The Complicated World of Jordan B. Peterson

Hi there,

What’s the Story?

I found out last week that I got into the New York Marathon in November. Really looking forward to it and already have a target in mind. More to come on that. Besides that, I had a few fun workshops and a fireside chat in New York City which went well.

This week’s episode of the Changing Minds Podcast is bound to turn heads as we explore the work of Jordan B. Peterson. With that in mind, I figured I’d also tackle it in this week’s newsletter. Hope you enjoy it! Check it out at



The Complicated World of Jordan B. Peterson

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes 38 seconds


What might be In 2016, Jordan B. Peterson made a video that made him famous. He didn’t do a TikTok dance or even a TED talk that blew up. Instead, it was a video he made about a new parliament bill that was introduced in his home country of Canada.

Peterson strongly opposed Bill C-16 which proposed that the refusal to address a transgender person by their preferred pronouns was a form of hate speech. Peterson argued vehemently that this was a slippery slope that would lead to the government controlling their language. His video created quite an uproar. He was glorified for standing up for free speech and vilified for targeting a minority group.

After getting onto some big platforms such as the Joe Rogan Podcast, Peterson became a celebrity. His charisma, intelligence, and incendiary language continued to gain him attention.

The Two Perspectives on Jordan B. Peterson

Like seemingly everything these days, we have two general camps that have opposing perspectives on him.

Peterson is regarded by one side as a brilliant intellectual, fighting bravely against the dark forces of politically correct, dangerous communists hiding in plain sight (known to his followers and referred to by him as ‘Post-Modernist Neo-Marxists’ of the radical left).

He is perceived as someone who battles consistently against the dangers to free speech and his wisdom as a psychologist in his books has “saved many lives”. His lectures around the world are constantly sold out and he is revered as one of the saviours of the right.

Then we have the other side. Peterson is seen by them as the ‘dumb person’s smart person’. He has been described as a Nazi, fascist, and bigot. He is perceived as the enemy of the left. At one stage, the villain Red Skull in a Marvel Superhero story had a list of 10 Rules for Life, an obvious reference to Peterson. You know people have an issue with you when you reach this level of vilification.

Sifting Through the Polarization

The truth is more complicated than either of these two sides would lead you to believe. Like everything, people pick a side and then consume as much propaganda as they can to support their views. This is confirmation bias 101.

I’ve studied hundreds of Peterson’s tweets. I’ve studied his three books. I’ve listened to dozens of hours of podcasts with him and watched plenty of videos. I’ve attended a lecture with him.

As a psychologist, I am interested in those representing psychology to the world. It could be argued that Peterson is the most well-known psychologist in the world today. As such, I am interested in understanding his work.

Let me get a few things straight. I disagree with Peterson on plenty of what he says. While I find him a skilled debater, I see quite a few of the rhetorical skills he uses to put across his points to make his ideas sound more intelligent than they might otherwise be.

Some of the things he has written on X (Twitter) or said in interviews have made me yell rebuttals at my precious laptop. (That did not help. I wouldn’t recommend it.) Politically he has a lot of opinions and they are largely ideological in nature. He is on a side and that becomes evident very quickly.

At the same time, in his books, he has also shown plenty of wisdom and one of the main reasons he is as popular as he is comes from his skill of presenting fundamental yet powerful principles of life in a well-articulated way.

His haters can’t see that side of him and his adoring fans can’t see his flaws. Since I like to disappoint everybody, I see both. And I think it’s useful to see both for two core reasons.

1) Polarizing everything today is so tiresome. If you hate one aspect of someone that means you have to hate everything else, they have ever said. If you love what side a person is on that means you have to support all of their views.

This kind of thinking ruins us. It makes us predictable. We’re obsessed with the person not with the insight.

The mistake I see too many people making is that they close their minds to anything other than what they want to believe and this stops them from ever learning. We’re addicted to feeling right rather than being right.

2) There are a lot of people who can be helped by the good stuff. If we can become smart enough to take the ideas, we like from somebody and not take the ideas we don’t like then we give ourselves the best chance to become wiser.

I’ve seen plenty of people who have said that Peterson has a tremendously positive impact on their lives and some that suggested they were suicidal before coming across his teachings. More people can be helped by such ideas that resonate. This doesn’t mean we need to agree with every tweet.

Peterson’s Books

So, here I want to unpack some of the most important of the ideas he has written about in his three books so far: Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules for Life, and Beyond Order.

In this week’s podcast, I do a deep dive into the first of his books Maps of Meaning. In a couple of weeks, I break down the 24 rules for life that he discusses in his other two books to date: 12 Rules for Life and Beyond Order.

In this article, I’ll do a broad survey of the three of them and share the more useful ideas.


The Criticisms of Peterson’s Work

Before we get to the good stuff, let’s look at what people have said about him. Peterson’s X account is about as far away from his books as you can get. It’s almost as if they were written by two different people.

On X, he is very often provocative, political, and ideological in his tweets. It’s easy to predict what side of an argument he’ll be on. That’s a problem.

