Jordan Peterson: Ideals shame us all (and what to do about it)

In the second chapter of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, he offers Rule #2, which is: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping

He kicks off this chapter by exploring the reasons why, among one hundred people who are prescribed a drug, one third won’t fill the prescription and half of those remaining will fill it but then not take the medication properly. He proceeds to cite statistics revealing that “people are better at fulfilling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.”

Why is this? Peterson wondered.

Long perplexed by this phenomenon much broader than the anecdote that serves to illustrate it, Peterson takes readers on a tour of history from the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ which he says have existed for a billion years, to the categories of ‘parent’ and ‘child’ which he says have existed for 200 million years. (As an aside, it is interesting how Kathleen Wynne purports to dispense with such eternal categories legislatively during a few terms in office.)

Peterson then discusses order, chaos, and consciousness as well as the symbols of these across ancient mythologies and religious traditions of the world.

The underlying question is: Why don’t people take good care of themselves? 

Eventually Peterson says that it is because each of us knows much more about ourselves than anyone else knows about us, and we are ashamed:

But only you know the full range of your secret transgressions, insufficiencies, and inadequacies. No one is more familiar than you with all the ways you mind and body are flawed. No one has more reason to hold you in contempt, to see you as pathetic–and by withholding something that might do you good, you can punish yourself for all your failings.

He explores the reasons for our shame though an exposition of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis:

[…] Naked means unprotected and unarmed in the jungle of nature and man. This is why Adam and Eve became ashamed immediately after their eyes were opened. They could see–and what they first saw was themselves. Their faults stood out. Their vulnerability was on display. […] In their vulnerability, now fully realized, they felt unworthy to stand before God.

If you can’t identify with that sentiment, you’re just not thinking. Beauty shames the ugly. Strength shames the weak. Death shames the living–and the Ideal shames us all.

How to respond to this reality with reasonableness and maturity? And how to return to being capable of living confidently in the sight of God despite falling so short of His glory?

After all, “the entire Bible,” notes Peterson, “is structured so that everything after the Fall–the history of Israel, the prophets, the coming of Christ–is presented as a remedy for that Fall, a way out of evil. […] And what would that mean?

Peterson thinks it would (or does) mean being worthy of respect, love, and being valued and that to live in hope means seeking meaning through responsibility and treating yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. This approach, he insists, will elevate both you and others and accord with what it means to have been made in God’s Image.

Ever turning to the concrete and practical, Peterson then invites readers to ask themselves: “What should I be doing, when I have some freedom, to improve my health, expand my knowledge, and strengthen my body? He emphasizes, “You must discipline yourself carefully. You must keep the promises you make to yourself, so that you can trust and motivate yourself.”

Through this, he concludes, “you can justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature, and replace some of the shame and self-consciousness with the natural pride and forthright confidence of someone who has learned once again to walk with God in the Garden.”

The splendour of ideals would overwhelm but through living in the company of God who is the Ideal Himself, we can learn to rejoice in ideals rather than resenting them as we live in the freedom of the children of God.


One thought on “Jordan Peterson: Ideals shame us all (and what to do about it)

  1. Unworthy to stand before God…oh yes. But “you can justify your miserable existence. That would atone for your sinful nature” ? … So close and yet so far. There’s only one way to find justification and atonement, and that is by being brought into the Beloved Son who loved us and valued us enough to pay for us in blood.


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