Annette Poizner
This Way Up: Psychological Means to Spiritual Ends

Leading with a Limp: Understanding Jordan Peterson’s Maladies . . . and Your Own

Dr. Jordan Peterson with his daughter and grandaughter, recovering from his health crisis

Unbelievably, some have expressed delight upon hearing about Jordan Peterson’s current health crisis. Aside from what would seem to be a personal vendetta, they also presume that Peterson’s struggle with benzodiazepines invalidate his teachings. Little do they know that the archetype of the wounded healer is as old as Millenia.

Dealing with long-standing orthopedic challenges, I have drawn strength and inspiration from Psychiatrist Milton Erickson. Paralyzed by polio at the age of 17, Erickson contended with chronic pain throughout his life. He managed his ailments independently, pioneering state-of-the-art hypnotic techniques that have since helped many others.

Notable was not the fact of Erickson’s ill health, but his use of it. To relearn how to walk, he cultivated keen skills of observation, skills he would later use clinically. He became a shotgun diagnostician, quickly identifying root causes, then architecting ingenious interventions. His colleagues marveled. He objected, scolding: “You didn’t see! You didn’t hear!” He told them, “You did not have the benefit of poor health!”

On the theme of dealing with illness, we read in the Bible that in the desert, Moses is told to suspend a copper snake overhead. The people will gaze, skyward, at that snake to heal their ailments. Why this odd intervention, one which inspired a medical symbol, the caduceus, in use to this day?

Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson explains: if the snake represents the circuitous path we are forced to endure when confronted by snaky adversaries or obstacles, then we must view that snake against the backdrop of the sky. Looking into the expanse, we see the snake and look beyond it, finding the address of Divinity, that which is eternal . . . and curative. We mustn’t focus on the malady, in isolation. Only when viewed in the broader context, can we heal. The big picture stretches and expands us beyond our limiting circumstances. That idea should make sense when we remember that the presence of a wound activates the environment, the surrounding healthy tissue, to enact the repair.

Advertisers render explicit images of physical perfection to sell goods. But given the destiny of all who live, the ultimate good is found when we access good beyond bad, all the while – simultaneously – apprehending the bad. Bearing this paradox, some may even find a bit of good within the bad. Even if not, the experience might still bear fruit.

As Peterson says, “we don’t know what extreme experiences you need to go through to have extreme experiences [i.e. spiritual awakenings] but [those higher experiences] don’t usually occur when you are eating cheesies and playing Mario Brothers.”

Expect to learn that in undergoing his recovery (full and complete, please G-d) Peterson presses on without complaint, channelling Leonard Cohen:

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

The future is bright for Peterson, no matter what. Less so, for those who despise him. What comes to mind are the words of Catherine Aird, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”  Relative to the figures on the world stage who are speaking about Peterson’s current plight, there is no question who I would loathe to be right now.

About the Author
Annette Poizner is a Columbia-trained clinical social worker who graduated with a Doctorate of Education in Counseling Psychology. Her work has been featured extensively in the media and in academic venues. A vocal advocate for the psychological utility of classic Jewish values and perspectives, she founded an imprint. Lobster University Press, which explores the work of Jordan Peterson. Her books (and coloring books) explore the intersection between some of Peterson's insights and Jewish wisdom.
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