12 Rules For Life is Jordan Peterson’s most popular book.
It has major Christian influences and a bit of a bombastic style. But it also has many sparkles of genius, several practical tips, and lots of great psychology.
- Bullet Summary
- 12 Rules For Life – Summary
- 1. Stand up straight
- 2. Treat yourself well
- 3. Befriend people who want the best for you
- 4. Compare yourself to your yesterday’s self
- 5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
- 6. Set your house in order
- 7. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient
- 8. Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie
- 9. Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t
- 10. Be precise in your speech
- 11. Do not bother children while they are skateboarding
- 12. Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street
- Real Life Applications
- Peterson in Action
- 12 Rules For Life – Review
- Abusive people prey on the weak: muster the capacity for aggression
- Don’t let people -or your kids- mistreat you or embarrass you: it will breed resentment
- Tell the truth and stand up for your values: it will build your character
12 Rules For Life – Summary
This summary of 12 Rules For Life will cut through all the abundant flowery language in the book and focus instead on the major insights.
1. Stand up straight
The author says naive people have too rosy of an outlook on the world. They believe people are mostly good, but they invite abuse because abusive people prey on the weak and naive.
I agree with that. But the real wallop comes with:
Aggression Can Be Good
Jordan Peterson says People who buy into the idea any signs of aggression are wrong to block within themselves ALL aggressive emotions.
But aggression does not necessarily translate into cruelty and destruction. Aggression is also channeled into good causes.
Jordan says when people they see themselves as dangerous (at least potentially) they’re shocked at first, but their fear also decreases. And they develop more confidence and self-respect.
They see in themselves the ability to withstand aggression and evil. And tt that point, they might be able to begin resisting oppression.
2. Treat yourself well
Well, the title said it all for me here, the rest of the chapter was some deep mental lucubration. Interesting yes, but not highly applicable and loosely connected to the title at best.
3. Befriend people who want the best for you
Carlo Rogers says it’s impossible to convince someone to change and improve. The desire to improve is indeed a precondition for progress, says the author.
Peterson says it’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you, he says.
4. Compare yourself to your yesterday’s self
The author talks about the famous invisible gorilla experiment and says that our mental resources are limited to what we pay attention to (true, check Incognito). That means that we really see what we focus on.
And there’s no point on focusing on people who “have it better”. Compare yourself to yourself instead. Compare yourself to how you’re improving and getting better.
5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
The author says refraining from some parental tough love is only going to harm our children. The world, he says, will dish out far harsher punishments on the unprepared.
Parents, he say must act as (caring) proxies for the world.
He also says no adult human could tolerate being dominated by an upstart child.
When you do that, you will harbor resentment which will lead to revenge either directly or indirectly. That’s why you shouldn’t allow your children to behave in a way that will make you dislike them.
6. Set your house in order
Set your house in order means to work on yourself before you think about anything else. It means to focus on what you can change and what you can do, instead than wasting time on everything that’s wrong.
I couldn’t agree more. As the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People say, start with yourself first.
7. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient
Pursuing what’s meaningful is to forego instant gratification to build a better future. Today’s sacrifice will forge your character and provide tomorrow’s reward.
8. Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie
The easy way out or the truth are not just two different choices, but they are two wholly different paths through life.
And lying is the easy way out.
Lying is a betrayal of yourself and it weakens your character. Especially when you say yes but really wanted to say no.
I agree with the weakening of character. And that’s important because your identity becomes that of someone who can’t speak his mind.
Read here how to build a resilient identity.
9. Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t
Speak more than you listen and listen without premature judgment (and I would personally underline “premature”: don’t otherwise get lost in a see of relativity).
If you’re interested in communication skills check:
10. Be precise in your speech
Being precise in your speech also means being precise in looking at the world around you.
Like Ray Dalio in his seminal book Principle says, love reality even when it hurts.
11. Do not bother children while they are skateboarding
The author says it’s not true that gender is a social construct. It’s not, and it’s not a debate because data proves it.
