Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and social philosopher, a professor of psychology at Harvard, whose second book is “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.” In this book, Professor Peterson offers advice on how to live based largely on decades of seeing patients.
He’s been mocked by many. Partially, it’s for having the temerity to suggest that the Bible and its stories offer an important guide; that Old and New Testament stories are powerful indicators of reality, and the great figures there point to pathways. Or, as Isaiah said over 2,000 years ago, “Here is the way, walk thou in it.
But largely, he has been attacked because he says something not heard often from the intellectual left: that the only appropriate stance is to “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” and “accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open.”
Professor Peterson wants to look into the meaning of things and tells us when our life is going wrong, grasping at political ideology will not cut it. He tells us life is not for sissies. That we will die, and on the way to death we will suffer and be harassed by evil both in the world and in our hearts. Earthquakes, floods, poverty, and cancer are tough enough to take, but human evil adds a whole new dimension to misery to the world.
And that if we are to live meaningful lives, we must develop an attitude of faith and perseverance.
We must accept that life is full of trials
Don’t be arrogant. Become aware of your own insufficiency. Consider the flaws in your own heart before you accuse others. We are told in Jeremiah that the heart is desperately wicked. For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew, 15:19)
The Professor tells us not to lie for it leads to Hell. He says that success is a mystery but that failure is not. To fail you simply have to cultivate a few bad habits, drugs, drinking, not showing up, hanging out with losers. He tells us to surround ourselves with people who will support our upward aim.
If we stepped back to look at our country today what do we find?
- One of 10 Americans suffer emotional imbalance.
- One half million of us are in mental institutions.
- There are a quarter of a million hospital admissions each day and 2 of 3 of those beds are filled with mental patients.
- 25 thousand of us succeed at suicide each year and at least 10 times that many attempt suicide but fail there as well. In fact the number 2 and 3 highest suicide rates amongst professionals are psychologist and clergy.
- 50% of our adult population suffers from some sort of abuse of alcohol/opioids.
- More than ½ of our marriages end in divorce and the present epidemic of sexual assault does not augur to improve that metric.
- In a study of 2,000 Rhode Island students, 2 of 3 boys and 1 of 2 girls felt it was OK for a man to force sex on a woman as long as they had dated for 6 months.
It appears what Jordan Peterson was saying has some merit. Moreover, we appear to have developed a new national personality trait: victimization. And along with it comes the born loser, expecting the worst, living in codependency, demanding success but unable to keep the dream alive.
What happened along the way for so many of these people? Why are so many marriages and relationships ending up in the shoals, shattered on the rocks of broken hopes and dreams?
Life is uncertain. That’s no reason to lose faith.
Being blind to the future is a limitation we all share in this life. Perhaps it is a condition that will only pass with death, which is also a limitation we all share. Yet we all desire to see more clearly. One of the critical factors in seeing the unseen is to quit listening to what some people are saying. Why? Because as Jordon Peterson pointed out, most people are rolled in doubt, stuffed with unbelief and sprinkled in fear. Consequently, even people who profess to love us sometimes want to crush our dreams and kill our enthusiasm because they too are blind.
So, like in Plato’s The Republic, sometimes we see only the faintest shadows, and then we declare that is all there is to see. And sometimes we close our eyes and choose to see nothing. And why do we do this? Why do we often choose blindness when we want to see? For one thing we are often afraid, and because it would cost us too much to look at the truth and then have to act on what we have seen. We are afraid, and fear will not allow us to see our own errors. It also fear that makes us not see our own talents and possibilities. And fear keeps us from seeing our own unhappiness. And sometimes fear makes us settle for very little because we are persuaded very little is possible.
What we need to do is learn to trust in the unseen. Does what we believe matter? Does faith matter? Do values matter?
Developing an attitude of Excellence
A number of years ago Cavett Roberts wrote a book titled, “People Smart.” In that work he posited the question, “what makes for excellence?” He said excellence was a function of Mastery of Fundamentals.
I would like you to consider four words: “dream,” “belief,” “goal,” and “commitment” and ask you to prioritize them in their importance of fundamentals to master.
