Rule 9: Assume The Person You Are Speaking To Might Know Something You Don’t

12 Rules For Life Book Summary Analysis (Jordan B. Peterson)

“Psychotherapy is not advice. Advice is what you get. When the person you’re talking with about something horrible and complicated wishes, you would just shut up and go away. Advice is what you get when the person you are talking to wants to revel in the superiority of his or her intelligence. If you weren’t so stupid after all, you wouldn’t have your stupid problem. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is a genuine conversation. Genuine conversation is exploration, articulation and strategizing.”

A genuine conversation is what I strive to create with these writings and videos. I attempt to create a genuine conversation and dialogue, with myself.

“And when you’re involved in genuine conversation, you’re listening and talking, but mostly listening, listening is paying attention. It’s amazing what people will tell you. If you listen. Sometimes if you listen to people, they will even tell you what’s wrong with them. Sometimes they will even tell you how they plan to fix it. Sometimes that helps you fix something wrong with you. And sometimes all you need to do is listen and through listening the person solves their own problem and finds their own solution without you having to say almost anything.”

You’re like the bow, of a bow and arrow giving that support and guidance. You’re just there as a conduit, as a facilitator, as another set of eyes, an honest open set of ears to hear somebody. And that is powerful.”

“Sigmund Freud often axiomatically assumed that a distressed adult in their practice must be subject to childhood sexual abuse. So the Freudian type of psychotherapist or psychologist, digs, intimates, overreacts, biases and tilts towards their preconceived agenda.”

Peterson brings this up in the context of Freud and psychotherapy. However, this idea can be understood well beyond this framework. When we try and solve and explain a problem, whether that be ourselves or somebody else, we often try and provide a solution or explanation in relation to our own agenda. Freuds was sexual abuse, yours could be childhood trauma or nutrition — to explain why someone is suffering. Everybody has their own agenda of how they like to explain suffering in the world. This idea highlights that we need to become aware of how our own biases, agendas, and overreactions can often downplay the importance of some events and exaggerate the importance of others.

“And the problem about the Freudian approach is that you end up convincing your clients that I was sexually abused, even though they maybe haven’t been, and. But the good thing, at least the therapist theory remains intact. At least your theory remains intact.” You found an explanation that suits your agenda and your idea and bias. And that’s good for you and the therapist, but there’s no shortage of collateral damage as a result of that. You need to, we need to be very careful about intimating causality and solutions to people’s problems when we’re not aware of our own bias and agenda.”


“Thinking is mostly self criticism that passes for thinking.”

It’s not just self-criticism that we cloud our own thinking with, it’s the judgment of ourselves, it’s the judgment of others. It’s a lot of maniacal egotistical, mental masturbation.

“True thinking is rare. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult to think. You have to be at least two people at the same time. You have to let these two people inside your head, disagree and agree. You have to have this internal dialogue between chaos and order between two of these different opposing views of the world. Think of these viewpoints as different avatars. True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be an articulate speaker and a careful judicious listener at the same time, it involves conflict. So you have to tolerate conflict and conflict is, is uncomfortable.”

Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. You have to learn to give and take and modify your premises and adjust your thoughts. Even your perceptions of the world. This is Peterson purports to be true, effective thinking.

“Thinking is emotionally painful, as well as physiologically demanding more so than anything else, except not thinking, but you have to be very articulate and sophisticated to have all of this occurrence in your own head.” But you have to practice it. There’s utility in talking to yourself. Talking to ourselves and having this dialogue, especially out loud is a valuable way to have an honest conversation with yourself.

“What do you do then if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time. You talk, and you need someone to listen. The listening person is your collaborator and your opponent. A listening person tests your thinking without having to say anything. A listening person is representative of common humanity.”

That’s the power of listening. You see, when you listen to somebody, you’re not just giving the other an opportunity to be heard. You’re giving them the opportunity to let them flesh out their ideas, to let them understand what they’re really thinking. Whether what they’re really thinking is actually what they thought they were thinking.

“A client of mine might say,

I hate my wife.

