An Antidote to Chaos

By  0 Comments

I ran across 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson in June 2020. It seemed as if the world was consumed by chaos. Safe spaces didn’t refer to politics-free zones on university campuses; they were formed by the boundaries of your home space. We were advised to cover our faces; many chose not to. But washing your hands always seemed like a good hygiene rule.

“So why not call this a book of ‘guidelines,’ a far more relaxed, user-friendly and less rigid-sounding term than ‘rules’?” asks Dr. Norman Doidge in his foreword. “Because these really are rules. And the foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your life. Period.”

Here’s a freshman psychology summary. Shared belief systems are important to people, so important that they allow people to understand each other. Those who live by the same belief system, or code, are mutually predictable to each other. They cooperate; expectations and desires are shared. Competition can be peaceful. We know what to expect. We can work together to live in the world and maintain this organization. “If it’s threatened, the great ship of state rocks,” Jordan asserts. “(People) will fight to maintain the match between what they believe, what they expect and what they desire.” Maintaining that match allows humans to live together peacefully and productively, with reduced uncertainty and the chaotic emotions produced by uncertainty.

So what happened in 2020? Maybe these rules could provide some guidance. We’re only covering a couple this month, and not in order. Perhaps we will finish by December.

Rule 1: Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back
Scientists’ mapping of the lobster’s neural circuitry has helped us understand the structure and function of the human brain, according to Peterson. We’re all reasonably familiar with conflict and aggression over territory, food, mates; in lobster society, if a dominant lobster loses a fight with a more dominant lobster, its brain dissolves. It then grows a new brain more appropriate to its new subordinate position. Anyone who’s lost a loved one, had a relationship dissolve, experienced a business setback, can be sympathetic to the poor defeated lobster.

Serotonin affects the lobster’s posture; the loser produces less serotonin and ranks lower in the lobster dominance hierarchy. How does this compare to humans, whose neurochemistry is strikingly similar? When we lose, whatever “lose” means to us, we may feel threatened, hurt, angry, less confident, less able to respond to stress and less able to put up the fight that life demands. It’s a bleak picture for crustaceans and humans on the bottom rung of the hierarchy.

Here’s another freshman psychology experiment. Move your facial muscles, one at a time, into a position that might look sad to an observer; chances are you will feel sadder. Do the same with facial muscles that will make you look happy. Feel happier? “Emotion is partly bodily expression, and can be amplified (or dampened) by that expression,” Peterson notes. It’s the same for posture; if you slump and your shoulders look like a rainbow, you look small and defeated. And you probably will feel that way, too.

Yet, Peterson says, you’re also a spirit, a psyche. Standing up implies a conscious, mental restructuring. “You respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe…You step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy and occupy your territory, manifesting your willingness to defend, expand and transform it.” When you do this, watching your posture, speaking your mind, you are choosing to change chaos into the realities of order.

Rule 2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping
We’re human, therefore we’re flawed; if we have adult self-awareness, we recognize our own faults and the human capacity for inadequacy, shame, lack of action. And the human capacity to commit bad actions, to ourselves and others. Nevertheless, we humans are also capable of great compassion, selflessness and, what M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, called “the will to do good for others,” or love.

Doubtless you have, in your life, been exposed to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; love your neighbor as yourself. We have a great capacity for self-sacrifice. At the same time, victimizing yourself in service to others is self-destructive. Peterson says, “To sacrifice ourselves to…the highest good does not mean to suffer silent and willingly when some person or organization demands more from us, consistently, than is offered in return…It is much better for any relationship when both partners are strong.” This also means that you matter equally. You deserve respect. You are important to others and you are important to yourself and you must determine how to act toward yourself so that you can become and stay a good person, and make the world a better place. ■