Rule 7: Pursue What Is Meaningful Not What Is Expedient
12 Rules For Life Book Summary (Jordan B. Peterson)
“Life is suffering. That’s clear. There is no more basic irrefutable truth. The fact of life’s tragedy and the suffering that is part of it has been used to justify the pursuit of immediate selfish gratification for a very long time.” This is the justification for chasing expediency.
“Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades. Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and the reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts. When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve into empty air. Our name will be forgotten in time and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat. For all our allotted time is passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.”
“Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.”
There is an air of optimism at the end of that quote. But there’s also a very confronting and very real idea on the reality of existence. We have not yet proved that there is such thing as an afterlife, that there is anything beyond death, that in fact at the end of the day the universe doesn’t care about us and essentially we will be forgotten in time. As enough time passes, we will all be forgotten. That’s what the stark reality of life appears to be. It may not be entirely true for some though, because for individuals like Socrates, for the greatest philosophers and leaders of our time, we are remembering them hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future. But even thousands of years is a mere speck of time in the whole span of universal time and existence. It’s not justification for nihilism, but it seems like a very real reality that we need to confront and to interact with.
The Delay of Gratification
“Something that every human eventually learns is that something better might be attained in the future by giving up something of value in the present.” That is what it partly means to chase meaning over expediency. For example, I’m giving up time, energy, effort, my resources to analyze, interpret, and summarize these books on this channel. I’m making a short-term but meaningful sacrifice in the present. I’m giving up something so that in the future: 1. So I am more prepared and better equipped for the chaos of life and the unpredictable nature of life, so I’m better equipped to handle myself. And number 2. So others can also be better equipped and that I can selfishly grow my own base of influence. That is always something in people’s head when you’re creating a brand or business. There is always the idea of growth, that you’re giving up time and energy and money in the present for potential future prosperity.
“Two archetypal foundational questions arose because the discovery of sacrifice of work. Both have to do with the ultimate extension of the logic of work which is sacrifice now to gain later.”
The first question: What must be sacrificed?
“Small sacrifices may be sufficient to solve small singular problems, but it is possible that larger more comprehensive sacrifices might solve an array of large and complex problems all at the same time. This is obvious for some, common sense for others. Adapting to the necessary discipline of medical school will for example fatally interfere with the licentious lifestyle of a hardcore undergraduate party animal. Giving that up is a sacrifice.”
“So sacrifices are necessary to improve the future and larger sacrifices can be better. Because some people believe that you don’t need to sacrifice anything. Some people don’t prescribe to the idea that sacrifices are even necessary to create what you want.” So maybe there’s a rebuttal for it.
The second question: What would be the largest most effective most pleasing of all possible sacrifices, and then how good might the best possible feature be if the most effective sacrifice could be made?
So we all as individuals must determine what do we want, what are we willing to temporarily sacrifice or sacrifice indefinitely to achieve what we want to achieve. However, this fundamental idea of sacrifice to produce potential future reward is in some ways contradictory of our evolution and our ancient fundamental animal instincts, in some ways. I’ll explain.
“The realization that pleasure could be usefully forestalled dawned on us with great difficulty. It runs absolutely contrary to our ancient, fundamental animal instincts, which demand immediate satisfaction, particularly under conditions of deprivation, which are both inevitable and commonplace.” So what Peterson I believe is referencing there is hundreds to thousands of years ago, as the human species evolved and the hunters-gatherer tribes proliferated throughout the world, their interaction with this sacrifice paradigm was different because immediate satisfaction of survival and quenching basic survival needs of hydration and food and shelter were the number one priority.”
“Moreover, such delay only becomes useful when a civilization has stabilized itself enough to guarantee the existence of the delayed reward, in the future. If everything you save will be destroyed or, worse, stolen, there is no point in saving. It is for this reason that a wolf will down 20 pounds of raw meat in a single meal. He isn’t thinking, “Man, I hate it when I binge. I should save some of this for next week.”
That can be the same said for our hunter-gatherer previous ancestors who interacted with this differently where, yes, if they could, you’d imagine they would want to save stores of food, but then again, food is often heavy, especially when it’s raw meat from animals. So carrying that is not very energy efficient. So oftentimes like a wolf, various tribes were down high amounts of calories because they didn’t know when the next meal would be, in some scenarios, not all scenarios. So we have to understand the history of how the human species has interacted with this paradigm, because now most of us live in a stable society and we have the luxury of being able to save for the future. World War III happens tomorrow, and our immediate survival becomes the priority. So saving is no longer the priority.
