Dr. Jordan B. Peterson Back Home in Alberta

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Digital Image. The Varsity. 8 October, 2017. Web. 12 February, 2018.

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Digital Image. The Varsity. 8 October, 2017. Web. 12 February, 2018. <thevarsity.ca>

An Antidote to Chaos

His international book launch tour is in full swing, with the most recent of talks being given at his old stomping ground, the Grande Prairie Regional College on February 10. Peterson discussed the release of his new book, 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos to a sold out and enthusiastic crowd.

If you’ve been watching the news, walking the bookstores, or doing almost anything else – there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Jordan Peterson. An Alberta-born professor at the University of Toronto and clinical psychologist, Peterson has made headlines of late in his response to Canada’s compelled speech laws (Bill C-16), and his adamant opposition to postmodern rhetoric and social justice advocacy.

Beyond Media

If all you know about Peterson came from the news, there’s a good chance you’ve got a narrow understanding of his philosophy, and of his approach to life. Despite all the contentious news coming out of Peterson’s outspoken dissent to compelled speech and the polarizing sound bites our media is so oft to provide, Peterson is an encyclopedia of knowledge and insight, and a figure worthy of consideration and pride among Albertans and Canadians alike.

With nearly 300 YouTube videos and over 800,000 followers, it’s hard to say his insights are limited to the issues that have brought him visibility in the public sphere. A true intellectual, Peterson’s breadth of expertise extends from the political sciences, to clinical psychology (PhD McGill University 1991). He taught at Harvard University (’93-’98) before returning to Canada for the University of Toronto (current).

Peterson expresses keen interest and knowledge in 20th century history, including but not limited to the world wars and their impact on our understanding of the collective human psyche. He is a library of knowledge where it relates to prominent thinkers and philosophical figures from Nietzsche to Jung, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Piaget. Integrated in his philosophical teachings is his understanding and work with mythology and religion, attempting to attribute applicability of the stories of the past to the relevant present. His overall message? Stop complaining and fix your life – something our youth has hungered for, and something that twenty and thirty something males are gobbling up at a desperate rate.

Peterson On the Fly

Peterson spoke for nearly 3 hours, discussing everything from the nervous systems of crustaceans to the development and rearing of malevolent psychopaths and their manifestation in society (via rules #1, 6 and 7). His improvisation on stage is something to be observed, often determining the lecture topic once he’s got a clear view of his audience. Perhaps even more compelling, though, is the sobering existential dialogue that often results from question period. Taking 6 questions from the audience, we saw Peterson at his philosophical best. Questions were heard with interest, and responses were laid out with the wisdom of what could only be expected from one of the greatest thinkers of our time, and the accuracy of a seasoned clinician.

12 Rules for Life. Digital Image. Goodreads. Web. 12 February, 2018. <goodreads.com>

We watched with heavy hearts as one audience member asked how to progress in life in the aftermath of having witnessed the brutal murder of a family member as a child, and the continued malevolent emotional trauma he has since endured. Peterson took in the question with a sincere interest, and remained stoic throughout his response. The manner of his response was reminiscent of the parenting expression ‘meet them where they’re at’. He met this person where he was, showed sincere appreciation for the magnitude of his despair, and offered him a way forward. Without fanfare or drama, he discussed the perceived need to put distance between the subject’s family and himself, while putting emphasis on fostering connections with other trauma survivors to anchor away the sense of loneliness and isolation that these experiences can no doubt cause.

Questions around how to live in a time of such chaos were tempered with Peterson’s wisdom about the role that media has in generating a sense of chaos and confusion for its consumers, and his feeling that all is certainly not lost in the West. Regarding efforts to help others being swallowed up by tragedy and despair, he offered the biblical reference: “Cast not pearls before swine”. In other words, put your efforts into helping those who wish to be willing participants in the process.

