The following is a transcript excerpt from Dr. Jordan Peterson’s Vision & Destiny series on DailyWire+. In this segment from episode 5, he speaks on making your life better, knowing your intrinsic worth, being a force for good in the world, living in truth, and moving forward.
Start time: [3:47]
There is a responsible adventure to your life. You are not all you could be, and there is pain in that. A certain amount of judgment is necessary — and even a certain amount of exclusion — because what is insufficient about you, in some sense, should not be allowed to propagate further. But if it is conjoined with encouragement, you can be in a rough situation yet still discover some things about yourself that are virtuous and good — and actually pretty powerful. If you made those more manifest, you could dispense with a lot of immaturity and misery, and you could expand yourself out into life physically and psychologically.
As soon as you start walking the pathway that makes things better, then things immediately become better because your whole orientation changes. If you are in a bad place but you are escaping, that is pretty positive — even if it is a bad place. You might think it is still bad, but it is better. That is a lot better than being in a bad place that is getting worse. That is for sure. Because that is hell; hell is a bad place that is getting worse. So if you take the bad place and it is getting better, it is already not hell.
We have confused the notion of [self] love with the maternal instinct for an infant. Because, of course, your attitude toward an infant under six months is, “You are exactly ok the way you are.” There is nothing to do with an infant under six months, in the most fundamental sense, except to provide them with total care. But that is not what you do to any child that is older than six months. You start laying down some criteria for becoming, for improvement. We could define that criteria. Take, for example, the saying, “There is nothing more perfect than a baby.” That is not true if the baby is 14-years-old. It is true if the baby is six-months-old and actually a baby, but by nine months, the child is going to start to interact socially.
There are some principles that the child has to learn to abide by so that social interaction is optimized. You want to replace the infant with the toddler who has a certain domain of autonomy and responsibility and a certain capacity for social interaction. Then you want to replace the toddler with the young child, with the preschooler, who now can negotiate a shared social space, and you want to replace the preschooler with the older child who is now capable of taking on as much domestic responsibility as is appropriate for that age. You want to take the infant who is entirely dependent and turn them into someone who is autonomous, then socially integrated, and then socially integrated in a manner that is moving them towards individual responsibility. The love is not only love that is devoted to who they are at any point, which is that encompassing maternal love, but also the love that says, “Kid, we are pretty happy you are around, but the new you is going to be even better.” That is encouragement, and that is part of love. It is half of love — that is for sure. You want to direct that to yourself as well.
You do not want to judge who you are so harshly that you just destroy yourself and everything is cast into the pit. You want to take a look at yourself and say, “Look, you are a person among persons, and you have intrinsic worth. You have your flaws, your sins, and your domain of ignorance and inadequacy, but that does not mean you are entirely worthless.” You have a base-level value that is intrinsic worth reflective of the fact you are made in the divine image, in the most fundamental sense. You have intrinsic worth, and that is due a certain degree of baseline love — but there is the becoming problem, especially when you are young because most of you is still in the becoming phase.
So why wouldn’t encouragement be the hallmark of love? It’s like, “Get the hell up. Get your act together. Adopt some responsibility. Put your life together. Develop a vision. Expand yourself beyond the narrow confines that are causing your misery, and we think you can do it.” You could do it; you should do it. The world would be better off if you did it. You would be doing better if you did it. Everything would work out better. Why would we not work to make everything work out better? You are the person who could do it. You tell young people that and they think, no one ever told me that before in that way, and maybe I should get my act together. Then they go out and try to get their act together in some micro ways, and they think, it turned out that worked and I am less miserable. I could try doing it on a broader scale. So they try that and think people seem a lot happier with them. They have more friends, they are more popular, they stand up a little bit straighter, and then away they go.
If you do not believe that the human being is corrupt and pathological in its essence — which many people now seem to believe, or at least some dread spirit seems to insist and people agree with it — then you could unfold all those manifold possibilities that lurk within and be a force for good in the world and that will be the adventure of your life. A bit of a disposition on truth can be added to that as well. You should be oriented by love, the desire to care for being and becoming, however it is manifest, to want that to turn out in the best possible manner. That could be your goal: to want things to turn out in the best possible manner. You have to decide if that is true because people are tempted to create little hells around them all the time. Don’t think that you necessarily want that because it is not that easy to orient yourself to that because you are bitter and resentful and angry. That is going to interfere with that vision of love. You might decide, now that you have that vision, what you have as weapons to clear your path or to set things in order as you move forward. One of the answers is, we have truth. Why? Because you want to contend with the world the way it is, obviously.
Truth is useful in that endeavor. You might ask why you should not lie if you could get away with not telling the truth. Why shouldn’t you just lie if you could get what you wanted and if you could avoid responsibility? Why not lie? The first response to this is: What makes you so sure you want to avoid responsibility except narrowly in this moment? It is not a good medium- to long-term strategy, and everyone knows it. What makes you think manipulating people in the short-term so you can gratify a whim is going to be a useful iterative strategy? It is not. So you can dispense with that. What do you do when you tell the truth instead? You predicate your actions on an axiom of faith, which is that nothing better can happen than that which happens if you live in truth. That is a statement of deep religious faith because the evidence for that can only be gathered as a consequence of manifesting the actions that are predicated upon that axiom of faith. You do not know until you lay it out, but you can say, “I believe that the truth will set me free.”
With regard to identity, ask: Who is “me”? If you are lying, it is not you, by definition, because if you are lying, you are attempting to implement a falsehood; you are attempting to falsify the world and yourself. That is what a lie is. So if something happens that is good because you lied, it is not happening to you — it is a reward for the spirit of deceit that you allowed to inhabit you. If you reward the spirit of deceit that you allowed to inhabit you, it will grow, and I would not recommend that. That is a very bad idea. In the contrary situation, you live and speak in truth, and then things happen. They are happening to you. That is your life; that is your adventure.
One of the things that is very interesting about the truth in that regard is that it provides a certain optimal unpredictability. If you are talking to someone, being interviewed, or having a discussion with someone, you might want to impress that person. You have a little vision of what the instrumental outcome of the conversation could be so that it reflects positively on some narrow conception of a desired future state. If you only say what they want to hear and what sounds impressive, you may get the result but it will not be what you want — because it is predicated on a falsehood. Instead, you could just have a conversation with the person, a real conversation: What do you think? Here is what I think. Do you like it or not? I don’t know if you like it or not. We can talk about that and talk about why. But it is still what I think and that does not mean it is right, but it is what I think. Then you lay that out and what happens to you is what happens to you, and then it is unpredictable.
Imagine you are speaking deceitfully and instrumentally. You want something from someone. Ok, well then you are lying, so the you that receives is not you; it is the spirit of deceit. You are instrumental because you think that narrow vision is optimal, even though it requires deceit. You can just throw that away and say what you think — carefully and judiciously, feeling out the words. Then, accept whatever happens, no matter how unpredictable. What you will find is that is where you have adventure. Because you might ask what you have to offset against the catastrophe of life. Responsibility, friendship, place, job, career, education, all of that. Adventure. Is the adventure worth it? If you tell the truth, you will have the adventure of your life. That is what will happen. If you do not, you will have the adventure of the spirit of deceit. Those are your options.
It is a wild ride to partake in the manifestation of the reality that you can have at your fingertips. That is a wild ride. And it might be a ride so wild that you think, my God, that was something — but it was definitely worth it.
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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+.