Rule 12: Pet A Cat When You Encounter One In The Street
12 Rules For Life Book Summary (Jordan B. Peterson)
This rule is going to discuss the limitation of being, the necessity of suffering and what we can about it.
The idea that life is suffering is a tenant in one form or another of every major religious doctrine. Buddhist stated directly, Christians illustrated with the cross, and Jews commemorate the suffering enjoyed over centuries. Suffering is a component of being. It is the gateway, from my perspective to true excellence in any vocational field. In fact, rather a vocational field, in life, in the vocation of life.
Suffering voluntary or involuntary is a necessity of being. Instead of pushing back against it, like I used to, I now welcome it and relish it. When suffering comes knocking on my door, I tell myself “Amor Fati,” a Latin phrase meaning “the love of fate.” It’s not merely to bear what is necessary, but embrace it and take it on, and face exactly what is in front of you.
And because we live in a culture and society in which most of us in a Western modern world where involuntary suffering and pain is rare because of the stable, economic, geological, environmental state of our countries. Because the involuntary suffering is not present such as went our parents and parents’ parents, great grandparents, for example, had to go through high rates of often child labour. I post about this on my Instagram, if you want to read more about it.
Industrial companies came to poor families and they offered very little money, but they were desperate. So they took it, and children of the ages of as young as six all the way to teenage years, were working factories all day, every day — involuntary suffering. They did what they had to do to survive, to put food on the table, to keep a roof above their head. What do we do? Well, we’ve created good times for ourselves because bad times create hard men, but hard men then create good times and those same men then become weak and create bad times once again. So we have to create voluntary suffering for ourself. And this is something that can be encapsulated through physical endurment, physical activity, whether it’s a martial art, going for a run, weight training, yoga, pilates etc. These can be very mentally, emotionally, and spiritually challenging. These are activities we can do to create voluntary suffering for ourselves, to push past and push through the mental limitations of barriers of our being to find new parts of ourselves.
The limitation of being
“Imagine a being who is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent…what does such a being lack? Limitation. If you already know everything there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything that could happen already has.
This idea helped Peterson deal with the terrible fragility of being, as he says here. “But there’s something to be said for recognizing that existence and limitation are inextricably linked. Though 30 spokes may form a wheel, there a hole within the hub which gives the wheel utility. It is not the clay the potter throws which gives the pot its usefulness, but the space within the shape from which the pot is made. Without a door, the room cannot be entered, and without its windows, it is dark. Such is the utility of nonexistence.” Such is the utility of limitation of space and imperfection. So suffering, which is tied into the limitation of being and pain is a beautiful thing. It’s so easy to say when when things are going well — when you’re healthy, when you’re not sick, when things are relatively stable, it’s so easy to say this.
That suffering is a blessing to us human beings, that limitation that we feel. All this emotion and turmoil — mentally, physically, emotionally, is why we’re not like gods. Although maybe it’s also why we are alike to gods, because we have consciousness, and can control ourselves, plan, think, ponder, reflect, get better, progress, grow. So we need the limitation of being, don’t run from it.
A superhero, for example, that can do anything turns out to be no hero at all. In fact, one of the things that happened when they first were writing the DC Superman comics in the forties, they found that Superman became boring because he could do anything. He could leap over buildings. He could fly faster than light, had superhuman X-ray vision, freeze objects, move entire planets, nuclear blasts didn’t even phase him. And if he did get hurt, somehow he would immediately heal. He was omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. He became invulnerable so he became boring. So what did they do? They wrote in the comics ‘Kryptonite’, and this was Superman’s weakness. Green kryptonite weakened superman, with the potential of even killing him. Red kryptonite caused him to behave strangely while red-green blends caused him to mutate. They created a dozen different kryptonite variants that made it more interesting.
Let’s think about why has the Marvel universe been so popular? Why has it [Avenger’s Endgame] become the second highest-grossing film of all time? Why are these movies able to capture us our imagination so much? One component of these popular characters is they have limits and are not limitless. We know at a moment’s notice, every character we grow to love could be taken away *snaps fingers*. That keeps us mentally, emotionally, spiritually on the edge of our consciousness, like a drug feeding us. And then it’s interesting, then it’s engaging. And that is a part of a component that makes being human interesting, fun and exciting, because we are limitless.
“A superhero who could do anything turns out to be no hero at all, he’s nothing specific so he is nothing. He has nothing to strive against so he can’t be admirable. Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because being requires becoming, perhaps as well as mere static existence, and to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited.”
Let’s get darker…
“Can being itself, with its malarial mosquitoes, child soldiers, degenerative neurological diseases, genocides alike truly be justified? I’m not sure I could have formulated a proper answer to such a question in the 19th century, before the totalitarian horrors of the 20th where monstrously perpetrated on millions of people.
“I don’t know that it’s possible to understand why such doubts are morally impermissible without the fact of the Holocaust, the Stalinist purges, and Maoist catastrophic great leap forward. And I also don’t think it is possible to answer the question by thinking. Thinking leads inexorably to the abyss. It does not work for Tolstoy and it might not have even worked for Nietzsche, who arguably thought more clearly about such things than anyone in history. If it is not thinking that can be relied upon in the direst of situations then what is left? Thought, after all, is the highest of human achievement, is it not?”
