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Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

How to live: Peterson’s self-help book, 12 Rules for Life, is offered as ‘an antidote to chaos’. Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Last Monday I read about an intriguing interview with Jordan B Peterson on the Guardian website. Given that I have recently stated that spiritually oriented psychologists are almost as rare as the Phoenix, I may have to eat my words. Peterson may say some things I don’t quite agree with, but more often that not what he says about giving life meaning resonates strongly with me. I think I will have to buy his book. I can hear my shelves groaning with the weight of that thought. [I have now bought the book and my views are expressed in a short sequence starting in March.]  Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.

It is uncomfortable to be told to get in touch with your inner psychopath, that life is a catastrophe and that the aim of living is not to be happy. This is hardly the staple of most self-help books. And yet, superficially at least, a self-help book containing these messages is what the Canadian psychologist Jordan B Peterson has written.

His book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is an ambitious, some would say hubristic, attempt to explain how an individual should live their life, ethically rather than in the service of self. It is informed by the Bible, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung and Dostoevsky – again, uncommon sources for the genre. . .

Peterson’s worldview is complex, although 12 Rules makes a heroic attempt to simplify it into digestible material. It might be encapsulated thus: “Life is tragic. You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge, complex and overwhelming. Once, we had Christianity as a bulwark against that terrifying reality. But God died. Since then the defence has either been ideology – most notably Marxism or fascism – or nihilism. These lead, and have led in the 20th century, to catastrophe.

“‘Happiness’ is a pointless goal. Don’t compare yourself with other people, compare yourself with who you were yesterday. No one gets away with anything, ever, so take responsibility for your own life. You conjure your own world, not only metaphorically but also literally and neurologically. These lessons are what the great stories and myths have been telling us since civilisation began.”

. . . “It’s all very well to think the meaning of life is happiness, but what happens when you’re unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it comes, accept it gratefully. But it’s fleeting and unpredictable. It’s not something to aim at – because it’s not an aim. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you’re unhappy? Then you’re a failure. And perhaps a suicidal failure. Happiness is like cotton candy. It’s just not going to do the job.”

But how do we build meaning? By putting it before expediency. Which is quite close to simply “acting right”. Peterson believes that everyone is born with an instinct for ethics and meaning. It is also a matter of responsibility – you need to have the courage to voluntarily shoulder the great burden of being in order to move towards that meaning. This is what the biblical stories tell us. The great world stories have a moral purpose – they teach us how to pursue meaning over narrow self-interest. Whether it’s Pinocchio, The Lion King, Harry Potter or the Bible, they are all saying the same thing – take the highest path, pick up the heaviest rock and you will have the hope of being psychologically reborn despite the inevitable suffering that life brings.

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Quest

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The Challenge

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Winter

Winter v2

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It is worth exploring the Dying Matters Awareness website. Our culture is still too reluctant to talk openly about death. This is not a good strategy as death is about the only thing we can be absolutely certain we will have to face once we are born. Below is a short extract from a page of particular interest to me, but there are many others exploring many different aspects. For the link to this page click here.

There are some things we all have in common. As we think about and approach the ends of our lives, and those of people close to us, we all experience a wide variety of often conflicting emotions. Grief, loss, anger and fear might co-exist alongside feelings of hope and resolution, a relief that someone is no longer suffering, or a wish to celebrate and rejoice in their life. In different ways we try to make or find meaning in our experience of illness and death, for example: by spending time with loved ones or holding ceremonies and rituals such as memorials, vigils and wakes.

When approaching discussions about dying, death and bereavement with other people, it can help to talk about the things that are most important to us, give us strength and provide meaning, for example, the beliefs and values we live by and our relationships with other people. Talking to others can help us make sense of and cope with the difficult situation we are in, while also helping us to support others and prepare them for the future.

Supporting people as they explore questions related to meaning and purpose is often referred to as “spiritual support”. The Department of Health, World Health Organization, End of Life Care Strategy and many others regard this kind of support as fundamental to meeting the needs of people approaching the end of life and those close to them.

Uncertain Death v3

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I have embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This includes poems such as the one below.
The Quarry v3

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Winter

Winter v2

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