I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, along with intermittent bouts of depression. One evening, when life had rendered me completely shell shocked, I asked my mom that age-old question: “What’s the meaning of life?” My mom answered quickly, with a five-word response that was both simple and powerful: “how you treat other people.”
This answer reminded me of a story Jordan Peterson told to his Beacon Theater audience. Peterson discussed the extremely dark places people can retreat to when they leave their suffering unchecked. However, many admirable people out in the world choose compassion over bitterness.
Peterson continues, sharing his experience with an outpatient he counseled at the Douglas Hospital in Montreal. The woman suffered mightily from a living environment tangled up in severe social anxiety, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and unemployment.
After a handful of sessions, Peterson discovered what his patient really wanted. She hadn’t been going to the behavior therapy to get help. She didn’t want help. Having also been occasionally committed to the hospital as an impatient, she wanted to help others whom she viewed as worse off: She wanted to find a hospital administrator who could give her permission to take one of the inpatients out for a walk when she went to walk her dog. Peterson further describes the woman’s empathy and assures the audience that he will never forget her.
“And yet she could see outside her own misery, as intense as it was. And her decision was, ‘Well, maybe there’s a way I can make something a bit better for someone who’s worse off than me.’ ”
My mother passed away July 19 in Port Charlotte, FL. Her official death certificate listed multiple causes, including severe COPD, kidney failure, and sepsis. On Sept. 21, we celebrated her life at a memorial service held in her hometown of Pawtucket, RI. The loss completely devastated and blindsided me because, unlike many other men, I’m not a husband, father, brother, or an uncle — just a son.
Like the Douglas Hospital story, Peterson’s other content has helped mitigate my grief immensely, and it’s replaced my negative feelings with empathy, conscientiousness, and personal responsibility.
As a Peterson supporter, it’s been an amazing journey. I had a warm smile come across my face as I reminisced and retraced my steps. In the days following Election 2016, a then-beardless Dave Rubin told us fans of “The Rubin Report” that our maiden voyage with Google Hangouts would include Peterson as the interviewee.
Fast forward three years later, and that initial interview shockingly evolved into my using a Peterson quote (Harvard, below) as I delivered my mom’s eulogy. In fact, to find a much-needed morale boost for himself, Peterson needn’t look any further than the unexpectedly profound and positive effect he’s had on my own life. Speaking to a group of Harvard students, Peterson answers the moderator’s question about what constitutes a good life.
“There’s nothing more compelling or meaningful or useful in combating the tragedy of life than to struggle with all your soul on behalf of the good.”
As someone who’s marriage failed after only three short years, I truly admire and root for successful couples. Peterson’s account of his relationship with his wife captivated me. Peterson tells the story of how he met his wife, Tammy, whom he had known since she was eight years old. Peterson and Tammy lived across the street from each other in a little town named Fairview. Peterson says he fell in love with Tammy from the first time he saw her. Peterson then encouraged us to embed our relationships in the truth.
“I don’t think she’s lied to me ever in our entire marriage, which is unbelievable. It’s been so useful because I can really tell her things, and we can really talk.”
Lately, the heartless Twitter mob has grown exceedingly cruel toward Peterson in his time of personal struggle. It’s high time for us in the silent majority to come to his defense. We should admonish anyone who cannot or will not adhere to one of the most basic rules of human decency: Don’t kick a man when he’s down. In fact, be an empathetic person and lend the guy a hand, so that he can get back up — perhaps even stronger than ever before.
Jordan Peterson has brightened the dark days for countless fans. The time has now arrived for us to return the favor.