Rule 3: Make Friends With People Who Want The Best For You

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

If you’ve ever wondered why some people find themselves in circles that end up being quite destructive to their character, habits, behaviour and their entire being, then this rule will shed light on how and why that occurs. It will also shed light on the opposite end — how some people end up in circles where it’s nothing but positivity, constructive, fulfilling, optimistic, momentum forward. Everyone knows somebody that is surrounded by nihilistic, negative people that bring them down. Comparatively, everybody knows someone who is always surrounded by positive people who are aiming up. So this rule will help explain the old adage,

“You are the average of the people you spend the most time around.”

We first have to question how do people end up in circles surrounded by people who are not good for them? Peterson eloquently states,

When people believe they don’t deserve any better, it seems like Peterson is suggesting that that it may stem from an issue with self esteem and confidence, rooted in a litany of childhood/adult trauma that has suffocated their being — the light that is surrounded by someone’s existence.

These are questions. We don’t know the answer. I don’t. Peterson suggests he doesn’t, these are complex questions provoking thought.

Rescuing The Damned

“Imagine someone not doing well, he needs help, he might even want it but it is not easy to distinguish between someone truly wanting and needing help and someone who is merely exploiting a willing helper. Now, there’s going to be many people as Robert Greene talks about in his 48 Laws of Power who exploit you, manipulate you, and prey on your weaknesses for their benefit.

It’s not entirely obvious what type of people do this consciously or unconsciously, but it will happen. For those who have a more supplicating nature, those who possess a more ‘selfless’ type of personality who are always willing, wanting and asking to help others will eventually fall victim, or prey, to a person like this who will exploit the willing helper.

There are many types of people who either have a kind of “selfless” disposition or put up a front of it, they are the type of people usually always trying to help others who they perceive as in need. Peterson points out an important flaw here.

“The question is how do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them down? Or you further down?”

This may seem to confusing to some, you may say,

‘I’m helping him/her. How can helping someone bring them down?’

That’s the thing, your perception of your good deed (helping) may in fact have an entirely different outcome in reality. The expectation of what you perceive to occur usually does not occur in reality.

“Imagine the case of someone supervising an exceptional team of workers, all of the striving towards a collectively held goal, imagine them hardworking, brilliant, creative and unified, but the person supervising is also responsible for someone troubled, who is performing poorly elsewhere. In a fit of inspiration the well meaning manager moves the problematic person in the midst of his stellar team, hoping to improve him by example. What happens?The psychological literature is clear on this point, does the errant interloper immediately straighten up and fly right? No. Instead, the team degenerates. The newcomer remains cynical, arrogant and neurotic, he complains, he shirks, he misses important meetings, his low quality work causes delays and must be redone by others. He still gets paid, however, just like his teammates. The hard workers who surround him start to feel betrayed. Why am I breaking myself into pieces striving to finish this project when my new team member never breaks a sweat? The same thing happens when well meaning counsellors place a delinquent team among comparatively civilised peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up.”

This is obviously not always the case, however, this is a very clear example of how good intentions can end up in catastrophic consequences of poor productivity and fractured relationships. Then Peterson questions the whole intent of the giver — the helper.

“Maybe you’re saving someone because your strong, generous, well put together person what wants to do the right thing. Maybe that’s you.” Maybe that’s actually you, but maybe it’s actually not and maybe you’re actually lying to yourself.

Peterson suggests “it’s also possible and perhaps more likely, that you just want your attention to your inexhaustible reserves of compassion and goodwill. Or maybe your saving someone because you want to convince yourself that the strength of your character is more than just a side effect of your luck and birthplace.”

“Or maybe it’s because it’s easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone truly and utterly irresponsible.”

This is an extremely confronting idea to reflect upon. You must be extremely honest with yourself — you must face the chaos, demons and the devil inside you, as Peterson might say.

Personally, I relate to the first and the last points. Especially, “maybe it’s easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone utterly irresponsible.” I relate to that. I have felt that before. That feeling when you try and help someone who is somewhat ‘utterly irresponsible’, and doesn’t share the character traits that make you a unique productive member of society. So by standing alongside this person, it makes you feel better about yourself.

What I’ve come to realise is this is not resourceful or honest way to live — it’s kind of fake. It gives this fake sense of reality, almost as if you’re virtue signalling ( the conspicuous expression of moral values) to yourself. As if I am propping myself up on this moral pedestal,

“Oh, look at me and how much better I am at life than this person.”