And once it’s out there, it’s hanging in there. It’s emerged from the underworld it’s manifested itself. And this now becomes real. And the speaker may startle himself when he says it. And he sees the same thing reflected in my eyes. He notes that and continues on the road to sanity.

Hold on. He says backup. That’s too harsh. Sometimes I, sometimes I hate my wife. I hate her when she won’t tell me what she wants. My mom did that to me all the time too. Drove my dad. Crazy. It drove us all crazy to tell you the truth. It even drove mom crazy. She was a nice person, but she was very resentful. Well, at least my wife isn’t as bad as my mother. Not at all white. Wait, I guess my wife is actually pretty good at telling me what she wants, but I get really bothered when she doesn’t, because mom tortured us half to death being a martyr, being a mom that really affected me. Maybe I overreacted.. Hey, I’m acting just like dad did when mom upset him. That isn’t me, that doesn’t have anything to do with my wife. I better let her know.

I observed this transformation of self and transformation and realization just by listening to Peterson. It says, “I observed from all this that my client had failed previously to properly distinguish his wife from his mother. And I see that he was possessed unconsciously by the spirit of his father. He sees all of that too. Now, now he’s a bit more differentiated, a bit less an uncarved block, a bit less hidden in the fog. He sewed up a small town in the fabric of his own culture and he’s our Being. He says that’s a good session, Dr Peterson. I nod” You can be pretty smart if you shut up.

I have previously been plagued with the habit of trying to be ‘the fixer’ — always trying to provide the solution. Always trying to come back with something, always having a response. Often I need to learn to shut the hell up.

“Carl Roger’s one of the 20th century’s greatest psychotherapists knew something about listening.”

Carl Ransom Rogers was an American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology. Wikipedia

“The great majority of us cannot listen. We find ourselves compelled to evaluate because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage and we do not always have it. He knew that listening could transform people. Some of you may be feeling that you listen well to people. The chances are very great indeed that your listening has not been the type I’m about to describe.”

Rogers insisted that his readers conduct a short experiment when they found themselves next in a dispute. Stop the discussion for a moment. Institute, this rule, each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately and to that speaker's satisfaction.

And through this, we build a bridge of understanding of common ground because oftentimes we think we understand the person and they think that we’re understanding them, but often there’s a miscommunication. There’s a disconnect because between, communication and interpretation.

“There are several primary advantages to this purchase of summary. The first advantage is that I generally come to understand what the person is saying. Of this Roger’s notes sounds simple, doesn’t it? But if you try it, you will discover it is one of the most difficult things you have ever tried to do. If you really understand a person in this way, if you’re willing to enter his private world and see the way life appears to him, you run the risk of being changed yourself.”

And that’s scary. That’s dangerous.

“The risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects.”

We must welcome this feeling and behave like water — formless — adaptable.

“The second advantage of this act of summary is that it aids the person in consolidation and utility of memory.” By consolidating stories and ideas we can mitigate all the meanderings and the emotionally laden accounts and all the biases and agendas into just one, couple of strict direct sentences.

“We don’t have memories to remember the past, we have a memory so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.” The utility of memory seems to be, to not repeat the same mistakes, to know that the fire is hot. To know that the lion can kill you.

The third advantage of employing the Rogerian method is the difficulty it imposes to the careless construction of straw man arguments. So when someone opposes you, it’s very tempting to oversimplify, parody, hyperbole or distort his or her position. But this is a counterproductive game that we all play designed to both harm the dissenter and to unjustly raise your personal status, make yourself feel better, put yourself on a high pedestal by contrast if you are called upon to summarize someone’s position so that the speaking person agrees with that summary, you may have to state the argument even more clearly and succinctly than a speaker has even yet managed.”

Example, it’s easy to argue for the ethical reasons of veganism, but can you, as a vegan argue the opposite, can you argue and see the point of view of an omnivore, of someone who eats meat and hunts? And the hunter and omnivore, can you understand and empathize and argue for the vegan perspective?

