.” This is the place to which fictional characters venture to slay the dragon and emerge as heroes. Everyone has traveled to the underworld at some point. Many people never make it back.

Meaning, according to Dr. Peterson, is achieved by walking along the line between order and chaos, with one foot planted in what you know and understand and the other in the unknown; a balance. Meaning is your soul communicating that you are in the right place at the right time where everything just clicks. This is what we should routinely be striving to attain. Dr. Peterson’s twelve rules offer guidance as to how to get there.

First, have a specific target at which to aim. As rule 7 outlines, pursuing what is meaningful over happiness or immediate satisfaction is a necessary first step: “Meaning emerges when the impulses are regulated, organized, and unified… If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering.” This is no easy feat.

His advice?

“Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge.”
“Tell the truth. Or, at least, don’t lie.”
“Say only those things that make you strong. Do only those things that you could speak of with honor.”
“Confront the uncertainty of the world voluntarily, and with faith and courage.”
“Aim continually at Heaven while you work diligently on Earth.”

Dr. Peterson emphasizes developing character in the midst of suffering. His rules are intended to encourage the reader to reflect inward for answers, rather than blame the world or its Creator. This is a particularly uncomfortable habit to establish. It requires us to take responsibility for ourselves and our pain instead of burying it. And it demands we hold ourselves accountable for how we have contributed to our own misfortunes. We are challenged to abstain from being either a tyrant or a slave by recognizing our capacity for evil and keeping it under control by choosing a life of morality. These are difficult tasks to master. In fact, it can really only be done by those who genuinely want to help themselves and rise above the inevitable suffering in life.

Our modern world is  fraught with broken families and toxic culture. It is creating generations of confused and anxious young adults who are desperate for direction and guidance. The same society that insists women are victims of the patriarchy is robbing men of their virtuous masculinity, leaving both genders lost and spiritually desolate. Perhaps there is no single answer to remedy this complicated moral dilemma, but for all the lost souls who reject nihilism and are seeking responsibility and a meaningful life, 12 Rules For Life is an exceptional place to start.

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Jennifer S