Look Elsewhere for a Pick-Me-Up

For many of Peterson’s followers, the book offers non-academics their first opportunity to consume his written work. His previous work, Maps of Meaning – the Architecture of Belief, is a lengthy and highly academic read coming in at nearly $140.00 at local bookstores. Those of us not living in the world of academia and clinical studies have struggled to digest the work to extract the full meaning of his writings. His new book offers the best of Peterson’s take on life in language we can all understand, with all its inherent darkness and even more-so, its inherent inspiration.

“…life is complex and tragic and difficult. And the problem with the public portrayal of the ideal state of humanness as happiness is that it makes all of these young people feel ashamed of their own suffering. …If you’re constantly in a state of satisfaction and happiness, then nothing is going to affect you deeply enough so that you’ll become deep. And life without depth is, by definition, shallow and meaningless. In order to regard anything as truly important, you also have to regard its loss as truly meaningful and that means that to open yourself up to experiences of deep meaning also simultaneously means that you have to open yourself up to the possibility of deep hurt and sorrow.”-Jordan Peterson

[transcribed from Jordan Peterson on Why Happiness is Deceiving. YouTube. Rob Velzeboer, 2017].

Peterson describes the book as intentionally dark, and delves further into his insights on the embodiment of the logos (reason and logic in Jungian psychology), in an effort to maintain balance between the worlds of order and chaos inherent in all of our lives. Peterson’s 12 steps remind us to take our life and our responsibilities seriously. Rather than strive for happiness, to strive to become [someone] worthy of, above all else, our own self-respect.

Dirty Dishes and Dusty Floors

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

I Have A Dream

Pristine, swept floors – floors which seem to go for miles as your eyes trace the interlocking wood planks down to the bay windows on the other side of the house. The smell of baking. A garden, pruned and detailed. Weeded meticulously. Counter tops that serve their intended purpose – beyond mail, homework and neglected dishes. Pencils that sit neatly in their cup, waiting to be found predictably when needed. A crumbless kitchen. This is not my house.

When we lived in our little ’58 bungalow in the old part of the city, I was sure that our inability to maintain order for longer than 3 days (okay, 2) at a time, came down to a disproportionate ratio of belongings to space (1 456 491:1).

As I write this from my bigger, brighter open concept home, dishes sit, unwashed since last night’s dinner. Laundry cries out, spilling from hampers, garbage bins try to hold their own while we overwhelm them and my kitchen counter stares arrogantly at me. I think it’s saying: “Your Grandmother would never have let this happen despite her four kids”. My counters would be right.

Master of Her Domain

You see, I come from a family where neither the men, nor the women, sit down. They are productive from the time their feet hit the cold ground in the morning to the time they fall, presumably from exhaustion, into bed at night. I’d love to have had the genetics of these people. Instead, I was born with a love of cooking (not cleaning), more creative (less order) and a cynicism that suggests to me that to keep cleaning this house while my family lives here might just be paving my own road to crazy.

Other indicators of genetic difference can be seen when, for example, Grandma gets into a near-miss situation in her Lincoln and yells with passionate anger at the other guy: “TURKEY!” I’m not sure how I react to those situations. I can only assume I black out from rage. I digress.

Much as I’ve tried, nearly seven years in, I have never mastered the art of ‘staying home’. I have begun to wonder what it means to stay at home, exactly. I think the true definition lies somewhere between existential intellectual boredom, and doing everything you normally do, but from within the home while a 3-year-old dictator trades catastrophic mess for brief allowances of productive writing moments (unless there are bathrooms to be cleaned).

Whenever I have slept enough, and feel physically and mentally available to take on the disorder in my home, I have found my efforts thwarted by commitments, interruptions, or a general sense of the futility of the cleaning itself. When all things remain equal, the recommendations make sense: dishes daily, and laundry, too. Maintain, maintain, maintain. But that’s the thing about things. They’re variable.

Cosmic Balance

The only evidence of balance I see here is in kids who take turns with dramatic illness, returning to their devilish selves (Tasmanian, I mean) just in time for whatever ails them to be sneezed onto me. Or, my tired slowness from the seeming perpetual darkness that is Canadian winter is finally overcome, and then – cramps. You get the idea.

