Psychologist Jordan Peterson wrote '12 Rules for Life'. And now they're going viral.

Update: Jordan Peterson will appear on Q&A live from Melbourne on Monday, February 25, 2019. 

Psychologist, cultural critic and author Jordan Peterson is one of the most divisive public intellectuals on the planet.

In January of this year, the 55-year-old published his second book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which has in a matter of months reached the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.

David Brooks refers to him as one of the most influential thinkers of our time, Brendan O’Connor calls him an “academic rock star“, Pankaj Mishra denigrates to him as a ‘fascist’ and philosopher Slavoj Žižek dismisses him as ‘ridiculous’.

Peterson gained notoriety in 2016, when he vocalised his opposition to using gender neutral pronouns. He was denounced as transphobic – an epithet he rejects.

Since, he has become a particularly controversial figure in feminist circles, arguing that modern feminism has gone “off the rails”. He rejects identity politics, wanting instead to focus on the individual and the power they have in directing their own lives.

His 12 rules are about just that; personal responsibility, as he uncovers eternal truths, and applies them to our distinctly modern problems.

An overview: What you need to know about Jordan Peterson. Post continues below. 

The rules are as follows:

1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

It’s simple psychology. Standing up straight means you’re ready for the world, and stimulates a chemical response that makes you feel more powerful. Don’t shy away from your problems – put your desires forward and be forthright.

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Look after yourself. If you are not committed to your own wellbeing, no one else will be. Instead of asking yourself what you want, ask yourself what is actually good for you, and what your life could look like if you took proper care of yourself.

3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.

Beware of anyone who revels in your failures.

4. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.

Your only point of comparison, ever, should be yourself. Know what you’re aiming for and have your goals clearly laid out. Anyone else’s trajectory is entirely irrelevant.

5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

It’s your job to ensure your child is properly socialised, and knows how to speak to people. Do not parent from a place of fear; be proactive. If you child behaves inappropriately, pull them up on it immediately.


6. Set yourself in perfect order before you criticise the world.

Don’t complain about the world, or lament all its failings, without considering first how you could improve your own life. Make your bed. Clean up your life. Have some humility. Be invested in your own self improvement.

7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

Things that are expedient might make you happy, for a moment. But do not pursue the things that give you short term satisfaction. Invest instead in what is meaningful, because it will make you a better person long term.

8. Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.

We all lie far more than we think we do. Commit yourself to the truth, and if you can’t communicate that, don’t say anything at all.

9. Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

This is again an exercise in humility. It is also a tool in conflict management, and requires you to approach every exchange with curiosity and openness. The person you’re speaking to is no more of an idiot than you are.

10. Be precise in your speech.

Be direct. Don’t avoid the conversations that make you uncomfortable. Don’t shirk responsibility.

11. Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding.

Let children play. Allow children to confront danger and learn from it, instead of shielding them from the world.

12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

Appreciate the small things and practice a version of mindfulness. Approach the world with wonder.

Peterson’s book, of course, allows for far more complexity and research than can be presented here.

His work has become, particularly among young men, almost a religious text, with the ‘rules’ serving as the 10 Commandments of modern life.

Are these the guiding principles by which we now structure our existence?

It certainly is for some, and that’s worth thinking about.

You can buy 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, at any good book store, or at Booktopia.