A clash of ideas

“If you first give it the devil, looking at his arguments from his perspective, you can find value in them and learn something in the process, or two, hone your positions against them. If you still believe they are wrong you strengthen your arguments further, and this will make you much stronger and smarter, more intelligent. Then you will no longer have to misrepresent your opponent’s position and you’ll be a much better odds to withstand your own doubts.”

“Imagine that someone holds a stack of hundred dollar bills, some of which a counterfeit, all the bills might have to be spread on a table so each can be seen and any differences noted before the genuine can be distinguished from the false, this is the sort of methodical approach you have to take when really listening to someone, trying to solve a problem or communicate something important. If upon learning that some of the bills are counterfeit. You too closely dismiss all of them as you would as if you were in a hurry or otherwise unwilling to put any efforts to listen, the person will never learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Think of ideas and thoughts and arguments as a set of hundred dollar bills. Some of them, some of those ideas are going to be real, authentic and truthful. But some are going to be false. Some are going to be counterfeit, some need to be remodelled and remade. “And if you listen instead without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking. And with very little deceit, people will tell you that most amazing, absurd, interesting things. Very few of your conversations will be boring. You could, in fact, tell whether or not you’re actually listening in this manner.” If the conversation is boring, you probably aren’t listening very well. There is an interesting dialogue to be had with everybody if one actively listens and asks honestly and curiously.

Dominance, Hierarchies & Power

“There is the conversation, for example, where one participant is speaking merely to establish or confirm his place in the dominance hierarchy. One person begins by telling a story about something interesting that occurred, that involves something good, bad, or surprising enough to make the listening worthwhile. The other person now concerned with his a whole potential substandard status as a less interesting individual immediately thinks of something better, was almost surprised to relate to. This isn’t one of those situations where two conversational participants are genuinely playing off each other riffing on the same thing. Here, instead, there’s a jockeying for position pure and simple. And you can tell when one of these conversations are occurring. They’re accompanied by a feeling of embarrassment amongst, among the speakers alike and all who know that something false and exaggerated has just been set. Each is using the time occupied by the current speaker to conjure up what he, or she will say next.”

We’ve all done this. Best to be aware of it.

“And then there is another type of conversation where one participant is trying to attain victory from his point of view.” This fulfils the uncontrolled egotistical individual who wants to impress the people surrounding him. “During this conversation, which often tends towards the ideological, the speaker endeavours to one denigrate or ridicule the viewpoint of anyone else holding the contrary position or two, use selected evidence while doing so, and three impress the listeners, many of whom are already occupying the same ideological space.” Essentially confirmation bias, he/she has a herd of sheep following him to validate his/her assertions. “So the goal here is to gain support for the comprehensive unitary oversimplified worldview that he or she holds.”

“This type of person who is speaking this way believes that winning the argument makes him right. And that doing so necessarily validates the assumption structure of the dominance hierarchy he most identifies with. Almost all discussions involving politics or economics unfold in this manner with each participant attempting to justify fixed up priority positions instead of trying to learn something or to adopt a different frame. It is for this reason that conservatives and liberals alike believe their positions to be self-evident, particularly as they become more extreme. These conversations are very different from the listening type. When genuine listening conversations are taking place, one person at a time has the floor and everyone is listening.”

This is a big reason I started my podcast Talking Chimps. There is no agenda and no theme. It’s just an excuse to create opportunities to have long uninterrupted meaningful conversations with people I want to talk to.

The Fixer

As we conclude this rule, let’s discuss one problem of communication often ascribed to men, that is wanting to fix everyone and everything. This is something I’ve identified with heavily and I’ve previously talked in many other writings and videos.

“Men are often ‘the fixers.’ We want to fix things early in the discussion and this frustrates men because men like to solve problems and do so efficiently, and are often called upon by women to do so for precisely that purpose. But if we could realize, and then remember that before a problem can be solved, it must be formulated precisely. And this is some of our biggest problems we jumped into soon before the problem has even been precisely, accurately formed. Women are often intent on formulating the problem when they are discussing something and they need to be listened to even questioned, to help ensure clarity in this formation.”