I sometimes question whether my frequent failure to keep up is an indication of a laziness or immaturity on my part. Like somehow, other moms know something that I don’t.  Maybe, I need to try harder for my family, find more time in the day and more energy to make everything happen at once. I’m slowly making peace with this notion, having analyzed my situation to death in the absence of the magic wand I so desperately require. Besides, my husband didn’t marry ‘lazy’ and my parents didn’t raise it. So here I am, left with the understanding that unless I stop writing altogether, the expectation of order will remain a hallucinogenic construct, bred of someone’s delusional mind – until the little kid years are over.

Aiming for Sanity

Since not writing is out of the question, these will be the times when I learn who my friends are. These will be the years that I look back on, when things are easier, and, with perspective offered from the vantage point of hindsight, give myself a break.  When kids are sick, and hair’s a mess and scarcely surviving is all that can be done – it’s okay.

Parenthood is an uphill battle for most of us, save a few saints who were put on earth solely to make other mothers feel like they didn’t get the memo. Amidst gauntlets of toys, shoes and washed but unfolded laundry that my husband tries to clothe himself from at 5 in the morning, we do the best we can. Some days we do okay, some days we might as well not have gotten out of bed at all. But if you accept the fact that, for now, you can’t win at this game, you get comfortable with participation points and the oft underappreciated consolation prize called Sanity.

On days like this I lean into this thought: that these are the years, and they won’t be here forever.

Writing for Peace

Always Someday

Before kids, I always thought that there would be a time for writing. Somewhere off on the horizon when I was done with the all-consuming (life sucking?) office job, when I caught up on things and organized my life. The funniest of my delusions included “when the babies come, and the stress is less”. At a time when my personal load of responsibilities was so manageable I should have been writing voraciously, but I allowed the someday mentality to overtake me, and writing had to wait.

In my youthful ignorance I had not factored in such things as babies being machines made for consumption of all available resources. I hadn’t considered things like sick babies who cry incessantly for the first 6 months of their lives, the fact that you can’t form thoughts when you haven’t slept or that when you write from the underbelly of postpartum depression, it shows. The babies came, and the job went away. Since going back to work outside the home in my fragile state wasn’t an option, I needed to find an alternate way to contribute. Writing wasn’t coming easy in my sleep deprived state, so it had to wait.

Much Too Much

Five years and another baby later, my flexible easy-going work-from-home side job had become what I did seven days a week. I rarely spent quality time with my family, rarely cooked them dinner, rarely saw my husband who was working obscene hours himself, and rarely smiled. Both my children had medical needs demanding my attention, and if it weren’t for my mother, I was guaranteed a failing grade on that score. I remember the day that I left my doctor’s office with seven (yes, seven) prescriptions. Some for sleep, some for my worsening depression, and some to help keep me upright from the debilitating stress and work induced pain all over my body.

At 32, I had become the person I never thought I would be. A joyless, overweight product of a lifestyle that was neither honouring me nor my family – and all in the name of making sure that no one thought I was lazy. I was going to contribute if it killed me, and it might have. Either way, writing had to wait.

In May of last year, the greatest gift of my recent years was bestowed upon me when I asked my body to keep going and it replied, simply and assertively, No.

That was that. My body wasn’t just asking for a reduction in the pace of things, it was making it very clear that until everything in my life changed, it wouldn’t either. My nervous system was shot, and I had no physical tolerance for anything. Light and sound stimulus was too much, I was uncoordinated, and I could feel my insides shaking even on the brink of sleep. I was scared.

Changing The Game

I didn’t take a break from work, I shut my small business down abruptly and entirely. We cut every expense that we could reasonably cut, and I was humbled into prioritizing and re-evaluating my values. I spent time sitting and staring at the walls. So much soul searching ensued, and my circle of concern shrunk dramatically. I no longer had time for relationships that weren’t reciprocal, I no longer felt compelled to prove anything to anyone, and I was left with the desire to actively control the quality of only three things in my life: family, health, and peace. Writing could join the conversation.

