Sunday, June 9, 2019

Twelve Rules for Life is Helping Me Strive for Sainthood

This past spring I finished reading Jordan B. Peterson's book Twelve Rules for Life. Prior to reading his book, I had started watching and listening to his lectures on YouTube and his podcast in the Fall of 2018.

Jordan Peterson is changing my life, and that is not a hyperbole. 

In the first installment of The Hobbit film trilogy (this whole production was a travesty, in my opinion, but this quote was a good moment and it is true to the heart of Tolkien's mythology), Gandalf the Wizard states, "Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I find that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay: small acts of kindness and love."

The concept of the agency and potential of the individual to bring about good is at the heart of
Peterson's book. He reinforces the value of the ancient concept that, while life is full of tremendous suffering and is tainted by malevolence, the best path forward is when the individual courageously takes up the daily tasks and responsibilities put before him and bears them in a courageous, truthful manner to the best of his ability.

He further argues that the pursuit of happiness a.k.a. pleasure will not in fact fulfill you. Instead, he states that the best path towards a good life consists of the pursuit of meaning through taking up as much responsibility in your life as you possibly can carry. One example he gives for this is having and raising children. Some people reject the idea of having children because they think that it will make them unhappy.

Peterson does not disagree with this.

Yes, if you have a child you will be more stressed, you will have more anxiety, and you will relinquish a good deal of your freedom, time, energy, and other assets. However, you will find life far more fulfilling than it would have been if you had never had that child. There are precious few things in life that are more beautiful and meaningful than bringing a new life into the world and nurturing it into a kind and courageous human being.

Speaking for myself, Peterson's book is changing the way I live my life for the better. As a church musician, I have a very demanding job that also permeates many aspects of my personal life. I love what I do, but it's exhausting and I rarely get a break. However, I am in a position where I am capable of nourishing the spiritual lives of a lot of people through the music and liturgy at my parish, and that is tremendously fulfilling, and so if I am able to take on more responsibilities and projects to make our church's music program better, than the thing that will actually make me happier is not the beer waiting at home for me in my fridge, or binge watching that new show on Amazon or Netflix. It will be nurturing a better choir, educating more children in sacred music, and worshipping our Lord all the more in beauty and joy.

Now, that doesn't mean that you should give all you got with reckless abandon -- Peterson cautions against this in his second chapter/rule: "Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping." You need to take care of yourself now so that you can become the person you are meant to be, and that means going to the doctor, asking for help when you need help, living a healthy lifestyle, telling the truth, and so forth.

Following Peterson's advice, I am trying to be more careful in my actions, my thoughts, and my speech. I am trying to take responsibility for myself, my house, and my community in the little ways that I can. I am trying to be a better person than the person I was yesterday -- that is to say, more truthful, kinder, and braver. Listening to his podcast this past week (a recording of a lecture he gave in Vancouver on July 26, 2018) gave me the push I needed to give up something "precious" to me that I recently realized I needed to let go of but didn't have the strength to do until now.

Peterson's book shows small practical ways that you can move towards bettering first yourself, then your relationships within your family, and then your community. It is almost incredibly simple, extremely practical, but also beautiful. Using his knowledge of biology and psychology, philosophy, Scripture, and literature, Peterson draws from and illuminates deep truths that humanity has known for thousands of years but seems to have lost or forgotten until recently. I am not sure, but I think his book is helping me to become a better person. Coupled with God's grace in the sacraments, it is helping me to strive more earnestly for sainthood.

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