“When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself in such situations in the depths, it’s noticing not thinking that does the trick. Perhaps you might start by noticing this when you love someone, it’s not despite the limitations, it’s because of the limitations. Of course, it’s complicated. You don’t have to be in love with it every shortcoming, merely accept it. You shouldn’t stop trying to make life better or let suffering just be, but there appear to be limits on the path of improvement beyond which we might not want to go last we sacrifice our humanity itself.”
“Of course, it’s one thing to say being requires limitation, and then go about happily when the sun is shining, when your father is free of Alzheimer’s disease, when you’re kids are healthy and your marriage is happy.” But when things go wrong, that is the hardest time to say, ‘well, it’s time to embrace suffering, the limitation of being.’ It’s so easy for me to say right now, even though every person, including myself, is battling demons that almost no one knows anything about, but for the most part, we’re okay. But there are many people who are not and are suffering immensely.
And so can those people say, when things are going wrong — when things are going the worst, can they say, “Well, you know what, being is limited. This is what it means to be a human being. I must persevere.” That’s the hardest thing to do.
What happens when you have a crisis in your life? Peterson lays out here, a multistep process and questions you can ask yourself to get through it that is incredibly practical.
#1 When you’re dealing with the crisis here’s what you can do…
“Set aside some time to talk and think about the crisis and how it should be managed every day. Set aside some time to think and ponder about how to deal with this. Do not talk or think about it otherwise, if you do not limit its effect, you will become exhausted and everything was spiral into the ground.”
So this is to say. We can’t talk about this all day. We can’t let this consume us this crisis and problem. We must set aside time. ‘Hey, we’re going to talk about this after work at this time, I don’t want to let this consume us, but we need to set aside time instead of letting it fester beneath us throughout our day.’
#2 Set aside a specific time and place to discuss the crisis…
“So we can conserve our strength. We’re in a war when we’re in a crisis with ourselves or other people, not a battle, a war is composed of many battles. You must stay functional for through of them. When worries associated with the crisis arise at other times, remind yourself that you will think them through during the scheduled period.
“The parts of your brain that generate anxiety are more interested in the fact that there is a plan then in the details of the plan. Don’t schedule your time to think about it in the evening or at night, and you won’t be able to sleep.”
#3 Shift the unit of time used to frame your life…
“When the sun is shining and times of good and the crops are bountiful, you can make your plans for the next month and the next year and the next five years, you can even dream a decade ahead, but you can’t do that when your leg is clamped firmly in the crocodile’s jaws.” You can’t do that as well or at all when you just got diagnosed with cancer, when you just got into a car accident when your father just died or your best friend just died. Because you’ll be going through a tremendous amount of grief and terror within your soul and heart. So you have to get past that to give yourself some space where you can plan ahead.
So when the crops are bountiful at times are good and the sun is shining that’s the time to plan. And so what does that look like for you? Is that a monthly plan where you review and reflect upon your month? Is that a daily meditation and mindfulness practic? Is that writing a weekly journal or diary?Is it setting specific goals and plans with times and dates?
“Aim high, like Pinocchio’s geppetto, wish upon a star and then act properly in accordance with that aim. Once you are aligned with the heavens, you can concentrate on the day. Be careful, put things you can control in order, repair what is in disorder and make what is already good, better. It’s possible that you can manage if you’re careful, people are very tough people.
We can survive through much pain and loss. Look through history and you will find many people with less resources than you who have done more than what you have done compared to what you have today.
“People can survive much pain and loss, but to persevere, they must see the good in being.” Otherwise you can drown in the horrors of your own nihilism, pessimism, and darkness, and you’re lost then.”
So ‘pet a cat when you encounter them in the street’, how does that even apply to anything practically apply to anything been discussed thus far?
Here’s what it means. “It’s a little extra light, good day, and a tiny respite on a bad day. If you pay careful attention, even on a bad day, you may be fortunate to have been confronted with small opportunities of just that sort.”
“Instead of rejecting light, maybe your version of that is you’ll see a little girl dancing on the street because she’s all dressed up in a ballet costume and you’ll smile because it’s a little bit of light.”
“Maybe you’ll have a particularly good cup of coffee in the cafe that cares about their customers.” [and you’ll take a moment to just breathe acknloedge your enjoyment]
“Maybe you can still tend to 20 minutes to do some ridiculous thing that distracts a reminds you that you can laugh at the absurdity of this existence.” And for Peterson he has ackoledged that’s watching the Simpsons, for some people that’s watching other television entertainment, movies that they’re escaping from the world.
I have my own version of that and I’ve realized I need it as it feeds a part of my soul and mind that allows me to feel peace and joy. Because I’m not just here on this planet to dedicate every waking moment to the pursuit of betterment and excellence and ‘David Goggins my life’ — I’m not soley here for that. I want to blend that with the soul filling pleasures and wonders that life offers us in it’s many diverse forms.
“And maybe when you’re going for a walk and your head is spinning and a at or dog will show up. And if you pay attention you remind yourself just for 15 second that the wonder of being might makeup for the suffering that accompanies it.”
So pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.
I have spent over the last year, diving deep attempting to analyze and dissect this book’s ideas so I can pursue my own deeper meaning, purpose and aim in life. As of writing this this is one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read.