“Look at me helping this person in need when I’m really just propping up my own self esteem and fractured character.”

I’ll admit to doing and feeling this way. I also admbit do knowing it’s wrong, and not a truthful way to live and be. But if you don’t realise your flaws , how are you supposed to address them? So I will attempt to address it here. So I can learn to be better. If I can’t admit it, how am I going to change? How’s anyone else going to change?

Peterson gives a few extreme examples of other people may resonate with this.

“Your raging alcoholism makes my binge drinking appear trivial. My long, serious talks with you about your badly failing marriage convince both of us that you’re doing everything possible and that I am helping you to my utmost. It looks like effort, it looks like progress but real improvement would require far more from both of you. Are you so sure the person crying out to be saved has not decided a thousand times to accept his lot of pointlessness and worsening suffering simply because it is easier than shouldering any true responsibility? Are you enabling a delusion? Is it possible that your contempt would be more salutary than your pity?”

People lie to themselves like this all the time. They compare themselves to someone of a more-of-an-evil to them, because it makes them feel better about their damaged character. To put it bluntly, people will compare each others shit. It’s like a competition of who’s shit stinks more? They’ll feel better about themselves if the other person’s shit stinks more, it gives a general feeling of satisfaction, “Oh, you mean I’m not as damaged as you, that’s comforting.”

But it’s not productive at all. You’re not moving forward at all, you’re going backwards, you’re staying stagnant. As Peterson says, you’re not shouldering any responsibility. It may feel like you are, it may feel like you are by helping this person — but you’re not. People need to realise that. You’re not shouldering any responsibility and that’s the problem. You need to face what’s in front of you. As confronting as it is.

“Maybe you’re associating with people who are bad for you, not because it’s better for anyone but because it’s easier. You know it, your friends know it, you’re all bound by an implicit contract. One aimed at nihilism and failure and suffering of the stupidest sort. You’ve all decided to sacrifice the future to the present.”

You strip a person of their autonomy by trying to force your help on them — by trying to fix this person. An assessment needs to be made whether a person truly could take value from your assistance, or are you both going further down the chasm by forcing help upon a person to make yourself feel better?

That may sound like quite a blunt sour idea to some. But it’s true, some have simply rejected the path forward and maybe that’s the first thing you should assume. Why? Maybe because it’s so common? Maybe because it’s more productive to start on the foot of scepticism rather than assuming good? Maybe.

When I was younger, I had this habit of trying to always fix things, people, situations, friends, family, etc. It likely stemmed from trying to fix my own insecurities. When I saw fault in others, it had a two-way effect of reflecting my own fault within them — I’d see their fault reflect in me and vice versa. Seeing that fault, that negative trait, made me feel ill of myself and of the other person. Instead of letting a person be, I felt a obligation to eradicate my perception of mediocrity in other people, and myself. This manifested into behaviour of trying and fix things and people. Oftentimes, it didn’t work well.

So if there’s one thing I’d tell my younger self, I would tell my younger self that,

“You don’t need to fix everyone. In fact, you probably don’t need to fix anyone except yourself, because you’re the most broken.”

By fixing yourself (which is the most broken), by aiming upward, you consequently end up helping people around you become a little less broken. You’re environment has no choice but to improve. Through many conflicts and conversations I’ve had, more often than not, people just want to talk, people just want to be heard. You don’t need an answer or solution to their problems. That’s not your problem to fix. Who are you to take that away from them?

Peterson puts into perspective that “it’s harder not to shoulder a burden, it’s easier not to think and not to do and not care. It’s easy to put of things until tomorrow and drown the upcoming months and years in today’s cheap pleasures.” That’s the easy thing to do and it’s what many people succumb to. Echoed by the famous Simpsons quote by Homer, “That’s a problem for future Homer, man, I don’t envy that guy.”

Peterson points the finger back at us here. How do you know by trying to help this person, that you are not deflecting and distracting yourself from your own self-destructive character? That you’re not facing your own responsibility, in fact, you’re distracting yourself by pretending to help others, so then you don’t have to do something truly difficult like facing and confronting your demons.

“I’ve had court-mandated psychotherapy clients they did not want my help. They were forced to seek it, it did not work it was a travesty.” This is something you learn the hard way, some people you just can’t help. I tend to agree with Rogers and Peterson here, it’s almost, I’m not going to say it’s ‘impossible’, but it seems almost impossible to help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. There’s exceptions to every rule, but in the majority of circumstances, if someone is not putting their hand out, asking for that help, wanting that help, even suggesting it, then, maybe it’s not your job to try and save them, as hard as that sounds to some.