Now we’re going to talk about the concept of sharing and how it’s interwoven into this rule and principle, and that “to share does not mean to give away something you value and not get nothing back. That is instead only what every child who refuses to share fears it means. To share means, properly, to initiate the process of trade. A child who can’t share, who can’t trade, can’t have any friends, because having friends is a form of trade.” Not sharing reflects pursuing expediency whereas sharing reflects pursuing meaning.
“Benjamin Franklin once suggested that a newcomer to a neighborhood ask a new neighbor to do him or her a favor, citing an old maxim: He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” Instead of forcing people to oblige to do something, and to guilting them into doing something, if you come at first and do this individual a favor, then the other person is more likely to do it back onto you.
It’s actually talked in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie which I’ve also summarized it. It’s very interesting that all these books I’ve analyzed are all interwoven. I highly recommend going back and watching those videos because there’s endless wisdom in at all.
“In Franklin’s opinion, asking someone for something, was the most useful and immediate invitation to a social interaction. Such asking on the part of the newcomer provided the neighbor with an opportunity to show him or herself as a good person.” This is the point. You give something to someone. You show yourself as a good person. But more of it, then now the other person has the opportunity to do the same on to you.
“It is better yet to share generously the something you have. It’s even better than that, however, to become widely known for generous sharing. That’s something that lasts.” That can be in any form.
“Now what’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice. Things get better, as the successful practice their sacrifices. The questions become increasingly precise and, simultaneously, broader: What is the greatest possible sacrifice? For the greatest possible good? And the answers become deeper and profound increasingly.”
Let’s use an extreme example like Elon Musk. Isn’t he essentially asking how can he sacrifice his life, because he is. Elon Musk is having to sacrifice, his own personal health in a lot of ways for the greatest possible good of mankind. Because we know, we understand at least, or we can empathize that this one man, he, to create what he’s created so far and to further create what he’s planning to create and his endeavours to colonize Mars and his ambitions for solar energy and battery technology, all of these lofty endeavors require huge amount of sacrifice. You could say he has found the greatest possible good that almost anybody on this planet is chasing. So that’s an example of maybe, albeit an extreme one, of how anyone can implement this.
A Remedy To Complaining
People complain, like, “My life isn’t the way I want it to be.” They make excuses. They cry. They complain. They whine. “If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it is time to examine your values. It is time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.”
“Pain and suffering define the world. Of that, there can be no doubt. Sacrifice can hold pain and suffering in abeyance, to a greater or lesser degree, and greater sacrifices can do more effectively than lesser. Of that, there can be no doubt. Everyone holds this knowledge in their souls. Thus, the person who wishes to alleviate suffering, who wishes to rectify the flaws in Being; who wants to bring about the best of all possible futures; who wants to create Heaven on Earth, will make the greatest of sacrifices, of self and child, of everything that is loved, to live a life aimed at the Good. He will forego expediency. He will pursue the path of the ultimate meaning. And he will in that manner bring salvation to the ever-desperate world.”
This is the power of sacrifice. This is the power of foregoing expediency. When Socrates was condemned to death and put to death, he began to consider that it might be a blessing instead of a curse. He really restructured the way he approached his own death, and “his decision finally to accept his fate allowed him to put away a mortal terror in the face of death of itself prior to and during the trial of his death after the sentence was handed down. And even later, during his execution, he saw that his life had been so rich and full that he could let go gracefully.”
“Socrates rejected expediency, and the necessity for manipulation that accompanied it. He chose instead, under the direst of his conditions, to maintain his pursuit of the meaningful and the true. 2500 years, we remember his decision, and we can take comfort in it and we can learn from it.”
“If you cease to utter falsehoods and live accordingly to the dictates of your conscience, you can maintain your nobility, even when facing the ultimate threat; if you abide, truthfully and courageously, by the highest of ideals, you will be provided with more security and strength than will be offered by any short-sighted concentration on your own safety; if you live properly, fully, you can discover meaning so profound that it protects you even from the fear of death.”
Could all that be possibly true? Could we get to a place where we have made peace with ourselves or we can make peace with death? Amor Fati: a love of fate.
Death, Toil and Evil
“If someone fails and is rejected because he refused to make any sacrifices at all, well, it’s at least understandable. He may still feel resentful and vengeful, but knows in his heart’s heart that he’s personally to blame. That knowledge generally places a limit on his outrage. However, it’s much worse, if he had actually foregone the pleasures of the moment, if he had strived and toiled on the things that still didn’t work out, if he was rejected, despite all his efforts and all his work. Then he’s lost the present and the future. Then his work, his sacrifice, has been pointless. Under such conditions, the world darkens, and the soul rebels.”
