Rule 10: Be Precise In Your Speech
12 Rules For Life Book Summary Analysis (Jordan B. Peterson)
“There is a story for children named there’s no such thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent, it tells a story of a child named Billy Bixby. Who spies on a dragon sitting on his bed one morning. It’s about the size of a house cat and friendly. He tells his mother about it, but she tells him that there’s no such thing as a dragon. So it starts to grow. It eats all of Billy’s pancakes. Soon it fills the whole house. Mum tries to vacuum, but she has to go in and out of the house through the windows because the dragon is everywhere. It takes her forever. Then the Dragon runs off with the house.”
“Billy’s dad comes home and there’s just an empty space where they used to live. The mailman tells him where the house went. and he chases after it, climbs up the Dragon’s head and now sprawling out into the street, finally rejoins his wife and son, mom still insists that the dragon does not exist, but Billy has pretty much had it by now insists there is a dragon mom. Instantly, it starts to shrink soon and soon it’s cat-sized. Everyone agrees that the dragon of that size, one, exists and are much preferable to their gigantic counterparts. Mom, eyes, reluctantly opened by this point, ask somewhat plaintively why it had to get so big. Billy quietly suggests, maybe it wanted to be noticed.”
“The moral of the story is the consequence of sweeping things under the rug. The moral of this story is the consequence of not facing the accumulated chaos and disorder that can manifest. “Maybe this is the moral of many stories. Chaos emerges in a household bit by bit, mutual happiness and resentment pile up, everything untidy is swept under the rug where the dragon feasts on the crumbs. The dragon is the lie. The dragon is the sin of omission. But no one says anything, as the shared society and negotiated order of the household reveals itself as inadequate or disintegrates in the face of the unexpected and threatening. Everybody whistles in the dark instead. Communication would require an admission of terrible emotions, resentment, terror, loneliness, despair, jealousy, frustration, hatred, boredom “— moment by moment it’s easier to keep the peace.
It’s easy to hide all these emotions and not face them. It’s easy to do what Billy Bixby’s mum did and ignore the problem and fall into denial and ignorance. You have serious problems that you need to deal with, but it’s easier for you to run away from them and ignore them. “But then the dragon grows all the more bigger and one day it bursts forth in a form that no one can ignore. It lifts the very household from its foundations, and what does that mean for?”
“It could be an affair for you. It could be an illness for another person, or it could be a decades-long custody dispute. This is what the dragon can grow into. It can grow into the most challenging problems and issues that the average human faces. “Every one of the 300,000 unrevealed issues, which have been lied about, avoided, rationalized away, hidden like an army of skeletons in some great horrific closet burst forth like Noah’s flood, drowning everything, but guess what? There’s no arc, why, because no one built one, even though everyone felt the storm gathering.”
Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission which are not as obvious. It’s being quiet when you should speak up about the little things that bother you. Instead, you ignore them. You don’t speak about them. You tell lies or you don’t tell the truth. These are sins of omission.
“Maybe the demolished couple could have had a conversation or two, or 200 about their sex lives, maybe the physical intimacy they undoubtedly share should have been matched as it often is not, by corresponding psychological intimacy.”
The outcome of hiding the dragon ends up manifesting itself often in tumultuous destructive relationships. And they often are, with people that we care about with people. Most people have experienced some type of romantic relationship at some point in their life. So this is the context we are discussing this topic through. Thus it’s something almost everybody can relate to. And so if you can relate to it, it can help ingrain these ideas a little deeper.
“So maybe the demolished couple could have precisely specified the desired manner of being. Maybe in that manner, they could have jointly prevented the waters of chaos from spring uncontrollably forth and drowning them. This can manifest itself in infidelity and/or physical-emotional abuse.” But this can be avoided if we precisely and specifically articulate what we desire, from ourselves and of the other person. If we communicate honestly and openly, and don’t hide the dragon under the bed.