In his books, on the other hand, he goes deep into psychology, mythology, philosophy, and religion. It’s pretty hard to argue with most of the ideas he discusses. He makes insightful, smart, and thought-provoking arguments.

Some I have heard argue that his books are filled with his misogynistic perspectives and extreme right-wing views. This might be more of a case of the law of selective attention. When you’re primed to look for it, you will always find plenty of cases of it.

People are primed for it because of how they perceive him on social media. I wish Peterson would share more of his psychological teachings on X and social media. I wish he would cover more topics on his podcast that were related to psychology, not politics. To me, it could make a real difference to a lot of people.

I personally don’t think his political point of view is nearly as impactful for people. His perspectives more or less preach to the converted and antagonize everyone else.

Alas, people will write what they want to write. I have my topic temptations that are hard to move away from. I get it. He seems to enjoy fighting in the culture wars and it also gains him more listeners, readers, and viewers.

It’s also likely that he earns many fans for his political perspectives as opposed to his psychological insights which is a shame because his psychological insights are of far better value than many of the predictable social media quotes and content he covers.

Interestingly, I also feel similarly about psychologists who lean into leftist perspectives and points of view. Of course, everyone should have an opinion and psychologists certainly have a perspective that can enlighten others to understand what is going on. But when we become spokespersons for the right or left, that’s a problem.

Those who don’t like Peterson will also say he engages in pseudo-smart communication. He uses big words and a lot of words and therefore hoodwinks his “dumb followers” into believing that he is profound. Those who adore him will claim that he’s the smartest intellectual out there and a fountain of wisdom. From my perspective, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Peterson does use a lot of big words and can bullshit his way through certain arguments using some slick argumentation skills but he also is gifted with the ability to express powerful ideas in powerful ways.

He has thought through many of his ideas extensively so he makes a lot of sense. When he doesn’t, he sounds like he does. I do think he overuses big words but in the current world, I’m sure there are plenty of people who are delighted that he doesn’t dumb down. Sometimes there is a needed precision to his language. And sometimes, it’s more a sleight of mouth to win an argument.

In this week’s podcast, on Peterson and his first book, Maps of Meaning. I stay away from politics. I give you the fundamentals of what the book is all about, what the key learnings are, and what my thoughts are on it.

I have another episode coming up which is part two. In that episode, I explore the two other books Peterson released.

Since this is my newsletter, let’s get into the weeds. In all of his work, what are the key ideas that Peterson stands for?

10 Key Ideas in Peterson’s Work

Here are 10 key ideas that Jordan Peterson communicates through his books:

1) Understand myth if you want to understand the world

Our perceptions of reality are mediated by the stories we tell ourselves. These narratives are embedded in myth and religion and help us understand life. Jordan Peterson emphasizes the need we have for myth and not just science.

While this perspective of seeing the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of reality through the lens of myth and religion is only one perspective, it’s an interesting way of thinking about things and makes sense.

2) Embrace chaos and order

Our minds are constantly caught between the known and the unknown. The known is order which is good and bad. The unknown is chaos which is good and bad.

While a simple point that seems like it should be obvious, the depth to which Peterson explores it reveals how important this is to life. Life is about moving from order to chaos and back to order while learning the lessons that help us grow forward.

3) Find a balance between order and chaos to live a meaningful life

To embrace order and chaos we must respect order to some extent but also venture out into chaos so that we can discover new ideas that we can then learn from and bring back to our lives. That is, in essence, the focus on the hero’s journey.

Like the first two ideas, the response I had was less ‘surprised’ and more ‘yes that makes sense’. The term ‘order’ tends to have more positive connotations than ‘chaos’ but there are many things to be gained from both (and many ways that both can be destructive and unhelpful). Things being too rigid is bad. Things being too chaotic is also bad.

4) Take responsibility for your life

Stop waiting for the world to give you what you think you deserve. Start treating yourself like someone you are responsible for and make things happen in your life.

While this is challenged by critics who suggest that it is important that people reach out for help and that some people are victimized by society or their circumstances, I don’t believe Peterson is saying any of this is untrue.

I believe he is saying we need to take far more responsibility for our lives than we currently do in the age we live in. I don’t disagree with this. As a therapist and coach, much of the work I did was helping people to focus more on what they could control or influence. We need to change this victim mindset if we are to improve our lives.

5) Set strong goals and become all you can be

Set goals that are meaningful and that make you a better person and focus like a laser beam on what you want to get better at. Become all that you can be. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not to anybody else.

The way Peterson puts this is inspiring. Instead of focusing on achieving goals that you set, he emphasizes your ability to become better by focusing your mind on it and prioritizing this. Seeking to realize your potential is very motivating and exciting.

6) Act and speak well

Make sure you are living a good life before criticizing the world around you. Be honest and choose your words carefully. Say what you mean. Stand up straight and act confidently and you will start feeling more confident.

While I agree with this, the idea of speaking the truth is not as powerful as it might seem because what we believe is true is not necessarily true. It’s what we believe is true.

