If you spend a lot of time on the internet, there’s a substantial chance you might have stumbled upon Jordan Peterson before. He’s a Canadian psychologist who has garnered worldwide attention in recent years.
There are numerous reasons for this attention, such as the widespread availability of his lectures, debates, and interviews (some of which went viral, like his interview with Cathy Newman). He's also known as the author of two books titled 12 Rules for Life and Maps of Meaning.
The major theme of Peterson’s lectures and writings draws upon psychology, history, mythology, and even pop-culture at times; to illustrate pointers about how we can live a meaningful life.
A somewhat controversial figure, his ideas attract an abundance of both criticism and praise — with a strong case on each side. I am neither a fan nor a hater of Jordan Peterson, but I do think there are some valuable things to be learned from him.
The Most Important Thing In Life
In an interview with Helen Lewis of British GQ, Peterson made a statement that I thought was somewhat intriguing.
The interview touched upon a lot of things over its two-hours duration, but there’s one part that really struck me. Near the end, Lewis asked Peterson a straightforward question: “What is most important to you in life?”
Without any pause whatsoever, Peterson answers (with a stern accentuation):
“Not. Being. Stupid.”
Lewis readies herself to respond, but Peterson isn’t done. He continues:
“Not making foolish mistakes. Not being incautious.”
Then, Lewis comments: “That’s tough on yourself,” noting the toilsome nature of Peterson’s statement, to which he grins mischievously, and replies:
“Life’s tough, man!”
So, Don’t Be Stupid?
The way I see it, “not being stupid” here doesn’t necessarily translate to having a Ph.D. or a high IQ. As Peterson explained, right after he said the phrase, he means more of “being cautious so you don’t make foolish mistakes.”
If you watch his lectures and talks a lot, you might have an approximation of what this means for him. Peterson’s capacity for caution is especially apparent in instances where he’s faced with an aggressive (or downright hostile) opposition, like SJW activists or agenda-driven interviewers.
In most (but not all) instances, Peterson is known to demonstrate an aptitude to stay calm when he’s inundated with fallacious arguments, loud noises, and sometimes even outrageously uncivilized behavior.
Under such pressure, he maintains a cool head and keeps his emotions in check, so he can respond to the situation carefully. Perhaps, this is why he’s known to make witty comebacks in heated debates.
Whether you agree or disagree with his way of thinking, this sturdy composure is a universal quality that anyone can appreciate.
What You Say vs How You Say It
In other, more conducive discussions, like the one where he discusses Marxism with Slavoj Žižek, the atmosphere is more ideal for an exchange of ideas. Therefore, everyone involved can focus more on the intellectual substance of the discussion.
However, Peterson’s composed demeanor shines the most in hostile situations (unfortunately), such as moments of friction with SJWs.
Imagine: If he’s a person who’s easy to lose his temper and succumb to his emotions, it won’t matter if he cites empirically-proven psychological theories. It won’t matter if what he’s saying is true. The discussion won’t go anywhere.
Sometimes, what you say is not as important as how you say it.
In some instances, Peterson has expressed his belief in the power of “articulate speech,” which he manifests in his conduct. He’s known to be careful in his word choice and sentence structure, so he can communicate his ideas effectively — both in speech and writing.
When you adopt this cautious way of communication, even if someone disagrees with what you say, they’ll respect your well-mannered expression.
And even if you’re wrong, at least they’ll criticize you for “exactly what you mean,” instead of “a misunderstanding of what you actually mean.”
This way, while it’s still possible for you to be mistaken, it isn’t a foolish mistake — and, arguably, it’ll be less troublesome to fix.
Frankly, Peterson’s “not being stupid” statement might be a spur-of-the-moment response (even though he looks like he really means it), because, in other instances, he has also expressed other ideas which can also be interpreted as the most important thing in life.
For example, he’s known to emphasize the importance of “individual responsibility” and “chaos/shadow integration.”
Still, these ideas are all connected — and in a way, perhaps the most important thing in life is to not be stupid. After all, once you got the hang of this one thing, other aspects of your life will, undoubtedly, also improve.
Making mistakes is human, but we should be cautious as to not make mistakes foolishly. It does sound tough, but doesn’t the opposite — being stupid, being prone to foolish mistakes, being incautious — sound tougher?