12 Rules for Life

Earlier this week I travelled to Manchester to hear Jordan Peterson speak at the O2 Apollo Theatre about his book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ . This was one event in a punishing schedule of 80 cities –  https://jordanbpeterson.com/events/

One of the delights of having children who do their own thing and are willing to share this with you, is that you end up doing things that you would never do had your children not suggested them. So it was that one of our sons introduced us to Peterson’s book (even bought us a copy) and thought it would be a good idea if we all went to hear him speak in Manchester. Our first response was that anyone who thinks you can number the rules for life needs to be considered with caution (although we were informed – not sure if this is true – that Peterson may write a second book with more rules) and secondly, did we really want to fight the terrible Manchester traffic (in the rush hour) to get there? But we did and yes, the traffic was terrible!

I’m glad we went. It was an experience. 1700 people were in the audience. I could scarcely believe that, although it’s interesting that none of the UK venues have sold out, although many European venues have, but maybe that’s because of the size of the venue. Also, as Peterson acknowledged, the balance between male and female members of the audience was 60:40. I didn’t see that as a problem. I had wondered before going whether there would be any demonstrations. Peterson seems to be hated as much as he is loved, and at the beginning of the show we were told that heckling would not be tolerated. This was said with ‘tongue in cheek’ and I wondered if it was really an invitation to heckle. But in the event there was no heckling. At one point a young man tried to get on the stage, seemingly to share some information that he had found on his mobile phone about a reference that Peterson had trouble remembering. Needless to say the security guards stopped him, but Peterson was kind in his acknowledgement of the young man’s attempt to help.

The event surprised me on a number of levels.

According to Wikipedia, Peterson is 56, but he looked a lot older than that. He is extremely thin and grey and to me looked exhausted. Evidently he hadn’t arrived in Manchester until 3.00 am on the day of the presentation and then in the morning had to do a BBC interview and following this visit a Manchester Boxing Club which, by all accounts was turning round disaffected young men. No wonder then that he looked shattered.

At the start, he said he was going to talk about Rules 11, 10 and 7 (See https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/sites/penguinbooks.co.za/files/Extract_12%20Rules%20for%20Life.PDF)

RULE 1 / Stand up straight with your shoulders back

RULE 2 / Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

RULE 3 / Make friends with people who want the best for you  

RULE 4 / Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

RULE 5 / Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

RULE 6 / Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

RULE 7 / Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

RULE 8 / Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie

RULE 9 / Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

RULE 10 / Be precise in your speech

RULE 11 / Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

RULE 12 / Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

In the event, he talked mostly about his encounter with the young men from the Boxing Club he had visited in the morning, relating that from time to time to the 12 rules. He talked for an hour without notes (I think there were auto-cues, although he didn’t seem to stand still long enough to read them) and there were times when I felt he wasn’t able to adhere to Rule 10, i.e. I asked myself where was the evidence for what he was saying. But on the whole I found myself sympathising with how exhausted he seemed (whilst at the same time recognising how much money he is making from this tour!) and I didn’t find a lot to argue with in what he said.

I don’t have strong feelings for or against Peterson. He is an interesting phenomenon. He is extremely articulate and able to argue his point well (even if he scarcely draws breath and would probably be easier to listen to if he would just pause occasionally), drawing on a wide range of literature, not least Biblical references.

What really surprised me was the audience. They gave him a standing ovation and whilst I found him interesting to listen to, his talk was unstructured, difficult to follow and clearly delivered by someone who was exhausted. On this particular night, from my perspective, it did not merit a standing ovation. I think a debate might have been more interesting, such as the one with Kathy Newman, as was reported in The Guardian here – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/banning-jordan-peterson-causing-offence-cathy-newman-free-speech , but that would probably have required too much energy on such a punishing tour.

Death is a friend of life

The Self-Unseeing (by Thomas Hardy)

Here is the ancient floor,

Footworn and hollowed and thin,

Here was the former door

Where the dead feet walked in.

 

She sat here in her chair,

Smiling into the fire,

He who played stood there,

Bowing it higher and higher.

 

Childlike, I danced in a dream;

Blessings emblazoned that day;

Everything glowed with a gleam;

Yet we were looking away!

 

At some point in life, I expect most people will wonder what life’s all about, what it means, what’s the point? For philosophers, answering these questions can be life’s pursuit. For others, these questions may only become significant at certain points in life, such as with the death of a loved one.

I have just returned from a 4-day course with Iain McGilchrist, author of the ‘Master and his Emissary – the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’. For reasons which I will explain later in this post, I was keen to hear Iain’s thoughts about life, death and dying. So, at the very start of the first day, when he read Hardy’s poem, ‘The Self-Unseeing’, and said that Hardy was unique and had he not existed there would be a Hardy-shaped hole in the Universe, I knew it had been worth battling the snow and dreadful motorway conditions in the worst freeze that the UK has had for years, to get there.

In a recent discussion that Iain had with Jordan Peterson, Peterson said that death is a friend of life (in Iain’s words, a friend of being) and a necessary stage in life.

We all know we are dying from the moment we are born and of course many cells in our body die and are replaced during life, so a different Jenny Mackness stands before you today than did yesterday, last week or a few years ago.

But Iain McGilchrist’s view is that life is literally on its way out in relation to the way in which we live our lives and behave as social animals in today’s society. Birth, sex, the body and death are all suffering. There is a declining birth rate and sex is also on the decline. For example, 20-40% of young men express no interest in having a sexual partner. Sex has been objectified through the internet and robbed of its power through explicitness. There has been a death of ‘flirting’ and hysteria about ‘touching’ to the extent that teachers are afraid to touch the children they teach and nurses are similarly cautious about touching patients. There has also been some research to show a declining mother-infant relationship. (Schore, A.N. 1994)

Likewise death is no longer talked about. In Victorian times, death was talked about, but sex was not. Now it is the other way round. Doctors used to be present at death, as depicted in this painting.

The Doctor, Sir Luke Fildes,  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/fildes-the-doctor-n01522

Now death is often surrounded by machines. Unlike elephants and other animals who know how to mourn death (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/elephants-mourning-video-animal-grief/), Iain McGilchrist believes that we no longer honour the reality of coming face-to-face with death, as we did in the past. Elephants seem to know and understand the reality of death.

The reason I was interested in this, is that my mother died just over a month ago. I have attended this Field & Field course twice before (each time writing up and sharing my notes), but this time I went with the specific purpose of creating a space in my life, to come to terms with the confusion I have felt about my mother’s death.

Although my mother required 24-hour care at the time of her death, she was not surrounded by machines and we were able to ensure that her wish to die at home in her own bed was respected and realised. Neither did she die alone, but was surrounded by those who understood that ‘death is a friend of life’.

I did not think of Hardy’s poem at the time of my mother’s death but a friend of my mother’s sent me Tennyson’s poem, Crossing the Bar, which we read at my mother’s Thanksgiving service

… and a friend of mine, sent me this beautiful music by Brahms, which we played at her service.

Iain McGilchrist’s stress on the importance of poetry, music and presence at a time of the death of someone you love, or indeed of anyone, resonated with me. I am fortunate to know at least two people who really understand this. As many testified at her death, my mother was unique. Had she not existed there would be a Betty-shaped hole in the Universe.

Reference: Schore, A.N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: the neurobiology of emotional development. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale NJ.