I can tell you I’ve interacted with this, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s one of the worst feelings, honestly. I used to dedicate my life towards basketball, as some of the people who have followed me for many years. From 14, 15 years old until 20~ I wanted to pursue the highest possible aim within basketball and that is to play professionally.
Every day I would sacrifice, every day in some way or another, I would sacrifice the pleasures of the moment to pursue the tremendous goals I was pursuing. By the end of my journey I wasn’t successful in my goal of trying to play professionally, although I did go to America and I did play in Arizona. That was tremendous experience and the whole thing taught me, it put me on the path I am now, and it made me into the person I am today. And I’m extremely thankful for it.
However, by the time I got to the end of the journey and I realized I wasn’t willing to sacrifice anymore for the dimming light at the end of the tunnel, a part of me realized I failed. Like,’you had one goal and you failed. It didn’t work. You strived and toiled for thousands and thousands of hours. Yet, you failed. You sacrificed relationships, money, time, sweat, blood, tears literally’. It’s not an exaggeration, emotion, all of this, and you were rejected despite your efforts. So a part of you is like, “What was this all for?” The dark part of you asks that, “What was all this for?”
But then you realize, you realize that without this experience I’d be a mere fraction of who I am today. I would be nothing. I needed this. This experience, this … this is not a rejection. This is not a failure. It may be in the literal sense, but it’s not in the metaphorical sense. It’s realizing who I am. It’s structuring my character. It’s becoming a useful good person in the world who understands himself or at least tries to and can sleep at night because he knows he’s done everything possible to pursue what is meaningful.
And because he didn’t pursue what is expedient and he sacrificed in the present, he can live with himself, because he exhausted everything out of the tank. And so he has integrity. He formed the characteristics that created a limitless potential. I think it means so much to me because it’s all you want. When you want something more than anything else in the world, you pour everything, your heart, your emotion, your soul, your mind, everything into this. So that’s why I mean so much to me.
“It has been my experience, Petersen says, that human beings are strong enough to tolerate the implicit tragedies of Being without faltering, without breaking or, worse, breaking bad. Earthquakes, floods, poverty, cancer, we’re tough enough to take on all of that. [I’m talking about a little story about basketball while there’s much more malevolent, chaotic, tragic things that are going on.] But human evil adds a whole new dimension of misery to the world. Conscious human malevolence can break the spirit even tragedy could not shake.” So it makes sense why people pursue expediency.
“Life is indeed nasty, brutish and short. But man’s capacity for evil makes it worse. This means that the central problem of life, that the dealings with its brute facts, is not merely what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering, but what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering and evil, the conscious and voluntary and vengeful source of the worst suffering.”
“Carl Gustav Jung, psychoanalyst extraordinaire said,
“No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
I’ve talked about this concept many times and Peterson has as well. It’s this idea that you must confront malevolence, you must confront evil, you must confront what it’s like to put yourselves in the shoes of the worst humans of our existence, the worst acts, the worst atrocities, from the Holocaust, to physical torture, to emotional torture, to murderous rape and killings. You must interact with it all, and you must think about what it would be like, only then can your roots reach down to hell. And that’s not a bad thing.
“You need to reach down to hell so then you can reach to heaven.”
Such a statement should give everyone who encounters it a pause.
“There was no possibility for moving upward, in the great psycho theorist deeply considered opinion, without corresponding moving downwards. It is for this reason that enlightenment is so rare. Because who wants to go through that? Who is willing to do that? Do you really want to meet who’s in charge, at the very bottom of the most wicked thoughts?”
Because guess what? It’s you. You’re in charge.
Where going to shift gears to talk about God and what he represents in this rule. “God is in no wise a safety net for the blind. He’s not someone to be commanded to perform magic tricks, or forced in self-revelation, not by his own son.”
This is something I’ve interacted with when I was younger. When I was younger, I grew up in a household that believed in God and Jesus Christ. When I was a young teenager and even a child here’s what I would do, and very few people know this. I would sit on my bed. When tragedies of my life would arise — when suffering would arise, I would sit on my bread and I would put my hands together and close my eyes, and sometimes I would cry to myself because I would be going through some tragedies and suffering and it was painful, and I would pray.
I would pray to God to fix my problems. I would pray to God to fix my suffering and to fix the people around me who was suffering, to help them, and to help myself, to fix me, make me more intelligent, make me better-looking, fix my family who is going through x and y problems, ‘please’. I want someone to love. Help. Can you help me do that? Why is not happening?