So we ate some green vegetables, I started sleeping, and I lost 20 pounds. My body came back better and stronger than I remember it. My husband and I put things in motion for him to get a regular 9 to 5 schedule and suddenly, we were a family again. I played with my kids, cleaned and organized my house and created a dedicated place for writing in the front of it, where the sun shines in from three beautiful bay windows all day long.


There is a moment after life events like this where, when you speak, the people who really love you listen. Without questioning and without judgment, though perhaps out of fear, my family heard me when I said that writing is where my peace lies. No longer was I going to be the mom who would like to write, I am now the writer who writes to keep the current of life from swallowing me whole. I am the writer who writes so that my children can see me smile. I am the writer who writes to remind her husband of what is Me. And when writing helps pay the bills, I celebrate it without making it my focus.

If you’ve ever wondered when, exactly, one becomes a writer the answer is this: when you start behaving like one. When you do what you need to do to put yourself in that world, you become, once again, who you are at your core.

Mining Gratitude

Happiness, it turns out, is found within fractional moments of inspired gratitude. Moments where we honour our foundational selves to the detriment of all the fake plastic, albeit necessary, pieces of our lives. Give yourself something to feel a moment of genuine gratitude for, something that makes your life feel uncontrived. Writing as a mother will never be easy, but carving out a protected place of respite from the demands of the day will allows me to give the very best of myself to the experiences and the people in my life who deserve me the most. After all, self-care is self-respect, and our precious children are watching.

Being a Friend

I’m getting to that age now where bad things are starting to happen to the good people in my life. Friends are enduring infidelity, divorce, death of spouses and parents – and I’m over here feeling like I should have my super-friend badge revoked for incompetence.


Remember how you felt the moment you realized you knew NOTHING about life? Mine came while I was being beaten by the hands of postpartum depression after my first son was born. I had done everything right so my expectation was that everything would GO right. My exceptional pregnancy routine would result in nothing but the best start for my baby and for me. WRONG.

One year into my battle through the darkest hell, (complete with one baby surgery, one full compliment of super-prohibitive baby allergies, and several total losses of perspective, lucidity and self control), life had beaten me swiftly and consistently into my humble new place in the world. What everyone else described as a bit of ‘humble pie’ felt more like having the ignorance of my youth slapped out of me at the jaw, followed by a prolonged period of eating crow.I was no longer anything special or important, but it came with a certain empowerment.

There is so much power in letting go of your convictions, judgments and alienating attitudes about shit you know nothing about. It was the single best thing that’s ever happened to my ‘person’,  but it’s made me hyper-aware of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and of everything I don’t know (which is most things).

What to Say

The trouble with worrying about saying the wrong thing is that it often results in you saying nothing because you know you don’t have a right to an opinion or a judgment about someone’s pain. So although your intentions are purely of compassion, your girlfriendy execution goes tits-up. The battle you want to fight alongside of the people you love most gets the best of you before you can even establish a game plan. You’re left paralyzed and guilty (this, I would imagine, is less than helpful to the person with the real problem).

Maybe the hardest part about watching your grandparents lose their life-long friends, your friends lose their parents, or watching  someone you love be drug through the trenches of disappointment and divorce is that even if you had the words – they wouldn’t make any fucking difference. It is what it is and it ain’t yours for changing.

If You’re Not Making it Worse, You Must be Helping

This is how I deal with this now: I stick my badge of inexperience right where everyone can see it and I lead with that. I don’t know how to lift their emotions, and I don’t know how to fix the assault on their heart.

There are a few things I do know though: I know how to listen without shock or judgment, I know how to cry with a friend, and I know how to do their laundry when they don’t have the capacity to mind the house and their kids are down to one sock. I know how to just be there – sometimes hovering and sometimes just a phone-call away. I’m trying this for now because it’s what I can offer in lieu of wisdom. And when the day is long, there is nothing better than just knowing that somebody’s got your back.