Everybody can relate to this at some point — we jump in to quick to try and solve peoples problems. But we don’t always need us to fix anothers problem. People don’t always need a solution, response, an ideal scenario or a back and forth to everything that they say. We think there’s always a better way to do something. People don’t always need to hear that. in one way. One communication technique I’ve used maneuver around this is just by asking,

Before you go on,

1. Do you just need someone to listen to you, to give you the space to be heard and acknowledged?

2. Or do you want me to ask you questions, challenge you and create dialogue?

After asking those questions at the beginning of the dialogue, then everything else from there will grow much more smoothly and both parties will be able to build common ground and communicate effectively.

You’ll, you’ll be able to listen and they’ll be able to think to formulate and articulate their ideas because they don’t necessarily even know what their problem is, and you think you have a solution. They don’t even know what the problem is. You’re trying to provide a solution to a problem that they don’t even know exists, that they haven’t even formulated yet. No wonder people get agitated and emotional when tries to immediately fix.

“This requires true reciprocity on the part of those listening and speaking, it allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts. A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, a genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem instead of insisting on the priori validity of their own positions. So all are acting on the premise that they have something to learn.” This is the acknowledgement of ‘I might be wrong and ‘maybe you can teach me something.’

“And this kind of conversation constitutes ‘active philosophy’, the highest form of thought and the best preparation for proper living. These people involved in such a conversation must be discussing ideas they generally use to structure their perceptions and guide their actions and words, they must be existentially involved with their philosophy. That is they must be living it, not merely believing or understanding it.”

“The conversation of mutual exploration, by contrast, requires people who have decided that the unknown makes a better friend than the known.” It’s Socrates idea of knowing you know nothing, and that is the meaning of true knowledge. “It’s befriending that you know nothing, you already know what you know after all, and unless your life has been perfect, what you know is not enough and no one’s life is perfect. So you don’t know enough.”

“You remain threatened by disease, self-deception unhappiness, malevolence, betrayal, corruption, pain and limitation. You are subject to all these things in the final abyss because you are just too ignorant to protect yourself. If you just knew enough, you could be healthier and more honest, you would suffer less.”

“To know a bit more, to act a bit more, even triumph over malevolence and evil, you would neither betray a friend nor deal falsely and deceitfully in business, politics or love. However, your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe for some of you. So it’s insufficient by definition, radically, fatally insufficient. You must accept this before we can converse philosophically instead of convincing, oppressing, dominating, or even an amusing.”

To embody this way of being is the hardest. You have to truly care about developing as a person and your psychological framework to which you interface with the world.

“You must accept this before you can tolerate a conversation with a world that eternally mediates between order and chaos. If you are meditating as you converse and you listen to the other person and you say the new and original things that can rise from deep within their own accord. It’s as if you’re listening to yourself during a conversation just as you are listening to the other person.”

This is what I’m doing here with these writings, as I interact with my ideas, my values and his principles. What if we could all found a way to create this for ourselves…

“A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for truth itself on the part of both participants that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why these conversations are engaging, vital, interesting and meaningful.”

“You’re stable enough to be secure, but flexible enough to transform.”

It’s not being so airy-fairy and watery that you have no stakes in the ground. That’s not what we’re talking about. You need stakes in the ground to be secure. You need to have a foundation of ideas. You need to be sure about something. You need to have axioms that ground you, but you need to be flexible enough to transform mould and, and refine them in every field.

“There you’re allowing new information to inform you, to permeate your stability, to repair and improve its structure and expand its domains. A conversation like that places you in the same place that listening to great music, places you, and for much the same reason, a conversation like that puts you in the realm where souls connect and that’s a real place. It leaves you thinking, that was really worthwhile, we really got to know each other — the masks came off.”

“So listen to yourself and to those, with whom you’re speaking, your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have. But the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.” It’s this continual hunger for curiosity and learning. This is what I love and relish so much about life and makes me wish I could live for hundreds of years. To chase this never-ending continual curiosity for understanding and actualisation.

It is for this reason, that the Priestess of the Delphic, Oracle in ancient Greece spoke most highly of Socrates who always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest living man because he knew that what he knew was nothing.

Self reflective writings & book summaries on philosophy, psychology and human behaviour.

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