One of the reasons that Jordan Peterson (hail lobster!) is revolutionary (and shouldn’t be, in a sane society) is that he understands we don’t live from good intentions and that words alone don’t change reality.
Yeah. Shouldn’t be. Because this is obvious. This is the wisdom of millennia, which is why most major religions encourage praxis (or require it) as well as faith and words. Faith love and charity, and while you might think of love as airy fairy fweeings you know d*mn well it’s supposed to be active love, showing love for others. (Agape, not eros.) And charity, well, its all action, if you’re doing it right.
But we got convinced, somehow — in my opinion by giving a disproportionate importance to academics and “very smart people” — that what you do doesn’t matter, and that words can change reality. The way popular perception ran off with quantum experiments didn’t help one wit.
It’s not that words have no influence. Jordan Peterson (HAIL Lobster) is right, in that you shouldn’t hang out with people who say words that demean and discourge you, and you should try not to do that to yourself too. But most of the words’ power is in our heads, not out int he real world. And we, ourselves, are a weird combination of body and brain, so that we’re susceptible to having our thoughts changed by words, but how much that changes our bodies varies, depending on how hard the change is and what it requires of you, and how well it meshes with the monkey body.
So, for instance, words can give you confidence before a bit trial, if they come from someone you respect. “You got this.”
If they come from you, it’s harder, because you know yourself too well to trust yourself. (Which honestly, just makes you normal.)
HOWEVER because you don’t trust yourself and you have a suspicion you’re just not right in the head or whatever, bad words from you can have a disproportionate strong effect, because of course you believe THOSE. I mean, you’re speaking against interest, so of course you believe it, right?
So, don’t tell yourself you’re a looser, or a no-goodnick, or that your diet is going to fail, or that your book is stupid. Because you’ll believe that and the back brain will direct actions accordingly.
In the same way, if you hang out withpeople who constantly undercut you, and if it’s repeated often enough, you’ll believe THEM and then sabotage yourself. So, don’t hang out with people who put you down. hang out with people who support you.
But that’s words influencing your brain which influences your actions.
However, what words can’t do is by themselves change the whole tenor of your character, because that’s habit as well as belief. They can’t change the laws of physics, so even if you believe you can fly, you’ll still splat. They can’t change biology, so if you’re sick and tell yourself you’re well, it ain’t gonna cure you. (TRUST me. The number of times I tried “mind over matter” and refused to go to the doctor. It doesn’t WORK.)
You’re also not going to change history by saying it wasn’t so. Yeah, sure, there was the occasional “person of color” in Europe in the middle ages. They tended to be treated somewhere between freaks and curiosities, but they were there, because people travel. That’s what people do. But they weren’t there, in any way shape or form in sufficient numbers to make a difference to history. Their very oddity cut them out of society. No matter how many obscure cases you find and keep insisting that the MASS of “people of color” was just suppressed, it ain’t gonna change history. It just wasn’t so. English people (and German people) thought people who could tan, like me or mine, as another race, and of black people as bizarre BECAUSE they weren’t used to them. There weren’t enough of them around. Therefore–
Exceptions don’t make the rule, and hunting exceptions doesn’t change history. And that goes double, with a dollop of pudding for Women Warriors, and the other cherished illusions you keep hoping to impose on reality by shouting and stomping your little hoofkins. That’s not how any of this works.
And you’re not going to change math by claiming it’s oppressive. You’re only going to make bridges fall and rockets blow up.
And — I must emphasize this — you’re most definitely not going to levitate the Denver Mint by the power of your mind.
So, push those out of your mind, and concentrate on what you can change, and part of what you can change — most of what you can change — is you.
To put it metaphorically, you can’t grow wings, but you can learn to fly planes. (Note YOU can. I have no desire to.) Or whatever it is you want to do.
And the genius of the commonplace that Peterson brings to bear is this: you change the words by changing the actions. And you start simple, and you form habits. (I have a book at my right hand about changing your habits to be better at producing words. I probably should you know read it, because the other thing that words can’t do is jump from the printed page into my head.)
And to change habits you start with small things.
Make your bed. Clean your room. If you can do it, and particularly if you can maintain it, you become someone who makes his bed (every day) and keeps his room clean, which since you see this place every day immediately makes you feel that you have SOME skills. And if you have some skills, there’s other things you can do (right?)
I mean, a person who makes his bed and cleans his room surely can extend that a little and take his meds on time. Make himself/herself healthy meals and eat them. And if you’re a person who can do all that, you can study for your exams and pass them. Or march your little butt out the door every morning, and look for a job till you find one. And certainly someone who can do all that, can also show up for work on time every day, and perform according to spec.
Next thing you know, you have a good job, are supporting yourself, have a family, and are a productive member of society instead of hunkering down in a corner working on your self esteem by telling yourself “but I’m really smart and I deserve!”
Because frankly, you know that you’re bullshit. A smart person wouldn’t need to say that.
A smart person does things.
Now, I’m not going to say any of this is easy. I’m trying to change my habits. I’m fighting the cursed book. I’m trying to re-establish a schedule which got nuked by moves and illness, but you know, we’re about to move again, and…. well. yeah. I fall. often. And I have days that are just flushed straight down the toilet.
That’s okay. Because it’s not what you are. If this were about who you are: “I’m good, I’m smart” then a bad day proves you’re not and ruins everything.
This is about becoming. That’s something you work at every day. And if you fall on your face, you dust yourself off and try again tomorrow.
At some point you’ll become someone who does whatever it is effortlessly. And then you can reach bigger roles. And if illness or whatever interrupts you, you work on becoming again.
Because what you do teaches you what you can be, and teaches you the self esteem that all the pointless praise can’t and won’t teach. (All it teaches is conceit.)
So, while I’m washing and drying clothes to pack, to go off for a week and try to find a landing place, you go forth and work on becoming what you want to be.
You might not be good enough to do what you want to — yet– but you can become good enough. If you build yourself into someone who can do that, one step at a time.
Now go do it.
Hail Lobster 😉