“Maybe they could have done that instead of saying in an agreeable lazy cavalry way. ‘It’s okay. It’s not worth fighting about — I’m Okay. I’m fine.’ There is little in a marriage that is so little that it is not worth fighting about. You’re stuck in a marriage like the two proverbial cats in a barrel bound by the oath that lasts in theory, until one or both of you die, that oath is there to make you take the damn situation seriously. Do you really want to want the same petty annoyance tormenting you every single day of your marriage for the decades of his existence?”
But it’s not just about relationships. Do you really want the same petty annoyance eating away within you, tormenting you for the rest of your life?
“Or maybe you could put up with it. It’s something small. Maybe you should put up with it, you‘re no paragon of genuine tolerance. And maybe if you brought up how your partner’s giddy laugh is beginning to sound like nails on a blackboard, he or she would tell you quite properly to go to hell. And maybe the fault is with you [it usually is]. And you should grow up, get yourself together and keep quiet. Under such circumstances, there is nothing but a fight, a fight with peace as the goal, that will reveal the truth, but instead, you remain silent and you convince yourself it’s because you are a good person — a loving patient person.” But nothing could be further from the truth. You are a coward, in fact, justifying yourself under the guise as a paragon of civility.
So you convince yourself you’re this patient paragon of civility — this loving peace, peaceful person, that never wants to fight. Then the monster under the rug gains a few pounds because you never talked about it. You walked away from it. And so it grows. And you’ve committed a sin of omission.
“Perhaps addressing that problem and solving that problem would be worth two months of pure misery, just telling each other the truth, not with the intent to destroy or attain victory, because that’s not true, that’s just an all-out war.” The goal of conversation and dialogue and even argument is not to win or to lose. You don’t want to be a winner because then guess what? You’re living with a loser and no ones to live with the loser and no one wants to feel like a loser.”
And does anyone really find their perfect match? This ideal person that the need for continued attention and work vanishes. “And besides if you found this perfect person, he or she would run away from you so quickly from ever so imperfect you in justifiable horror. In truth, what you need, what you deserve after all is someone, is someone exactly as imperfect as you.”
“Maybe the husband who betrayed his wife was immature and selfish. Maybe that selfishness got the upper hand. Maybe she did not oppose his tendency with enough force and vigour. Everything clarified and articulated becomes visible. Maybe neither, the wife, nor husband wished to see or understand. Maybe they left things purposely in the fog. Maybe they generated the fog to hide what they did want to see.”
“He’s the terrible truth: every voluntary unprocessed and uncomprehended and ignored reason for marital failure will compound and conspire, and will then plague that portrayed and self portrayed woman for the rest of her life. The same goes for her husband. Or, he, she, they or we must do to ensure such an outcome is nothing.”
So if you want to guarantee torment and marital failure.
“Don’t notice, don’t react, don’t attend, don’t discuss, don’t consider, don’t work for peace, don’t take responsibility. Don’t confront the chaos, and turn it into order, just wait for the chaos to rise up and engulf you instead.”
“Why avoid when avoidance necessarily, and inevitably poisons the future? Because the possibility of a monster looks underneath all the disagreements and errors, maybe the fight you were having or not having with your wife or husbands signifies the beginning of the end of your relationship. Maybe your relationship is ending because you were a bad person.”
Am I going to cause our own demise because I dare peek under the rug? It’s a frightening contemplation. But you will face it anyway by denying reality every day ending up with a miserable existence or you will face it and free yourself.
“Maybe your relationship is ending because you’re a bad person. It’s the likely, at least in part, isn’t it? Having the argument necessary to solve a real problem, therefore, necessitates willingness to confront two forms of miserable and dangerous potentials simultaneously; chaos and the potential fragility of the relationship — of all relationships of life itself. And hell, the fact that you and your partner could each be the person bad enough to ruin everything with your laziness and spiteness. Why remain vague when it renders life stagnant and murky? Well, if you don’t know who you are and you can hide it in doubt, maybe you’re not a bad careless worthless person. [Ignorance is bliss]. Who knows? Not you, because you’re ignorant, particularly if you refuse to think about it, and you have every reason not to.”
“Not thinking about something you don’t want to know about, doesn’t make it go away.”