And trying to culturally change that by removing masculine traits is bad for everyone.
I couldn’t agree more here.
It’s popular these days to say that “men and women are the same”, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong to anyone who has taken the time to research, study and analyze the world around him.
The Dark Side Calling
The author says that when softness become the only socially acceptable virtue, then dominance and violence start becoming unconsciously appealing.
This is, he says, one of the reasons for the rise of fascist political parties. And part of Trump’s appeal (check Trump’s dirty debating tactics).
12. Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street
In the last chapter Peterson deals with the hard moments of life.
But abandoning oneself to nihilism and hatred is not the answer. There’s nothing there, he says, it only perpetuates and spread more evil and pain.
He proposes instead to look for the beauty in life. Check the book for more.
Real Life Applications
- Master Your Dark Side
Don’t hide or repress your dark side but use it for good. I like the way Tim Grover put it:
To get what you really want, you first need to be who you really are.
- Channel Your Aggression
Don’t allow your aggression to dominate you or to take ugly forms. Use it to stand up to evil, protect and foster good and for creative endeavors.
- Educate Your Children
Educate your children in a way that prepares them for the world. Importantly, don’t let them -or anyone else- disrespect you or that will breed resentment in you. And resentment will eventually show.
- Stand For What You Believe
Stand for what you believe in and don’t hide behind lies. It will build your character.
Peterson in Action
I have done a video on Jordan Peterson interview with Newman. Take a look, he was really good there:
- Big Words
Jordan Peterson own rule says to be precise in your speech. Obviously, there’s a difference between precise and simple, because he certainly doesn’t have a simple prose.
It doesn’t have to be a con, especially if you like poetry. But at times it feels to me like aesthetics get a bit out of hand to become the message instead of supporting the message.
- Bit Diluted
There are some great insights that really spoke to me. Some of them changed me for the better and even clarified this website’s mission in a way. I would have preferred the book being built around those key insights instead of being just ingredients in the bigger dish.
- Deep Wisdom
There’s a lot of great wisdom in The 12 Rules for Life.
And it’s a type of wisdom that’s rather unique and very rare in the self help literature -or even in the philosophical literature for that matter-.
That’s a pity because this type of information is highly relevant and highly useful.
12 Rules For Life – Review
For me The 12 Rules for Life is a book with some genius content mixed with too much aesthetic. Read below for more details.
Don’t Allow Soso to Take Over
I read the Financial Times’ review and The Guardian’s summary before reading the book. They were both scathingly negative and even derisive. I didn’t know Peterson before, and I let the reviews influence me for the negative: I was indeed expecting 12 Rules for Life to be a terrible book.
Boy was that an awesome experience.
As I started listening to it, I was flabbergasted at how both reviewers spectacularly failed to see the sparkle of greatness. In my Reading Effectively guide I share that one of my goals is to look for new wisdom even when some of the message isn’t as great. And that’s where I think those reviewers failed: they let the part they disagreed with contaminate the whole.
There’s indeed much of this book that can ruffle feathers if you’re not religious -or if you prefer more fact-based, less aesthetic writing-. But denying the nuggets of wisdom in 12 Rules for Life is a spectacular failure both as a reviewer and as a man looking for truth and self development.
The Power Moves Analogy
There were some key passages that really struck a cord with me.
The author say some people are too naive and let the world take advantage of them. I could see myself there and that’s exactly one of the pillars of this website.
The author also says that the ability to muster aggression is needed to stand up to evil. And he says people refusing to embrace the dark side and acknowledge the existence of evil will not be able to fight against oppression and abuse. And since oppression and abuse do exist in this world, these people are easy victims.
I got the chills reading this.
This is exactly The Power Moves credo.
And the knowledge of how to muster and deploy aggression will also decrease the chances it will ever be needed. Because if you can bite, you generally don’t have to.
And this is another pillar of this website.
The author then goes one step further when he says:
There is little difference between the capacity for destruction and strength of character.