You’d be wishing for God to give you these things … to create a magic trick for you, like he’s going to just flick his fingers and all your life’s going to be better. I was deluded. I realised this was not productive in any way shape or form. Hope is productive, but I was almost begging for my life to be better without doing anything about it.
Then I had to realize as I grew older, hold on, I must assume responsibility. This is on me. This ain’t on some guy in the sky, regardless of whether he’s factually existence or not. It’s about the idea of relying on some universal force or entity that is out of your control to fix your problems. And the only one who’s going to fix your problems I realized was me. I had to make myself into a better person to be desired by others.
Oh, you want a relationship with somebody?
Oh, you want to know what it feels like to love somebody and to have someone love you?
Okay, be someone worthy of loving, how about that?
How about you fix yourself and make yourself into a person who’s worthy of being loved and so?’
But most of all, be worthy enough to love yourself because you don’t even love yourself right now, you want to be loved? Get the fuck out of here.
You want to fix your family? Fix yourself. You want to fix your suffering? Look in the mirror.
“Christ does not causally order or even dare ask God to intervene on his behalf.”
Yet, I was doing it. Christ didn’t even do it!
But you’re doing it to God. You’re asking this pie-in-the-sky entity to fix your problems?!
“He refused to dispense of his responsibility for the events of his own life. He refused to demand that God prove his presence. He refuses as well to solve the problems of moral vulnerability in the merely personal manner, by compelling God to save Him, because that would not solve the problem for everyone else and for all time.” It doesn’t solve the problem.
Christianity and its Problems.
“I cannot merely order myself to take action, and neither can you. “I will stop procrastinating,” I say, but I don’t. I will eat properly I say, but I don’t. I will end my drunken misbehavior, but I don’t. I cannot merely make myself over in the image constructed by my intellect, particularly if that intellect is possessed by an ideology. I have a nature, and so do you, and so do we all. We must discover that nature, and contend with it, before making peace with ourselves. What is it, that we most truly are? What is it that we could most truly become, knowing who we most truly are? We must get to the very bottom of things before such questions can be truly answered.”
I would like to provide a rebuttal. It’s the idea that one can just stop doing something that’s harmful . Peterson seems to purport that we must get to the bottom of these questions and almost figure out ourselves before we can fix ourselves. And while I don’t disagree with that, I will challenge the idea that you can’t just stop being self-destructive. I will challenge that because I’ve done it myself and when I hear people like David Goggins speak, it proves that the human potential is almost limitless.
You can just stop and you can just keep going. And I try and teach myself this every week, every time I go through voluntary physical endurement . So you know what? I don’t fall on those laurels. You say you can’t stop. I disagree. You can. Willpower and discipline are some of the most two powerful forces that a human has access to. Use them. Figure out how to use them. It’s not my responsibility or his responsibility or her responsibility to show you how. Figure it out. Nike’s motto ‘just do it’ might just be the answer to everything. Go, start, do.
Doubt, Past Mere Nihilism
In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, he discussed the Nuremberg Trials which he considered the most significant events of the 20th century. The conclusion of those trials were as follows.
“There are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run counter to the proper nature of human Being. This is true essentially, cross-culturally, across time and place. These are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. To dehumanize a fellow being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and to slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain, that is wrong. And that is the deepest roots of evil. And searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own and your own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or a gulag archipelago trustee or torturer of children in a dungeon, you must grasp what it means to take the sins of the world onto oneself.”
Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. I will keep echoing this time and time again. Sit back, think and feel. Because it could have been any one of us. You could’ve been Nazi prison guard. But you rebut,
I would never do something like that.
What the hell are you talking about? Do you think they just woke up one day and just started torturing people? No, it’s not what happened (majority of the time).
It was a slow gradual formation of malevolence and evil, like a seed that grows into a plant. But this plant doesn’t produce oxygen. It produces poison.
So what would it be like to turn that gas on and listen to all those people die?
What would it be like to torture a child?
What does torture mean?
It could be characterized through acts like waterboarding, peeling nails off of someone’s hand with pliers. Imagine doing that to a child. Imagine waterboarding a child. What about baby? What about a pregnant woman? What about driving a knife through a pregnant woman’s belly? You don’t think that happened? You don’t think that’s happened? You know that’s happening somewhere right now. Seven billion people. You don’t think that’s happened today? It’d be naive to think that.
If we can learn what is like to feel, visualize and think about the immense capacity for evil that we all have, we can then understand it a lot better and we can become grow as people and learn to manage our own malevolence.
