Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street.
The fact that there is much talk of dogs and cats in this chapter is not the only reason why it is my favourite. It is also because this is the most personal chapter and there is no agenda. Sure Peterson is hopeful that we are out of the Post Modernist despair, that we can and do have higher aims to strive towards, and that life is worth living with courage in the face of tragedy and the sheer ridiculousness of it all.
Peterson generously discusses aspects of his family life, he describes his daughter Mikhaila’s juvenile arthritis and auto-immune disease, her dependence on opiates to ease the pain and the struggle to find good treatment. Such a brutal and serious illness inflicted on an innocent child is a real test of your faith. We are all going to be faced with illness and crises in those we love, and this last chapter is a meditation on what to do in these awful instances. It is a practical guide to coping with those sorts of times. One of the things you do when you are overwhelmed by crisis is to shorten your time-frame. You can’t think about next month or next week, maybe not even tomorrow, because now is just so overwhelming that that’s all there is. So you cut your time-frame back until you can cope with it, and if it’s not the next day you can get through then it’s the next hour. ‘And if it’s not the next hour then it’s the next minute. And you know, people are very very very tough. It turns out that if you face things then you can put up with a lot more than you think you can put up with. And you can do it without becoming corrupted.’ Pet the dogs and cats that you encounter, because when you’re suffering you have to be alert to the unexpected beauty in life.
Eventually Mikhaila figured out what was wrong with her through nutrition. By eliminating certain foods, specifically dairy, legumes, soy, and gluten, she cured herself of auto-immune symptoms, arthritis, and depression. Incidentally Peterson followed suit and inspired by his daughter, improved his own health in the same way. It is not written about in the chapter, but here is a video where they describe it on a television discussion program:
But those days when Mikhaila was suffering, a pretty ginger siamese cat who lived across the street from Peterson would stroll over to them and roll over near their lovely American Eskimo dog and they were friends. ‘You have to look for that little bit of sparkling crystal in the darkness when things are bad. you have to look and see where things are still beautiful and where there’s still something that’s sustaining and you narrow your time-frame and you be grateful for what you have, and that can get you through some very dark times.’ So then maybe it can be only tragic and not absolute hell. In the worst situation, you can make it only tragic and not hell. ‘There’s a very big gap between tragedy and hell.’
Peterson closes the chapter with the idea that if we didn’t all attempt to make terrible things even worse than they already are then maybe we could tolerate the terrible things that we have to put up with in order to exist. Maybe we could make the world into a better place. It’s what we should be doing and what we could be doing because we don’t have anything better to do.
And that is what the book is about.
Next blog FODMAP! What’s That??