Say Jordan Peterson’s comments about identity politics make your blood boil. Or you are offended by his opposition to Canada’s law mandating the use of specific pronouns for the transgendered. If, for whatever reason, Jordan Peterson gets your goat, you are not alone.
I discovered this first-hand. Last year, I naïvely emailed my peers in social work notice of a newly discounted price for Peterson’s Self-Authoring Suite. His journaling software has been shown to render positive effects when used by first year university students. Those students go on to report, on average, higher marks and lower drop-out rates, compared to those in a control group.
My email triggered a hailstorm. One social worker referred to Peterson as a “modern day Jim Jones,” referring to a cult leader from yesteryear who orchestrated the mass murder-suicide of his followers. Another called him “a spreader of hate speech.” One person suggested that my email and all the responses be omitted from our group archives. It was a flurry of emails, a tidal wave of negativity.
Here’s the problem. Infants move through a developmental stage that Melanie Klein referred to as ‘Good Mother, Bad Mother’. At this stage, the child’s reactions are polarized. If mother satisfies all needs in a timely manner, mother is deemed ‘good’. If mother’s performance is compromised; say, she is delayed in the shower. The infant is crying. Mother is ‘bad’!
We hope, in time, the child will outgrow a tendency for black-and-white thinking. After all, mother – and everyone else – is good . . . and bad. Helpful . . . and flawed. She comes through. She disappoints. The ability to host this paradox is one of the building blocks of maturity.
In fact, this idea sits at the heart of Judaism’s central prayer, Shma Yisrael. That benediction is consistently mistranslated in English. We read, “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is Our G-d, the L-rd is One.”
Within the benediction, we find two Hebrew names for Divinity. One of them refers to the loving G-d, our Father in Heaven. The other refers to G-d, the King, who wields laws, issues retribution. The nurturing parent, the stringent parent. That prayer requires us to to straddle the paradox, to find the unity within the dichotomy. The two disparate countenances of Divinity are, in essence, one. We are being asked to work ourselves into a state characterized by acceptance, wisdom, temperance, modulation. In short, maturity.
So Jordan Peterson’s politics irritate you. But can you also host the generosity of a clinician who has provided millions with free access to hundreds of hours of lectures on YouTube, lectures that thousands upon thousands are using to make personal changes, sans expensive psychotherapy?
Read the comments under the videos. People are getting help from his materials. In Canada, where we have socialized medicine, each person who voluntarily and independently takes responsibility, resolves a substance abuse problem, cleans his room, all this without accessing, say, support from a psychiatrist, saves taxpayers’ dollars.
On that note, think about it. How many people do you know who fail to take responsibility, resolve a substance abuse problem, or clean their rooms, even with the support of a therapist? Peterson is, at the very least, helping some people sort themselves out.
For two years, Jordan Peterson travelled around the world, teaching how to turn chaos into habitable order. Then his life fell into chaos. Then our lives fell into chaos. And now his materials remain available, a legacy and gift for those facing turmoil. Given the times we now live in, many people cannot afford professional help. How many of these will turn to his resources and garner inspiration and direction?
I know. You still hate Jordan Peterson. Ironically, you may need his insights more than others. The problem: his free lectures are way too expensive for you. In order to give a listen, you’d have to surrender something you’re clinging to. I would refer you to the work of one Jerusalem Kabbalist, Sarah Schneider. Her book should matter to you. The title: You Are What You Hate.