I’ve mentioned Dr. Jordan Peterson before in my previous articles, the Toronto professor who has started a quiet revolution of sorts with millions of mostly college-educated students on, of all things, the power of taking personal responsibility. While the mainstream media has tried to marginalize his message by whittling the core of his thesis down to “just make your bed,” his online fan base continues to grow. Why? Because the message of personal responsibility is lost on a generation that has never been taught this simple concept. In our post-modern society of relativism and victimology, millennials just can’t get enough of his common sense.
The human psyche will go to extraordinary means to avoid mental pain. We all know this even if we never really take the time to find out what’s eating Gilbert Grape—or ourselves. It’s why people emotionally eat, drink too much, do drugs or develop phobias or avoidance behaviors. What isn’t commonly talked about is why taking personal responsibility is so hard, much less how we can put it into practice.
The idea of personal responsibility comes really in just two forms, acknowledging those we’ve hurt and disappointed and accepting the reality of those who have hurt and disappointed us. People in the throes of emotional pain, depression and anxiety are unable to concentrate, feel worthless and often become sick. But the simple act of taking responsibility for their actions and feelings, such as the type Jordan “preaches,” really does work. Here’s why.
We don’t have the ability to really see or know ourselves accurately. By starting with the simple assumption that we are pretty pathetic and weak in terms of changing ourselves, the starting line for any hope in improving our condition must start with acknowledging this simple truth. We are not as good as we’d like to think.
Why this concept is so revolutionary is that we have become an egocentric society where the last few generations of Americans have been religiously told by people in authority that they are okay just as they are, no need to change or aim higher. Problem is, we know it’s not true. It doesn’t ring true deep in the core of our very being. Anyone who has tried to exercise more, eat healthy or give up alcohol knows that it is a battle we often lose.
Thus, Peterson’s urging to just make your bed, is actually good advice. We tackle the mountain by first moving the mole hill. Peterson then urges us to clean up the chaos in our world, one day at a time, one bed at a time, one pile of clothes at a time, and one room at a time. And it turns out that getting our own environment in order is just the antidote we need to cleaning up the chaos and murky emotional bog that lies beneath the surface of our tumultuous waters.
By focusing on the one thing we have power over and the one thing we can change at that moment and on any given day, doesn’t cost us any great emotional pain or require much human output in terms of willpower. This is how we start to take responsibility for the mess that is our life. We can’t blame our parents, our spouse or our boss that our bed isn’t made or maybe that we haven’t packed our lunch before we went to bed.
Peterson’s advice may seem trite for those who may be in the throes of great depression, anxiety or emotional pain of any type. But as President Trump told black Americans when he asked them to vote for him, what do you have to lose? You’re not equipped to fix your messed up family, lousy love prospects or dead-end job in the condition your in. By taking back one room, one area of your life, you are strengthening your personal responsibility bone. And it’s empowering.
As you begin to put this simple application into practice, you can begin to develop a plan for your life, no matter where you are starting from or how old you are. But this is actually putting the horse ahead of the cart in Dr. Peterson’s view. By concentrating and then mastering these small feats that you take personal responsibility for, you will begin to command the respect of those around you. Maybe not the world, your company or your entire family, but people will be attracted to a person who has their ducks in a row.
The weight of not taking responsibility for your life gives you the joy-draining power to blame others or your circumstances for your unhappiness. As Dr. Peterson emphasizes, life is painful and short for all of us. Death will visit each of us and is the great equalizer. Suffering is part of our human condition and we each have the capacity to do evil, as the world so clearly exhibits. But by blaming others, we are copping out in purposely crafting a life that will allow us to rise above the pain of life and provide us with meaning and purpose. And we all need meaning and purpose in life. Go make your bed. #ReignWell