12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson; Random House of Canada (448 pages, $26).
“12 Rules for Life” is a unique and engaging self-help book by YouTube sensation Jordan B. Peterson, renowned Canadian Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. With decades of scientific expertise and professional experience under his belt, Dr. Peterson set out to create a set of 12 guiding rules that would help us understand the hardships of being human, and how we may better confront them.
In a move that has famously made Peterson himself synonymous with a certain species of crustaceans, the first chapter and first rule of his book “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” begins not as an examination of human psychology, but instead as an examination of lobster psychology, with a dash of lobster neuroscience and a look at how these simple creatures operate within their own sea of social hierarchies.
Unexpectedly, you find yourself in one of those sea life documentaries you’d expect to see on the Discovery Channel. Though at least 350 million years of evolution separate us, and their brains are no larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen, you’ll start to recognize some vaguely human traits among these emotional and aggressive TV dinners.
As Peterson points out, although our thoughts and interactions are much more complex than those of the lobster, something we still share with them is an ancient mechanism in our brains that constantly compares us, our successes, and our failures to those of others in our society, and affects our emotional well-being accordingly. It holds us in competition with others, ranking us against who we can compete with, and who we cannot.
Even a lobster will get depressed after losing, Peterson explains, and will lower its goals in life accordingly. But the point of this comparison is not to say we are secretly lobster brains, but to show just how natural, ancient, and ingrained into our biology these feelings are. If we are to better handle our swirling emotions, catalog our individual thoughts, and diagnose our personal woes, it’s helpful for us to have a little understanding of what makes them so, and to know that it’s not just a vague regret that may keep us restless at night, but essentially a part of the world around us, experienced by all humans, many animals, and yes, even a few lobsters.
In each of the 12 chapters, one for each rule, Peterson takes the reader for a deep dive into different aspects of the human condition. For each dive, he’s happy to share examples of these psychological concepts playing out in society at large or in individuals, be it through historical events, ancient myths, the musings of philosophers new and old, or just little personal incidents the likes of which most of us have experienced ourselves or through someone we know. Peterson shares meaningful anecdotes from his own life experiences whenever possible, along with emotional stories from his many friends and countless clients. A few more nature documentaries await the reader, but don’t worry; he doesn’t bring up the lobsters past chapter one.
12 Rules for Life will leave you in shock and awe over the number of things you have long felt but never quite understood. It’ll make you ask yourself some uncomfortable questions that need asking and encourage you to face the dark corners of your psyche while standing up straight with your shoulders back. It also reminds you not to forget to pet stray kittens along the way.
Donavon Anderson is a Reference Library Assistant at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.