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Bullet Point Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

The Facts

About this book from Wikipedia:

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is a 2018 self-help book by the Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. It provides life advice through essays on abstract ethical principles, psychology, mythology, religion, and personal anecdotes.

About this author from Wikipedia:

Jordan Bernt Peterson (born 12 June 1962) is a Canadian clinical psychologist, YouTube personality, author, and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. He began to receive widespread attention as a public intellectual in the late 2010s for his conservative views on cultural and political issues. Peterson has described himself as a "classic British liberal" and a "traditionalist."

Why read this book

Peterson's thought-provoking writing helps us explore our own rules of life. Although there is much "mental meandering" in this book, the rules are clearly connected to a deep value system that Peterson holds. As you read, consider why you agree or disagree with these rules.

Proven leaders have great clarity around the rules that govern their lives and leadership.

The Bullet Points

Rule 1: Fix your posture. Others will treat you with more respect.

  • Peterson explores the connection between social status and biology.

  • There is evidence that the neurotransmitter serotonin impacts social status.

  • Peterson argues that social status impacts mental illness.

  • Posture works as a social signal, broadcasting social status. Others see this and treat you with more excellent social status, reinforcing the feedback loop. He does emphasize that this is just the beginning and one needs to speak up and be courageous socially.

Rule 2: Take care of yourself the way you would take care of someone else.

  • Peterson asserts that we take care of pets and children because they are innocent and don't take care of ourselves because of guilt around our impurities.

  • He tells us to push forward, keep promises, and imagine what our life might look like if we took care of ourselves.

  • Peterson also points out that not taking care of yourself under the premise that it only affects you is flawed. Deprioritizing self-care impacts all those who care about you, including those who rely on you for support and safety.

Rule 3: Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed.

  • If you have heard, "you're the average of the five people you hang out with the most," this is essentially that.

  • Peterson gives us ways to identify why we stay in relationships that aren't healthy and some tools to get rid of them. These tools boil down to "just leave."

  • When deciding on someone you call a friend, ask yourself if you would recommend that relationship to someone you care about. If not, move on.

Rule 4: Judge yourself by your own goals, not by others.

  • Peterson points out that there is always someone better than you at anything you decide to do in the social media age. That awareness can be destructive.

  • Setting goals based on your standards and strengths is a healthier measure of success.

  • Peterson asserts that the answer to this belief that nothing is worth trying to do since you'll never be good anyway is the "essential goodness of Being."

Rule 5: As a parent, train your children to follow the rules of society.

  • Parents who avoid correcting their kids are leaving them unprepared for society.

  • When a child is young, parents are a proxy for society. This role allows children to learn sometimes difficult lessons safely.

  • Peterson offers four principles for parenting: set the rules, use minimum force, parent with a partner if possible, and understand your capacity for anger and revenge.

Rule 6: Before blaming anything else, think: have I done everything within my ability to solve the problem?

  • Peterson discusses, at length, the suffering in life and our potential responses.

  • He proposes a personal reflection to reveal possible responsibility, pondering the question in his title.

  • Personal responsibility puts us in the advantageous position of being able to do something about it.

Rule 7: Do what is meaningful to you, and you will feel better about existing.

  • Much of this chapter can be summarized with, "do good because it has meaning."

  • Peterson challenges us with a deeper examination of our nature with the question, "What must you become, knowing who you truly are?"

  • He asserts that the more significant the change you desire, the greater the sacrifice needed.

Rule 8: Act only in ways in line with your personal truth. Stop lying.

  • A direct attack on lying to self and others is the thrust of this rule.

  • Peterson offers three steps to telling the truth: 1. develop your truth, 2. act only consistent with your truth, and 3. keep an open mind to new information and keep adjusting your truth.

Rule 9: Listen to other people thoughtfully. You'll learn something, and they'll trust you.

  • Although this seems obvious, Peterson explains that if we don't allow the speaker to speak at length, uninterrupted, they won't have the space to think.

  • Sometimes we don't need to speak; the speaker will resolve things independently.

  • Trust comes when we listen without judgment, realizing that our experiences are not the "right" ones.

Rule 10: Define your problem specifically. It becomes easier to deal with.

  • Peterson goes as far as to say unless we clearly define our problem, we will continue to struggle with it.

  • Precise language is an integral part of giving structure to chaos.

  • In interpersonal conflict, focus the argument only on the issue at hand.

  • For fans of the "as five why's philosophy", do that.

Rule 11: Accept that inequality exists.

  • Likely the most controversial chapter, Peterson asserts that biological differences between men and women do exist - opposing many modern views of gender as only a social construct. Although he is all over the place in this chapter, he does agree with the idea that when gender equality creates equal opportunity, rights, and treatment, that's a good thing.

  • He points out that if we are to set goals, there will be a hierarchy by the very nature of some being better. This value-based structure is healthy until power becomes the determinant.

  • Within this reasoning, pursuing equality in every profession - defined as 50/50 - could be destructive as it doesn't consider biological leans.

Rule 12: Life is tough. Take time to indulge in little bits of happiness.

  • Peterson acknowledges that life is complicated and suffering is inevitable.

  • He eludes to the story of superman being impervious to all things. The story is only interesting once kryptonite is part of the narrative. Likewise, we must embrace these weak moments.

  • Knowing suffering brings an appreciation of goodness. Take time for the goodness.