This kind of positions Peterson as being ‘pro-truth’ and therefore his critics as being ‘anti-truth’ and while he never explicitly says this, it suggests this is a core value he has. While I don’t doubt that Peterson is honest, just because he is honest doesn’t mean he’s correct. Just because you think you’re saying what is true, doesn’t make it true.

At a fundamental level, however, this is solid advice. Walk your talk. Be honest. Choose your words. Stand up straight. This will help you.

7) Have an open mind

Abandon ideology and assume other people might know something you don’t.

In the world today, this is perhaps the most important lesson of all. It’s so important we become open to other people’s perspectives and not fall into the trap of being predictable in the side that you are on in every argument.

This is the one problem I have with Peterson. The actual idea = great. Whether or not Peterson lives by this idea is another matter. I have heard him admit he was wrong once… out of many, many hours of his work online.

I find his social media persona extremely ideological. His supporters may argue and say that I’m the ideological one because I don’t agree with him or that he is ‘just speaking the truth’ but anyone can hide their political soapbox behind that excuse.

Unfortunately, what is ‘true’ for some people is different than what is true for others. The real issue here is that I rarely see him bringing balance to his arguments. But, once again, the advice itself is good.

8) Provide children with opportunities to be challenged

Allow them to take healthy risks. Make sure to discipline them so they respect the kind of principles that will make them a good person who is good with others.

This makes a lot of sense. While parents, in many ways, have made progress from one hundred years ago, the pendulum seems to have swung a little too far the other way.

Negaphobia is a term used by screenwriting legend Bob McKee to describe a phobia of all things negative. While he describes it as being pervasive in corporate America, I believe it also rears its head in parenting. We occasionally can fall into the trap of trying to keep children feeling good all the time whereas they need an opportunity to be challenged so they can become more resilient.

The ‘growth mindset’ proposed by Carol Dweck took on the self-esteem movement for similar reasons. Growing involves challenging yourself and testing yourself against adversity.

The self-esteem movement on the other hand prioritized making people feel safe by keeping them cocooned and secure from any form of negative experience… which is what they will certainly experience in the real world.

This advice is great not just for children but for us as adults as well.

9) Work on your relationships

Regularly work on your marriage. Find friends that have your best interests at heart.

I can’t imagine anyone arguing with this idea. It’s pretty fundamental. Taking people and relationships for granted is one of the best ways to end up alone. Scheduling dates or friendship meetups is an underrated and crucial habit to get into.

10) Feel grateful for the nice moments

Take some time and savor the beautiful moments in life. Make space for beauty in your life.

Once again, the concept of being grateful is known in the field of psychology as being extremely helpful for our mental health. Peterson offers some useful ways of thinking about this.

In truth, I believe it’s hard to disagree with any of these insights which might, right off the bat, seem obvious. What’s important to consider however is that some of the most important insights we have ever learned are equally obvious.

It is the nuance and argumentation he uses that brings these ideas to life and turns them from oversimplified platitudes to profound principles.

Peterson has a way with words. His ability with them allows him to drop knowledge bombs one minute and convince you that black is white the next.

The Ideological Issue

The funny thing is that, to me, the most important thing of all that Peterson talks about is abandoning ideology. That’s a big part of the work that I do in my field of Belief Leadership. I want to get people to stop falling into the traps of polarized perspectives. I want to help them to extract insights from ideologies and ideas from ideologues. I want them to think more critically and not just rationalize why they believe what they do.

I want to do this because it’s something I am constantly working on in myself. I’m forever exposing myself to the ‘other side’ from my point of view because that ‘discomfort’ is good for me. The more we can do that, the more we can understand each other. That’s the only shot we have at getting through to each other.

It’s not that having a strong opinion is a bad thing. Indeed, often ideologies are attempts we make to explain how things SHOULD be. The problem is that when we prosecute other people’s perspectives, it can lead to zero-sum thinking, and that makes things worse. We find ourselves lost in a world of ‘sides’.

It switches off a whole audience who can benefit from your insights. Even if you feel very strongly about something, understanding other people’s perspectives can actually help you to make your argument in a more compelling way.

While Jordan Peterson has much to offer, I feel that he still needs to get his ideological house in order. I don’t believe that the smartest things he says are political. I believe psychology is where he can make and has made a positive difference to a lot of people.

If he made an effort to find more balance and nuance and abandoned ideology, he would be an even bigger force to reckon with… yet, ironically, this might perhaps be to the detriment of his popularity.

To a degree, he’s the victim of his ability to outwit others. The smarter you are, the more you can win an argument. But just because you win doesn’t mean you’re right. The strongest argument is not necessarily indicative of the right argument. Aristotle taught us that thousands of years ago.

For us, then, the key is to focus on what we can learn as opposed to loving or hating the source. That will help us all move forward. We learn from the wisdom of the world rather than being hijacked into the polarizing politics of perspectives.



The Brain Prompt

What are the things in your life that you can be certain about and that you can control?

We spend so much time focusing on everything outside our influence, that it’s important to turn our attention back to what we impact.


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P.S. To watch this week’s Changing Minds podcast episode on Jordan B. Peterson and Maps of Meaning, check it out here.





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