What Narrative Will We Follow?
The famous or infamous University of Toronto professor and clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, PhD, is an unlikely celebrity in our current culture. Known for his straight forward demeanor and political incorrectness. He is also the author of 12 Rules for Life and this weeks reading Maps of Meaning.
In Maps of Meaning, Peterson sketches out a monumental philosophical work in which he interprets myth, religion, history and philosophy . If I were to boil Peterson’s work down to one thought, it is about the purpose of life and the responsibility of each adult to pursue that purpose.
One of the underlining themes in Peterson is that we (human beings) live life based on narratives that are both known and unknown to us. Peterson’s writes, “Adults embody the behavioral wisdom of their culture for their children. Children interact with adults, who serve as “cultural emissaries”, he continues saying, the “collective unconscious” that constitutes the basis for shared religious mythology is in fact the behavior, the procedures, that have been generated, transmitted, imitated, and modified by everyone who has ever lived, everywhere”. In layman’s terms, the stories we have passed down from generation to generation, in both word and behavior, have shaped us all. There is much more to say about his work, I really liked the Hero and Antihero piece, but I could not shake past this revelation in the book.
When I think about my life, there was a narrative that was passed down from generation to generation as far as I could remember. In summary it is, we will never be more than poor, stay out of jail and close to family and everything will be alright. Although I saw other narratives from books and tv shows it was not until I met Christ that I found a narrative that actually change my life and gave it meaning. The late Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrists, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, writes about the meaning of life through the experience of surviving the concentration camps saying,
we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
What I love about this statement is that it puts action/responsibilities back into the hands of the one pursuing the meaning. I would add that as we enter into the narrative that Christ has for us, then we find the true purpose and meaning in our lives. This is why in my concept of Paracletic Leadership, we are continuing the work of Christ not trying to start something new. Paracletic leadership is sequent and does not start with the current leader. Instead, it is a procession into which a person enters. As Anderson points out, it “continues the ministry of Christ through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.” This is an important distinction from the popular understanding of where leadership begins. This distinction sets the mark for leadership in the person of Christ and his work, establishing it as being sequent, or a continuation of Christ’s work.
When critiquing the celebrity culture of leadership within the American church, theologian Len Sweet further asserts that Christ is the church’s only leader, and we are “first followers.” Because it leads by following, paracletic leadership is therefore paradoxical. As Sweet correctly says, “The Jesus paradox is that only Christians lead by following.” By definition then, the framework of paracletic leadership anchors the individual or organization to a starting point outside of self/itself, yet without diminishing the role of internal or self-leadership, which is the “self-influence process through which people achieve the self-direction and self-motivation necessary to perform.”
 Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, (New York, NY: Routledge, 1999), 82-83.
 Frankl, Viktor E., Ilse Lasch, Harold S. Kushner, and William J. Wnislade. Mans Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014.
 Anderson, Shape of Practical Theology, 195.
 Self-awareness plays a vital role in the development of a leader. However, leadership theories tend to attach leadership’s starting point to the individual. See Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2018), 2–5.
 Leonard Sweet, I Am a Follower (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 23, Kindle.
 Christopher P. Neck and Jeffrey D. Houghton, “Two Decades of Self-Leadership Theory and Research: Past Developments, Present Trends, and Future Possibilities,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 21, no. 4 (June 2006): 221, DOI 10.1108/02683940610663097.
10 responses to “What Narrative Will We Follow?”
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Thank you, Mario for focusing on what’s important: the ministry of Jesus Christ. I appreciate the reminder that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that can change narratives.
Thank you for your insight and scholarship. Most of all thank you for being a living example of a transformed narrative. When I read Peterson and others, I wonder what just one personal touch of the reality of God would do to their “architecture of meaning?” I especially appreciated the Frankl quote.
Ditto. I think sometimes my God filter makes it hard to read some of these books because I just want to tell them you’re still missing something!
I agree, Mario. I hear their arguments, and don’t want to oversimplify my response…yet, I do. 🙂
This was really poignant, Mario – thanks for sharing! I think we read things differently when we know the person behind the reading. I really appreciated the little window into Peterson’s childhood in the first chapter and it made me read things differently. I think that also applies to your understanding of Paracletic leadership. It’s almost as though it levels the playing field of leadership and allows us to make space for one another, rather than compete for top dog. Thoughts?
Yep, that is part of the framework I am thinking about. Meaning that leadership should always include the other. So I like how you stated it!
It is a head ybook Mario. So, two questions from your blog: first would you define the difference between purpose and meaning, given you boil Peterson down to “finding purpose”. Second, seeing we are all framed within a Map, Myth or Narrative (and given that mine is currently defined as privileged, educated, white middle-aged, handsome, middle-class male), how do we discern the difference between a culture free paracletic experience and the more likely voice of our encultured Map? 🙂
Purpose to me is fluid and follows along the lines of Dr. Viktor Frankl, in that we find purpose in what life (and for us as Christ-followers) is asking us to do. To your second question, I think we must include more voices (when we can) towards discerning the difference. At the same time, the encultured Map is a part of who we are and I think the Spirit knows that and can use that. So it’s more of both/and rather than either-or.
Thank you Mario, I appreciate your sharing of the narrative that was passed on to you and how your encounter with your Christian Faith, has made such a great difference in the trajectory of your life.