40 - 12 RULES FOR LIFE: RULE 12 | PET A CAT ON THE STREET
AN ANTIDOTE TO CHAOS
by Dr. Jordan B Peterson
Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street
This is the 12th edition of my reflections upon the phenomenal book “12 Rules For Life” by Dr. Jordan B Peterson, who is a professor at the University of Toronto, and a clinical psychologist.
Stream this episode through the player above. Read the notes and follow the basic transcription below.
0:00 - Prologue
7:00 - Book begins: Dogs Are OK Too
9:00 - (A mini rant, by me.)
13:10 - Suffering And The Limitations Of Being
22:38 - IMPORTANT: How one ought to manage when things go wrong
27:57 - Dogs, Again—But Finally, Cats
32:12 - End of book
36:50 - Overview of all 12 rules
51:20 - Epilogue
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DOGS ARE OK TOO
I am going to start this chapter by stating directly that i own a dog, an American Eskimo. I am describing my dog instead of writing directly about cats because I don’t wish to run afoul of a phenomenon known as “minimal group identification.” That is where people tend to favor the co-members of their own personal group. The studies demonstrate two things: first, that people are social; second, that people are antisocial. People are social because they like the members of their own group. People are antisocial because they don’t like the members of other groups.
In any case, it is because of this “minimal-conditions” discovery that I began this cat-related chapter with a description of my dog. Otherwise, the mere mention of a cat in the title would be enough to turn many dog people against me, just because I didn’t include canines in the group of entities that should be petted. Since I also like dogs, there is no reason for me to suffer such a fate.
SUFFERING AND THE LIMITATIONS OF BEING
The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine, as we have already discussed. This is a dismal set of facts, and it is reasonable to wonder how we can expect to thrive and be happy (or even to want to exist, sometimes) under such conditions.
… Here Peterson describes the story of how his young daughter had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and how that brought everyone through a virtual nightmare for years …
Now here is an old Jewish story, which I believe is part of the commentary on the Torah. It begins with a question, structured like a Zen koan. Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer? Limitation.
If you are already everything, everywhere, always, there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything that could happen already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being. That idea has helped me deal with the terrible fragility of Being.
Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because Being requires Becoming, as well as mere static existence—and to become is to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited.
Fair enough. But what about the suffering caused by such limits?
Perhaps, as the Columbine boys suggested (see Rule 6), it would be better not to be at all. Perhaps it would be even better if there was no Being at all. But people who come to the former conclusion are flirting with suicide, and those who come to the latter with something worse, something truly monstrous. They’re consorting with the idea of the destruction of everything. They are toying with genocide—and worse. Even the darkest regions have still darker corners. And what is truly horrifying is that such conclusions are understandable, maybe even inevitable—although not inevitably acted upon.
Acts undertaken in keeping with them (if not the thoughts themselves) inevitably serve to make a bad situation even worse. Hating life, despising life—even for the genuine pain that life inflicts—merely serves to make life itself worse, unbearably worse. There is no genuine protest in that. There is no goodness in that, only the desire to produce suffering, for the sake of suffering. That is the very essence of evil. People who come to that kind of thinking are one step from total mayhem.
But is there any coherent alternative, given the self-evident horrors of existence? Can Being itself, with its malarial mosquitoes, child soldiers and degenerative neurological diseases, truly be justified?
I don’t think it is possible to answer the question by thinking. Thinking leads inexorably to the abyss. But if it is not thinking that can be relied upon in the direst of situations, what is left? Thought, after all, is the highest of human achievements, is it not?
Perhaps not. Something supersedes thinking, despite its truly awesome power. When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself. In such situations—in the depths—it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick.
Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations. Of course, it’s complicated. You don’t have to be in love with every shortcoming, and merely accept. You shouldn’t stop trying to make life better, or let suffering just be.
But there appear to be limits on the path to improvement beyond which we might not want to go, lest we sacrifice our humanity itself. Of course, it’s one thing to say, “Being requires limitation,” and then to go about happily, when the sun is shining and your father is free of Alzheimer’s disease and your kids are healthy and your marriage happy. But when things go wrong?
The demands of everyday life don’t stop, just because you have been laid low by a catastrophe. Everything that you always do still has to be done. So how do you manage? Here are some things I’ve learned:
IMPORTANT LESSON - listen…
Set aside some time to talk and to think about the particular crisis and how it should be managed every day. Do not talk or think about it otherwise. If you do not limit its effect, you will become exhausted, and everything will spiral into the ground. This is not helpful. Conserve your strength. You’re in a war, not a battle, and a war is composed of many battles. You must stay functional through all of them.
When worries associated with the crisis arise at other times, remind yourself that you will think them through, during the scheduled period. This usually works. The parts of your brain that generate anxiety are more interested in the fact that there is a plan than in the details of the plan. Don’t schedule your time to think in the evening or at night. Then you won’t be able to sleep. If you can’t sleep, then everything will go rapidly downhill.
Shift the unit of time you use to frame your life. When the sun is shining, and times are good, and the crops are bountiful, you can make your plans for the next month, and the next year, and the next five years. You can even dream a decade ahead. But you can’t do that when your leg is clamped firmly in a crocodile’s jaws.
Wish upon a star, and then act properly, in accordance with that aim. Once you are aligned with the heavens, you can concentrate on the day. Be careful. Put the things you can control in order. Repair what is in disorder, and make what is already good better. It is possible that you can manage, if you are careful. People are very tough. People can survive through much pain and loss. But to persevere they must see the good in Being. If they lose that, they are truly lost.
Dogs, Again—But Finally, Cats
Dogs are like people. They are the friends and allies of human beings. They are social, hierarchical, and domesticated. They are happy at the bottom of the family pyramid. They pay for the attention they receive with loyalty, admiration, and love. Dogs are great.
Cats, however, are their own creatures. They aren’t social or hierarchical (except in passing). They are only semi-domesticated. They don’t do tricks. They are friendly on their own terms.
Dogs have been tamed, but cats have made a decision. They appear willing to interact with people, for some strange reasons of their own. To me, cats are a manifestation of nature, of Being, in an almost pure form. Furthermore, they are a form of Being that looks at human beings and approves.
When you meet a cat on a street, many things can happen. Sometimes I’ll bend down, and call the cat over, so I can pet it. Sometimes, it will run away. Sometimes, it will ignore me completely, because it’s a cat. But sometimes the cat will come over to me, push its head against my waiting hand, and be pleased about it. Sometimes it will even roll over, and arch its back against the dusty concrete (although cats positioned in that manner will often bite and claw even a friendly hand).
If you pay careful attention, even on a bad day, you may be fortunate enough to be confronted with small opportunities of just that sort. Maybe you will see a little girl dancing on the street because she is all dressed up in a ballet costume. Maybe you will have a particularly good cup of coffee in a café that CARES ABOUT THEIR CUSTOMERS. Maybe you can steal ten or twenty minutes to do some little ridiculous thing that distracts you or reminds you that you can laugh at the absurdity of existence.
And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.
Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street
SUMMARY OF RULES
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