Everything begins with a dream. This is the magic and starting point that energizes everything. This country, your business, family, relationships, everything begins with a dream. Still, life is not easy. It is hard, full of wrong choices and failed dreams, embraced by executives, street people, farmers, addicts, franchisors, franchisees, the famous and the ordinary. The battles are faced every day. Battles with lust, greed, pride, anger, irritability and inconsistency. The life of the paradoxical — encompassing both belief and doubt, hope and discouragement, and love and hate.
But in the dream is the power of the oasis, the renewal of the ebbing spirit and thirst-quenching water in the middle of the desert. In the dream and its renewal lies the strength to go on for another day.
We must allow our dreams to soar. We need to learn to think big about God and think big about our dreams and realize everything is a gift. What is success after all? The progressive realization of a worthwhile dream.
Remember how we defined success? Well, our goals determine how worthwhile our dream truly is. Goal setting brings the future into the present. Goals may not guarantee success, but not setting them will guarantee you will not succeed.
This is clearly another fundamental to master. How can you run a business without a plan? How can you hit a target you cannot see?
Most of us major in minors and commit to lesser things not realizing that what we will get is lesser things. Life is meaningless unless something of value is its objective. You get to decide what is valuable and meaningful by the goals you set.
Even if you can see the target, how can you hit a target you do not believe in? You cannot achieve a goal if you have mentally rejected it. Belief is about faith. You have to be able to look at the stream and know there is an ocean somewhere.
Do you believe? How profound is that question? The answer can mean life or death.
An old preacher once said, “commitment ain’t a long word for nothing.” It is certainly safer not to commit. So, we have people not committing to relationships and alliances. We get married with contracts today so that we have a way out before we commit. What happened to commitment? What happened to “til death do us part?”
A ship in the harbor or a plane on the ground is safe, but they were not made for that purpose. Neither are you and I.
Half commitment gets you about halfway to your goals. One of the greatest examples of that in my mind is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. where 58,286 names of my brother and sister veterans are grit-blasted in that granite wall of full commitment made in a half-committed cause.
We need to commit, but we owe it to each other to be sure that we have established a worthy objective. Worthy, as our forefathers said, ”of our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Are you committed? Will you do what it takes? Do you believe? Do you have an attitude of excellence?
To achieve your goals, cultivate your attitude
So you and I can begin with a dream, we can commit, set goals, develop and mature our belief and we are left with one all encompassing factor, one determining element that as a fundamental to master makes all of the difference. That is ATTITUDE.
You have all heard the homilies: your attitude determines your altitude. Your disposition determines your position. Attitude is the greatest asset or the largest liability we possess. Our life wears the color of our attitude. What makes for excellence? Mastery of fundamentals. What is the most important fundamental to master? An attitude of excellence.
Our attitudes are made up of the thoughts and conclusions that you and I reach in life about ourselves and other people. And they do not develop overnight. They take time to develop and they take time to change.
Attitudes are made up of three things:
Head, Heart, Hands.
Melt. Remold. Make Solid.
Sustain, Grow, Bear fruit.
Transform from Loser, to Leaner, to Leader.
Transition from seeing that…
things happen to us, to
things happen in us, to
things happen through us.
Attitude shapes your future
We make our future and our happiness and joy one thought at a time, once conclusion at a time. In that sense there is little doubt that our thoughts are our makers and our creators. The single most important lesson I have learned in life is that what we habitually think is our future. (Proverbs 23:7) (Philippians 4:8)
Listen, the dominant principle we live by is our attitude. It is the thread that dominates the tapestry of our lives. When we look at others it is not difficult to determine what this dominant thread is and whether or not it is excellent. For Mohandas Gandhi it was peace. For Mother Theresa, service and compassion. For Jesus Christ forgiveness and love. For Hitler, Hussein, and other bad actors in history it has been hatred and divisiveness and destruction.
How about you? What is your dominant thought that weaves the tapestry of your life?
My prayer for each of you for the rest of your lives and into eternity is that you fully embrace an attitude of excellence and of love and demonstrate it to every life you touch.