Rule #4 in Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
He begins with a dozen or so examples to illustrate, “No matter how good you are at something, or how you rank your accomplishments, there is someone out there who makes you look incompetent.”
This chapter is about how to handle one’s “critical internal voice” and to correct the various common forms of self-criticism that are destructive, counterproductive, and even sinful. “The word ‘sin’, Peterson explains, “means to miss the mark.” And we often miss the mark, he says, from aiming too high, too low, or too chaotically.
Throughout the chapter, Peterson essentially offers a sort of secular examination of conscience. Here are a few of the sorts of questions he raises for self-reflection:
- If I am winning at everything, does that mean that I am not doing anything difficult?
- If I am winning but not growing, does that mean that I am not doing the most important form of winning?
- How much leisure, enjoyment, and reward do I require, so that I feel like more than a beast of burden?
- Do I ask myself what I want? Do I negotiate fairly with myself? Or am I a tyrant, with myself as a slave?
- Have I dared to articulate to myself, and express (or at least become aware of) what would really justify my life?
- What is it that is bothering me? Is that something I could fix? Would I actually be willing to fix it?
- What would my life look like, if it were better? What does “better” even mean?
These are interesting questions and Peterson insists that we mustn’t over-estimate our self-knowledge. He says, “You are, on the one hand the most complex thing in the entire universe, and on the other, someone who can’t even set the clock on your microwave.”
In short, this chapter is really about resisting comparisons with others and combatting envy. It is about confronting the spirit of acquisitiveness in our own souls and realizing that which is genuinely worthy of the spending of our lives.
I am reminded of one of my favourite quotations in Augustine’s Confessions:
See how the human soul lies weak and prostrate when it is not yet attached to the solid rock of truth. The winds of gossip blow from the chests of people ventilating their opinions; so the soul is carried about and turned, twisted and twisted back again. The light is obscured from it by a cloud, the truth is not perceived. Yet look, it lies before us.
When Jordan Peterson says, “You must change what you are after more profoundly”, he does not explicitly give the content of what this change must embrace because he trusts his readers and his audiences. Each of us can ask: “What is it that I am after?” and then we will be open to realizing many things about ourselves that we know we ought to change in the light of Truth who lies before us.