“Isn’t it better under such conditions of truly something rotten and hellish to live in willful blindness and enjoy the implicit ignorance? Well, not if the monster is real. Do you truly think it is a good idea to retreat, to abandon the possibility for arming yourself against the rising sea of troubles and to thereby diminish yourself in your own eyes?
“Do you truly think it is wise to let the catastrophe grow in the shadows while you shrink and decrease and become ever more afraid? Isn’t a better to prepare to sharpen your sword, to peer into the darkness, in fact, to be courageous and then to face the lion in its den?
“And maybe you’ll get hurt.”
“Probably you’ll get hurt.”
“You’ll get hurt.”
“And life, after all, is suffering, but maybe be the wound won’t be fatal. If you wait instead until what you are refusing to investigate comes a knocking at your door. Things will certainly not go so well for you. What you least want will inevitably happen when you are least prepared. What you least want to encounter will make itself manifest when you’re weakest and it is strongest and you will be defeated.”
This is the utility for facing your suffering, facing the dragon underneath the rug, facing the line in the den, facing your demons and your fears.
Example. Everybody, you know, is going to die.
That’s, what’s going to come a-knocking (what you least want to inevitably happen).
We’re not just talking about relationships. We’re talking about every pain in life. It’s the nature of human experience. So what are you going to do to prepare for it? What are you going to do to prepare for the fact that everybody you care for and know is going to die? A lot of them by unfortunate illness and extended suffering. What are you going to do to prepare for that mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually?
What are you going to do? Are you going to ignore it? And every time someone says the above you get really uncomfortable and squirm in your chair and say ‘don’t talk about that, that makes me really uncomfortable and emotional.’ Well, it’s going to happen. And because you hid that under the rug, you’re not going to be prepared in the slightest and it will hit you like a ton of bricks.
Can you ever be fully prepared for death? I don’t know, but you can sharpen your sword and be more prepared mentally. So then when your father and mother die, and you’re attending their funeral you can be a symbol of strength and hope and be the shield for those that never faced their dragon. Perhaps that is where you can find some meaning in this life.
“But why do people refuse to specify their problems and talk about these things when specifying the problem would enable its solution? Well, because to specify the problem is to admit that it exists and people don’t want to admit their problems exists. Because to specify the problem is to allow yourself to know what you want, say from a friend or lover, and then you will know precisely and cleanly when you don’t get it. And that will hurt sharply and specifically, but you will learn something from that and use what you learn in the future. And the alternative is that that single sharp pain is the dull ache of continued hopelessness and vague failure and the sense that time is slipping by.”
“What if she, who has been betrayed now, driven by desperation is now determined to face all the incoherence of past present and future. What if she decided to sort through the mess, even though she has been avoiding doing so until now, and it all the weaker and more confused for it. Perhaps the effort would nearly kill her, but she is now on a path, worse than death in any case. To reemerge, to escape, to be reborn she must thoughtfully articulate the reality she comfortably, but dangerous left hidden behind the veil of ignorance and the presence of peace. She must separate the particular details of her catastrophe from the intolerable general condition of Being, in a world where everything is falling apart, everything, that’s far too much, how can we deal with everything?”
“It was specific things that fell apart. Not everything. Identifiable beliefs failed, particular actions were false and inauthentic. What were they? How can they be fixed? How can she be better in the future? She will never return to the dry land if she refuses or is unable to figure it all out. She can put the world back together by some precision of thought, some precision of speech, some reliance of her own words, some reliance on the word.”
One way we can practically do this to ourselves is to detach ourselves from media, stimulus and consumption. Using times where you’re alone by yourself to step away from any type of consumption and technology.
Naturally, mental space is created as a by-product of that. mentally, and you can begin to problem-solve. Your mind begins to problem-solve for you in the background like a computer defragmenting its hard drive. You begin to reflect. You begin to think. You begin to separate emotion from reflection — emotion from thought they separate now because you’ve given yourself some space away from everything just to be alone. So if you’re wondering, how can I put myself back together? How can I figure out what went wrong? Give yourself space mentally and step away from it all. Go through physical voluntarily suffering that forces you to look inward.
