What I’ve Learned from Jordan Peterson

I’ve come to appreciate Jordan Petersona lot. It’s rare for me to find a recent scholar from whom I learn more than one or two important things. Peterson is an exception. 

Here are some of the main lessons I’ve learned from him: 

Practically Speaking

  1. A key practice for good teaching is getting students to envision their future selves and the steps necessary to get there.
  2. There is a connection between my internal state and the orderliness of my immediate environment.
  3. Try to think of five good reasons to make any decision you make. I tried to add the opposite as well, try to find several good reasons reject an idea or not do something.
  4. Remember that you’re a loaded gun, especially around children. This makes you circumspect about your words and actions. Somebody who knows that “I’m the sort of creature who might shake a baby unless I take steps to not do that” is less likely to shake a baby.
  5. Say what you really think is true, and therefore think through what you say to see if you really think it’s true…or at least say it like it’s true so that it can be corrected and challenged. In other words, conversation can strengthen you or work as a hypothesis testing process. 
  6. In conflict with a partner (romantic, co-worker, etc), agree to say what you think the other person is saying to their satisfaction before you respond. This forces everybody to be clear and ensures everybody is on roughly the same page. 

Academically/Philosophically

  1. His paper on goal setting interventionshelped me clarify the process I use to get my students to take ownership of their educations. I used to have them do a ‘diligence audit.’ I would ask them to look at their habits as though they were a third person advisor and describe where they will take them if they continue on the path they’re on. Then I would ask them to imagine who they would like to be by the end of a semester and to write the habits that would help them get there. Finally, I would have them write what they should do to gain those habits. Peterson’s paper showed me that this practice really has helped people and his self-authoring exercise helped me aim my questions more effectively. 
  2. His insistence on cleaning your room and sorting yourself out and their inextricable link has helped me see the centrality of the Cain and Abel narrative for the whole Bible. God’s instructions to Cain were to master his sin and to improve his lot. We can suppose that those were precisely the qualities that made Abel’s sacrifice preferable. Peterson regularly utilizes that story to remind people of the importance of cleaning their rooms and organizing their habits around the good instead of around their immediate desires, but even that way of saying things fits with the idea that Cain and Abel are archetype at the bottom of the whole Biblical narrative. Jewish writers like Yoram Hazony have made this point for years. 
  3. Peterson helped revive Jung for me, particularly the idea of the archetypes. This was significant because I needed to understand the relationships between the symbolic overlay that human beings use to interpret the world and the innate nature of the world itself. A combination of Jung, Husserl, and Aristotle helped me see that. But if it weren’t for a footnote where Dallas Willard mentioned Jung, I would have never listened to Peterson after I found that paper of his, because I was prejudiced against Jung. 
  4. In Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care: A Proposal for Christian Psychology there’s a throw away line about the value of evo-psych for Christian counselors because of the information they provide about mating patterns. I didn’t dispute that and even read a lot of evo-psych over the last decade, but Peterson really helped me see how the Biblical material intersects with those claims. Whether his model of concordance is ultimately accurate is a question to consider, but it is definitely pragmatically accurate. 

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