Left with a Curiosity
Dr. Jordon B. Peterson was a late bloomer. After completing his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from McGill University, he researched and taught at Harvard. Yet, he returned to his homeland of Canada in 1998 and joined the faculty at the University of Toronto. One year later, he wrote a very dense book that could not be easily summarized or categorized into one scholarly discipline. While it did not garner much attention early on, years passed until 2016, when Peterson became an overnight sensation after a series of lectures and videos went viral. Two years later, he wrote 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and went from being virtually unknown to “one of the most influential and polarizing intellectuals in the English-speaking world.” At 55 years of age, Peterson had arrived at a place of growing popularity and influence.
Upon inspection of various book reviews, Blinkist did a fine job capturing the book’s key points. They are:
- Humans explore their environment out of a fear of the unknown.
- Stories help us navigate the world as a place of meaning.
- All myths follow the same basic structure.
- Myths provide a model for how societies should work and how individuals should behave.
- Growing up means learning how to identify with the group and the hero.
- Anomalies threaten the stability of our psyche and society – and force us to adapt.
- Our limitations are the precondition for a meaningful existence.
- Evil means rejecting creative exploration, and we’re all capable of it.
- In order to reach our full potential, we must chart our own path.
Pulling further insight from a video called Summary of Maps of Meaning, I enjoyed learning about the book’s emphasis on stories and the power of the narrative. Peterson states that everyone loves myths for various reasons and that stories abound and help us understand the world around us. We see stories in the movies we watch, the books we read, and even the narratives we tell ourselves. In consideration of the person of Jesus, one of the most dynamic aspects of His teaching was not the lectures He gave but the parables (i.e., stories) He told. Even in the oral tradition, stories have survived generations because of how they engage the human heart, teaching us about our identity, purpose, morality, and whether or not we believe in God.
Considering other texts we have read in this program, I see many connecting themes, such as the:
- Desire (and drive) for humans to explore the unknown, motivated by fear + The Molecule of More.
- Reoccurring theme of stories throughout time + The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
- Realities that struggle force us to adapt +
- Focus on identity and identity formation + The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.
Clearly, Peterson is a deep thinker, and as Jason mentioned in our weekly meeting, his book and other materials provide ample opportunity for ongoing gleaning of wisdom and insight. While I found the book initially quite dense (literally and figuratively), I am left with a curiosity and desire to return and further explore the depths of this book. It reminds me of my first read of A Failure of Nerve. Initially, I was less than impressed, but the more we discussed the book and revisited the text, the more Friedman became influential in shaping how I view myself and the concept of leadership. I anticipate Maps of Meaning will be much the same.
 Kelefa Sanneh, “Sort Yourself Out, Bucko,” The New Yorker 94, no. 3 (March 5, 2018): 70–70.
 Maps of Meaning | Summary of Key Ideas | Book by Jordan B. Peterson – Blinkist, n.d., accessed November 13, 2022, https://www.blinkist.com/en/books/maps-of-meaning-en.
 Summary of Maps of Meaning by Jordan B. Peterson | Free Audiobook, 2021, accessed November 14, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnAMYvS6XA4.
12 responses to “Left with a Curiosity”
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Eric: Great summary; it was a big, thick, dense, difficult book to get through. I read somewhere that he took 12 years to write it. It might take me 12 years to fully understand it. “The Hero with a Thousand faces” also came to my mind as a book that contains similarities with Peterson. Campbell is listed as a source in the Reference section of the book. I would like to do a speed read of Peterson’s follow-up book, “12 Rules for Life.”
If you read the 12 Rules for Life, let me know. I might need to give this book another crack.
Eric, I really enjoyed reading your post on this deep book. I also appreciate the connections you made to previous books. You mention “the book’s emphasis on stories and the power of the narrative.” What implications do you see that having in the church’s desire to reach the culture? Also, what implications do you see that having in your new role?
First, I would say that I am not good at storytelling, but I believe it is really important. In light of this book, I believe the Church has a responsibility (and an opportunity) to enter into the narration of culture a Biblical view, which is life. Of course, as part of the Body, I believe this is also our call as followers of Jesus. We “remind and tell ourselves the gospel story” to ourselves, our families, parishioners, those we lead, etc.
Eric: I also found the book a bit challenging to dive into but did really enjoy the video lectures. Something about hearing him process through his thoughts made it easier to connect with. If you were to sit down with Peterson, is there a specific topic you’d want to dive into and ask him to expand on?
I think I would want to hear more about the narrative and understand his framework for what that means. When I hear the world narrative, I think of the gospel narrative, so I would be curious to know where he is coming from, and of that, what I can learn to make more rich my understanding of narration.
Hi Eric. Thank you for your post and for sharing your thinking and learning journey as you found different entrée points into Peterson’s work. It’s like his book was an oversized meal and you found ways to take reasonable bites that left you with more questions and desire to go deeper. Given the insights you’ve gained from the various readings you connect with Peterson’s work, I’m curious how you would describe the narrative arcs of the stories you’ve heard from those you serve with and among in Montana? Do those narrative arcs resonate with any of the mythological archtypes described by Peterson and/or Campbell? With the narrative arc of scripture? In what ways?
Deep question! Yes, I do see those narrative arcs here in MT. My personal belief is that it is interwoven throughout the fabric of humanity. It has been so good learning more about this from the Native American friends I have. As I learn more of their story, I see how God is at work and also our connectedness.
Eric, thank you for your summary. What you have been able to glean from Peterson, how would you compare and contrast his take on the unknown with how Friedman talks about it?
I would have to revisit both books to give that a fair answer. Sorry! Nothing quick off the top of my head.
Eric, thank you for your details and well researched summary. It added to what I was able to glean. You mentioned that it took Peterson to be accepted, I curious if there was anything culturally that created a receptivity to his message?
Hmmm… the power of the narrative. I really identity with that as I see His story as being woven throughout our stories.