“But what if you, or she had communicated your, or her unhappiness with the decline of her romantic life, right when it started to decline? [What if you nipped it in the bud] precisely and exactly when that decline first bothered her. What if she had clearly and carefully confronted the fact of her husband’s contempt for her household efforts. Would she had discovered her resentment of her father and society itself and the consequent damnation and contamination of her relationship? What if she had fixed all that? How much stronger would she then have become? How might she have then served herself, her family and the world? What if she continually and honestly risked conflict in the present in the service of longer-term truth and presence?”
What if you risk conflict now, too create a long-term peace?
“What if she treated the micro collapses of her marriage as evidence of an underlying instability, eminently worthy of attention, instead of ignoring them, putting up with them or smiling through them in such a nice agreeable manner. Maybe she would be different and her husband different too. Maybe they would still be married formerly and in spirit, maybe they would both be much younger, physically, immensely than they are now. Maybe her house would have been founded more on rock and less on sand.”
A lot of people are forming the foundations of their relationships and psyches on very soft, unstable foundations. Because every time you don’t face one of these issues you put more cracks in the concrete.
“If we speak carefully and precisely, we can sort things out, put them in their proper place and set a new goal and navigate to it often communally, if we negotiate, if we reach consensus. But if we speak carelessly, imprecisely, however things remain, vague, things remain unsolved. The destination remains and proclaimed. The fog of uncertainty does not lift and there is no negotiating through the world.”
To me, this is one of the most important lessons in this book.
Being precise in your speech isn’t just about the superficial ability to articulate words. It’s not just about being clever and articulating with intelligence, tact and whit. It’s about speaking with the intent to figure things out. I don’t even think it’s just about speaking precisely but it’s about speaking at all because a lot of times, since of omission is about an absence of speech. So in fact, be precise in your speech, not just that, but speak, speak up and be precise in your speech.
An important note, when you identify a problem that the problem needs to spoken about as close to the time of its emergence as possible. If we think back to classical conditioning and just basic behavioural psychology and behavioural science. It’s very evident that we want the response to the stimulus to be as close as possible to create some type of associative conditioning. If you see a problem, it’s not always wise to just sit on it for long periods of time. It’s not so much that you’ve distanced yourself. It’s that the other person doesn’t know you have a problem until you articulate it. So for them, they will continue acting as if all is normal while it eats away at you and the memory of the context of the original problem fades.
If you could find a way to admit and identify and speak about the problem as close as reasonably and practically possible to the actual behaviour, your likelihood of addressing what you need to address theoretically dramatically improves.
“When something terrible happens, it is precision that separates the unique, terrible thing that has actually happened from all the other equally terrible things that might’ve happened, but did not. If you wake up in pain, you might be dying. You might be dying slowly and terribly from one of the diverse number of painful, horrible diseases. If you refuse to tell your doctor about your pain, then what you have is unspecified. It could be any of those diseases. And since you have avoided the diagnostic conversation it is certainly something unspeakable, but if you talk to your doctor, all those terrible possible diseases will collapse with luck into just one terrible or not so terrible disease, or even into nothing. Then you can laugh at your previous fears and if something really is wrong, well, you’re prepared. Precision may leave the tragedy intact, but it chases away the ghouls and demons.”
The doctor symbolizes every person you have a relationship with. Speak to the doctor, speak to the friend, speak to the person. Life is essentially about people, right? If you never speak up to that friend, that partner, that spouse about the problem that you’re feeling you’re never going to get to the cause of it.
“And we know something is out there in the woods, right? We know something. [The woods is the unknown. The woods is what’s scary.] But often it’s only a squirrel. It’s something that’s not so harmful. But if you refuse to look, however, then it’s a dragon because that’s what it grows into. And you’re no knight, you’re a mouse confronting your lion, a rabbit paralyzed by the gaze of a Wolf.” But you can act like a lion. You can embody the persona, the characteristics of the lion — of the courageous knight warrior. “And I’m not saying it’s always a squirrel, often it’s something truly terrible, but even what is terrible in actuality, often pales in insignificance compared to what is terrible in imagination.” Our imagination is powerful. Our ability to conjure up the worst possible scenarios is quite incredible.