Picture this, someone is overweight/obese and has a few physical and mental illnesses, but they’ve come to accept their fate. They’ve become comfortable in their discomfort, they’re content with it, and mostly given up on trying to change. They may think something like, ‘Whatever, I’m going to die, I can’t fix what’s already happened now, it’s already done.’ If someone has this much disrespect for their life and the effect their having on the people around them, should one really bear that responsibility to dig them out of that chasm and to carry them out, knowing all the well they may get dragged down with them? Have you considered the person may not want to get carried out? Or maybe the person needs to see some light to ignite a spark under them to finally change their life and start aiming upwards? Or maybe once you finally help carry them out they will shortly fall back in? Are these risks your willing to take? Only you can answer that. At this point in my life I believe that the individual has to have a desire to improve. I’ve seen this time and time again. When that person has a desire to improve, then you give your all to support them. Then you give them the opportunity to help them out of the chasm. Maybe more people need to understand that and put their energy elsewhere to people who actually want to be helped.

“Maybe instead of continuing our friendship I should just go off somewhere, get my act together and lead by example? None of this is a justification for abandoning those in real need to pursue your narrow, blind ambition. In case it has to be said.”

That’s the point. It’s not a justification for abandoning people but it needs to be said because it’s a reality, it’s a reality that drags people down, and not just the person who is in chasm.

A Reciprocal Arrangement.

“Here’s something to consider, if you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? You might say out of loyalty, well loyalty is not identical to stupidity. Loyalty must be negotiated fairly and honestly.” To add to that, loyalty must be earned.

Do You Feel Morally Obligated To Support Your Family

This idea is not mutually exclusive to family. You shouldn’t feel morally obligated to support your family, whether it be a father, mother, sister, brother etc, IF they are dragging you down and making your life more hellish. Being family doesn’t exclude them for taking responsibility for their actions. Culture has attached these grand emotional sentiments to ‘family’ and ‘friends’ that often manifest into poisonous relationships that everyone feels trapped in, but is obligated to stay in due to unwritten cultural rule of ‘family always sticks together’. We’ve ‘family’ on this huge pedestal that almost removes them from taking responsibility for the hell that they can impart on ones life.

Being family doesn’t mean you have to give unlimited chances to prove they can get their act together. It doesn’t mean you have to stand by their self destruction and watch them burn just because you want to ‘be there for them’. They end up not only burning themselves, but everything around them caught in the crossfire — that includes you. Why is it selfish to save yourself? Maybe it is actually selfish, but maybe that’s not a bad thing in some circumstances — maybe it’s exactly what’s needed. Maybe you’d feel too guilty to step back or walk away. Maybe you need to go down the chasm with them so they know they’re not alone and you know you’re a good person. Or maybe you need to stand up for yourself and realise when enough is enough. When you’ve climbed into the chasm a dozen times to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved, one day you might fall down with them and not return. Is that a risk you’re willing to take? Can your strength of character handle such suffering? Maybe it can. But maybe it can’t. Maybe you need to save yourself so you can one day help those who want to be helped in the future, those who actually can be helped and saved.

To summarise this whole rule in one sentence: surround yourself with people who are aiming up. That’s it. Done.

Additionally, if you can remove that one poisonous person who is aiming down, then you will be better for it. Regardless of if it’s family or friends. Regardless. Maybe you need to take more consideration and care into the decision you make? Agreed, but it should not admonish them from taking responsibility for their life and your life.

Often you’re going to find people who are going to drag you down because your new improvement about yourself cast faults in them and an even dimmer light.

When you try and do good, aim up, and try and become a better person you’ll stumble across various levels of success. Then you’ll be confronted with strange behaviour that mutates into manipulation, deception and lies. It may appear in the form of people spreading rumours and lies about you. Why does this occur? One reason: Your success and strength of character is like a mirror that reflects their faults onto them. This is a harsh reality to bear and a responsibility many struggle to burden, so they respond with petty juvenile behaviour because it’s easier to do that, than to take responsibility or ones life.

This rule is a remedy for those who want to get out of the hell around them. But only if they want it. Only if they’re reaching a hand out. It’s about these people getting to the point where they want people around them who want the best for them and are aiming upward.

Originally Posted

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store