Meaning as the Higher Good
Peterson discusses, it is partly because of this interaction between evil and good and malevolence and benevolence that he was able to draw these fundamental moral conclusions in this book. “Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture and death. Become aware of your own insufficiency, your cowardice, malevolence, resentment and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of your world. Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you.”
“You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the mark. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell. It is the great and the small lies of the Nazi and Communist states that produced the deaths of millions of people, one lie at a time. That’s how it went.”
“Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering.”
Because there is an element of necessary pain and suffering that we all must go through. And if you reject it, if you try and push to the size, and live a life of comfort and perfect solitude and peace, then you are not equipped for the true reality of the world that is out there. Because it can all go to real shit tomorrow. It really can. And the majority are not prepared, including me. We’re way too soft and cushy — the edges of our world have been nerfed, especially in young children.
“You have now placed at the pinnacle of your moral hierarchy a set of presuppositions and actions aimed at the betterment of Being. Why? Because we know the alternative. The alternative was the 20th century, the Cold War. The alternative was close to Hell that the difference is not worth discussing.”
“Expedience is the following of blind impulse. It’s short-term gain. It’s narrow, and selfish. It lies to get its way. It takes nothing into account. It’s immature and irresponsible. Meaning is its mature replacement. Meaning emerges when its impulses are regulated, organized and unified. Meaning emerges from the interplay between the possibilities of the world and the value structure operating within that world. If the value structure is aimed to the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering. It will make everything matter. It will make everything better.
“Meaning trumps expedience. Meaning gratifies all impulses, now and forever. That’s why we can detect it. If you decide that you are not justified in your resentment of Being, despite its inequity and pain, you may come to notice things you should fix to reduce even by a bit some unnecessary pain and suffering. You may come to ask yourself, “What should I do today,” in a manner that means, “How could I use my time to make things better, instead of worse?” Such tasks may announce themselves as a pile of undone paperwork that you could attend to, to a room that you could make a bit more welcoming, or a meal that could be a bit more delicious, healthy, and gratefully delivered to your family.”
“It is not bliss. It is not happiness. It’s something more like atonement for the criminal fact of your fractured and damaged Being. It’s payment of the debt you owe for the insane and horrible miracle of your existence.”
“Expedience, that’s hiding all the skeletons in the closet. That’s covering the blood you just spilled with a carpet. That’s avoiding responsibility. It’s cowardly, and shallow, and wrong. It’s wrong because mere expedience, multiplied by many repetitions, produces the character of a demon. It’s wrong because expedience merely transfers the curse on your head to someone else, or to your future self, in a manner that will make your future, and the future generally, worse instead of better.”
“To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want, because you may neither know what you want, nor what you truly need. [This is so important it must be restated] To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want, because you may neither know what you want, nor what you truly need. Meaning is something that comes upon you, of its own accord. You can set up the preconditions, you can follow meaning, when it manifests itself, but you cannot simply produce it, as an act of will. You must earn it. Meaning signifies that you are in the right place, at the right time, properly balanced between order and chaos, where everything lines up as best it can in that moment.”
“What is expedient works only for the moment. It’s immediate, impulsive and limited. What is meaningful, by contrast, is the organization of what would otherwise merely be expedient into a symphony of Being. Meaning is what manifests itself when the many levels of Being arrange themselves into a perfectly functioning harmony, from atomic microcosm to cell to organ to individual to society to nature to cosmos, so that action to each level beautifully and perfectly facilitates action at all, such that past, present and future are all at once redeemed and reconciled.”
“Meaning is what emerges beautifully and profoundly like a newly formed rosebud opening itself out of the nothingness into the light of the sun. Meaning is the lotus striving upward through the dark lake depths through the ever-clearing water, blooming forth on the very surface, revealing within itself the Golden Buddha, himself perfectly integrated, such that the revelation of the divine will make itself manifest in every word and gesture.”
“Meaning is when everything there is comes together in an ecstatic dance of single purpose, the glorification of a reality so that no matter how good it has suddenly become, it can get better and better and better more and more deeply forever into the future. Meaning happens when that dance has become so intense that all the horrors of the past, all the terrible struggle engaged by all of life and all of humanity to that moment becomes a necessary and worthwhile part of increasingly successful attempt to build something truly mighty and good.
“Meaning is the ultimate balance between, on one hand, the chaos of transformation and possibility, and on the other, the discipline of pristine order, whose purpose is to produce out of the attendant chaos a new order that will be even more immaculate, and capable of bringing forth a still more balanced and productive chaos and order. Meaning is the way, the path of life more abundant, the place you live when you are guided by love and speaking truth and when nothing you want or could possibly want takes any precedence over precisely that.”