The antidote: articulate your problems and communicate them clearly and succinctly to yourself and relevant parties. Once that is done the problems and what anxiety of what anticipated often dramatically shrink in size. Think about all the times you imagined something dangerous and grave was going to happen. You may have been uncertain, scared and anxious. Now think back to what actually happened. Our imagination is almost always worse than the reality.
“And often what cannot be confronted because of its horror in imagination can, in fact, be confronted when reduced to its still admittedly terrible actuality. If you shut the responsibility of confronting the unexpected, even when it appears in manageable doses, reality itself will become unsustainably, disorganized, and chaotic. Then it will grow bigger and swallow all order, all sense and all predictability — ignored reality transforms itself into the great goddess of chaos, the great reptilian monster of the unknown, the great predatory beast against which mankind has struggled since the dawn of time. If the gap between pretence and reality goes unmentioned, it will widen, you will fall into it and the consequences will not be good. Ignored reality manifests itself in an abyss of confusion and suffering. Be careful with what you tell yourself and others about what you have done, what you are doing and where you are going. Search for the correct words. Take your time, organize those words into the correct sentences and those sentences into the correct paragraphs. The past can be redeemed when reduced by precise language to its essence.’
When you observe credible orators like Peterson and Churchill it highlights and reveals within you how imprecise we are without speech. Perhaps their actions and behaviour should be a model to become more effective communicators.
“Don’t hide baby monsters under the carpet, they will flourish. They will grow large in the dark. Then when you least expect it, they will jump out and devour you. You descend into intermediate confusing hell instead of ascending into the heaven of virtue and clarity. Courageous and truthful word will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined and habitable. If you identify things with careful attention and language, you bring them forward as viable obedient objects detaching them from the underlying universal interconnectedness, you simplify them. You make them specific and useful and reduce that complexity. You make it imp you make it possible to live with them and use them without dying from the complexity, with its attendant, uncertainty and anxiety.”
“If you leave things vague, then you’ll never know what is the one thing and what is the other, everything will bleed into everything else. This makes the world too complex to be managed. We have to constantly define the topic of conversation, particularly when it is difficult or it becomes about everything. Everything is too much. That is so frequently why couples cease communicating, every argument degenerates into every problem that has ever emerged in the past, every problem that exists now, every terrible thing that is likely to happen in the future. No one can ever have a discussion about everything. Instead, you can say this exact precise thing. That is what is making me unhappy. That is what we’re going to talk about.”
Can you step outside yourself just for a moment…
Hey. I know I’m emotional. I’m not feeling in control of myself right now, but I need to pause and step outside myself and just specify the one issue that I’m feeling.
“This exact precise thing. That is what you could deliver so that I will stop making your life and mine miserable. But to do that, you have to think, what is wrong exactly. What do I want exactly? How do you find that? You reflect. You give yourself space, you write. You must speak forthrightly and call forth the habitable world from chaos. You must be honest and precise to do that. If you instead shrink away and hide, what you’re hiding from will transform itself into the giant dragon that lurks under your bed, and in your forest, and in the dark recesses of your mind and it will devour you. You must determine where you have been in your life so that you can know where you are now.”
“If you don’t know where you are precisely, you could be anywhere, and anywhere is too many places to be. And some of those places are very bad. You must determine where you have been in your life, otherwise, you can’t get to where you are going. You can’t get from point A to B unless you are already at point A. And if you’re just anywhere and things are everything, and you’re trying to solve everything, the chances you are at point A are very small indeed.
“You must determine where you’re going in life because you can not get there unless you move in that direction. Random wandering will not move you forward. It will instead disappoint and frustrate you and make you anxious, unhappy and hard to get along with and then resentful and then vengeful.”
“Say what you mean so you could find out what you mean. Act out what you say so you can find out what happens, and pay attention. Note your errors, articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover meaning in your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life. How could it be otherwise? Confront the chaos of Being. Take aim against the sea of troubles. Specify your destination and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you, who you are, narrow and gaze attentively and move forward forthrightly.”