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Life is suffering. Things fall apart. These phrases crop up again and again in the book. “What do you say to a severely intoxicated, violence-prone ex-biker-gang-president with patchy English when he tries to sell his microwave to you at your open door at two in the morning?” Peterson’s response to the unwelcome jailbird on his doorstep (and his general advice) was to use the truth, or as Rule Eight has it, “at least, don’t lie” (so we’re back at Moses’s Big Ten).

Rule Eight is all about how truth helps good old-fashioned public school cold-showers character-building. Character is more important than status, Peterson argues, something that Socrates, Kierkegaard and Sartre would endorse. “Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity.” This championing of character is a little at variance with Rule One’s lobster-watching, which suggests that a taste of success isn’t at all bad for you. Not to mention that it isn’t always easy to know what the truth is.

“The truth springs forth ever anew from the most profound well-springs of Being. It will keep your soul from withering and dying while you encounter the inevitable tragedy of life. It will help you avoid the terrible desire to seek vengeance for that tragedy.”

To return to Rule Ten, “Be precise in your speech”, I’d like to propose an addition. Be precise and concise. Peterson’s rules have obviously been battle-tested in lectures (he talks cogently), and a little looseness and repetition can be extremely effective, indeed indispensible, live, but on the page it can drag occasionally. The book could have been tighter and it certainly doesn’t need the 24-page foreword by Dr Norman Doige, MD. But this is a minor quibble. The pulpit lost a fiery preacher when Peterson chose to go into psychology. Most readers will be stimulated by his learning and arguments.

Peterson clearly wrote this book because he believes it can help some people in distress and doubt, and offer them something in the way of guidance and solace. Paradoxically, he states that “psychotherapy is not advice” but rather a conversation, and ideally one in which the patients can learn to listen to what they’re saying. So Socrates lives on. However, unlike most self-help gurus, the combative Peterson patently has no patience with those who won’t help themselves.
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