Be The Reliable Person At A Funeral


The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s lecture. 

Podcast time: 03:39

If the question emerges, “Who are you?,” you could say, you are this plan. That is how people usually identify. Maybe they have no plan at all, and they are just in chaos. That is like being in the belly of the beast — nihilistic and chaos, and they have no plan. They are just chaos itself, and that is a very dreadful situation for people to be in. Or maybe they conjure together a plan. That is their identity. It is kind of fragile, and they are holding onto that with everything they have got. It is their little stick of wood that they are floating in the ocean clinging to. They are identifying really hard with the plan. That is what happens when you are an idealogue: You are identifying really hard with that plan. The problem is, something comes up to confront it, and how do you act? You cannot let go of that plan because you will drown; you cling to it rigidly. Then that is not good because you cannot learn anything. 

If that is you, you are a totalitarian. You are not going to learn anything. You are going to end up in something that is close enough to hell so that you will not know the difference, and you might drag everyone along with you. That has happened plenty of times. That is the whole story of the 20th century. It happened over and over and over. And it happens in people’s states. It happens in their business organizations. It happens in their cities. It happens in their provinces. And it happens in the psyches, all at the same time. You cannot blame the manifestation of that sort of thing at any of those one levels. When a society goes down that way, it goes down everywhere at the same time. It is not the totalitarians at the top and all the happy people striving to be free at the bottom. It is not that at all. It is totalitarianism at every single level of the hierarchy, including the psychological. You do not want to be in chaos — that is for sure — but you do not want to cling so desperately to the raft that you cannot let go when someone comes to rescue you. You do not want to be that. So then you think, “Well, exactly what are you?” You are not the chaos; you are not the plan. Maybe you are the thing that confronts the obstacle. 

I would say that is the categorical lesson of psychology in so far as it has to do with personal transformation. That is what you always teach people in psychotherapy. I do not care what sort of psychotherapist you are. You are always teaching them the same thing: You are not the plan. You are the thing that can confront the obstacle to the plan. And then when you know even further that the obstacle is not only an obstacle but opportunity itself, your whole view of the world can change. Because you might think, “Well, I have this plan. Something came up to object to it.” It is possible that the thing that is objecting has something to teach you that will take you to the place where you develop an even better plan. It is a nice framework to use: “Are you so sure that this is a problem? Is that the only way you can look at it? Or is it an opportunity?” I am not trying to be naively optimistic. There are some dragons that are pretty hard to extract gold from. 

Maybe the death of a family member is an example of that. But even in a situation like that, I can tell you that it is an opportunity for maturation. That is for sure. And you might say, “Well, it is pretty miserable to be digging for gold when someone is falling into the grave.” If they really love you, first of all, that is what they will want you to do. And second, you are going to make their death a more palatable experience if you are someone who can be in a room and be helpful — instead of quivering in the corner and feeling that the entire world is collapsing in on you. You want to be the useful person at the funeral. 

How is that for a goal? That is a good goal. You know that you have yourself together in a situation like that — because you are going to be at them. And maybe you want to be the person on whose shoulder people cry. That would be a good goal. I do not like being naively optimistic, so when I tell you to get your life together, I am not going to say it is roses and sunshine. That is pablum for fools. But it really is something to be the reliable person at a funeral, and you can aim at that. You can do that. You have to be tough to do that because it also means that you can sustain a major loss without collapsing, and you have to be a monster to do that. 

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant and then associate professor of psychology at Harvard. He is the international bestselling author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules For Life, and Beyond Order. You can now listen to or watch his popular lectures on DailyWire+.


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