’12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ Jordan B Peterson – 3

Rule 3: Make Friends With People Who Want The Best For You

Winters in Alberta, Canada. 40 below zero. No cable TV or internet or video games. I had no idea there could be so much ennui tied to a youngster’s experience of a place and its people. Peterson makes it clear at the start of chapter 3 that some of his friends were aiming up and some were aiming down. ‘If you are aiming up and they’re aiming down then they’re generally not that happy about it.’ They put down what you’re doing, or offer you a cigarette when you are trying to quit, or a drink if you are an alcoholic. They’re cynical and bitter and devoted to no good, and sometimes that’s family members or sometimes it’s even part of you. This chapter is an injunction that you have an ethical responsibility to surround yourself with people who have the courage and faith and wisdom to wish you well when you have done something good, and to stop you when you do something destructive. And if they’re not like that then they’re not your friends. And being friends with them might not even be in their interest.

‘Be careful about whom you share good news with’ was one of the rules Peterson had in a longer list he wrote for the discussion website Quora – the origin of this book. ‘Be careful about whom you share bad news with’ was another one. A friend is not envious of good news. Some people try to drag you down to see if you can put up with it. They have an idea that maybe life is not worth living and if they can taint what is pristine and good then they demonstrate to themselves that there is no true ideal and that there’s no reason to be responsible and to strive forward. They use you as a test case. They push you down and see how you respond and if you put up with it then they think that their cynicism is fully justified.

It is a contentious and painful chapter because Peterson talks about some early friendships and unpleasant realisations, and he details the suicide of a friend. He talks about the teenage wasteland and the pointless parties. He revelled in the opportunities and new friendships that going away to college offered. He noted how his hometown friends on trips to Edmonton just looked for the same parts of town and tried to score the same pot that they looked for back home. 

Freud called the unconscious drive to repeat the horrors of the past a ‘repetition compulsion’ and Peterson goes into the psychology of this in detail. He cites Dostoevsky’s bitter classic Notes from Underground the self analysis of a sick spiteful man in the underworlds of chaos and despair. His exchange with the prostitute Liza shows how far a person would easily go to endorse their own nihilistic indolence. So, if you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father or son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? Such a straight forward point, but so often overlooked. 

‘When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future. Then you disturb others, in the depths of their souls, where they understand that their cynicism and immobility are unjustifiable. You play Abel to their Cain. You remind them that they ceased caring not because of life’s horrors, which are undeniable, but because they do not want to lift the world up on their shoulders, where it belongs.

Don’t think that it’s easier to surround yourself with good healthy people than with bad unhealthy people. It’s not. A good, healthy person is an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person. Have some humility. Have some courage. Use your judgement, and protect yourself from too-uncritical compassion and pity.

Make friends with people who want the best for you.’

Thus spoke Peterson.

Chapter 4 tomorrow