Vishal Gupta

What is the nature of human life? If you were to read Professor Jordan Peterson’s recent best-seller,12 Rules for Life, you will learn that human life is full of  'suffering' and our very existence in this world is a 'horrible' tragedy for which we need to 'make amends'. Life, in Peterson’s worldview, is 'nasty [and] brutish'.

A brief summary of any one’s ideas, let alone someone with a PhD, is bound to be an oversimplification, but there is no denying that Peterson’s view of the world is dark, pessimistic, and nihilistic. How else done one explain the 'life is suffering' theme that pervades an entire book that purports to be about how to live well?

 Peterson is a practicing clinical psychologist who probably meets several troubled and depressed individuals every day. Spend your time with sad and unhappy people on a regular basis, and you will start seeing the world through their tired eyes.

But, and I do not know how else to say this, Professor Peterson is absolutely and certainly wrong! Life is full of joy and happiness. Life is about celebrating the incredible miracle of human existence. Sure, bad things happen in everyone’s life, but so do good things. We all face setbacks and failures in life, but we also see successes and victories. It makes perfect sense to grieve the passing of a family member, just as the arrival of a new child in the family is deserving of celebration. Why then should we focus our attention only on the 'terrible nature of the world' and ignore the wonderful things in our life? To the good professor, and his millions of readers around the world, I would say that the most basic and irrefutable truth in our world is that life is what you make of it. 

Peterson argues that 'everyone is destined for pain and slated for destruction', which is correct only in the simplistic sense that each of us will die one day. I suggest it is more useful to think that each of us is the sculptor of our own lives. One of my favorite Hindi songs acknowledges that 'everyone comes into this world crying', but then encourages us 'to make sure we are happy and laughing by the time we are ready to leave'.  Life is about finding happiness in everyday living, and this is an important element that Professor Peterson misses in his work.

I am always looking for good books to recommend to my students and acquaintances (as well as learn from those books myself). As a professor, I am partial towards books penned by other professors, in large part because I know how difficult it is to make the time from our research and teaching to sit down to write a book for a non-academic audience. I had picked up Peterson’s book in the anticipation that it would be helpful in learning new ideas to improve one’s life and career. My conclusion, after making my way through a meandering, convoluted, and often hard-to-follow argument, was that reading this book would do considerably more harm than good! I hate to say this, but Professor Peterson’s book does not advance a worldview that gets us anywhere good.