There is a proliferation of materials and models in the psychological world in recent years regarding meaning making. The heightened need for humanity to make sense of the events of life we are witnessing and personally experiencing no longer seems to fit neatly inside the box of this technologically advanced society. It’s as if the more we know, the less we understand. Our scientific hypotheses, experiments and proof (or lack thereof) leave us asking the questions “why” and “for what purpose?” This semester’s reading has drawn this cohort into deeper conversations regarding historical assumptions, shaping of morality, ethics and values in the West, modern and postmodern mindsets, and this week we find ourselves neck deep in mythology to explain life. Jordan B. Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief takes the reader on a journey through mythological beings mixed with creation stories and even a seeming hint of misogyny, to discover how humans form beliefs and map out meaning for life.
Life happens and we need explanation, reasons, meaning for the events we encounter. I have been with family friends this week who lost their 28-year-old son in a motorcycle accident. The gathering of mourners and memorial service ran rife with speculation as to why this happened. They ranged from comforting to absurdity (people say the dumbest things when they want to help and do not know what to say). Listening and observing I found myself reflecting on Peterson’s tome. Dense and filled with drawings, poems, and graphics to help us decipher his message, the author leads us into a wild world of Mother, Father, and Hero. In Peterson’s introduction he explains his own childhood journey and young adult path which helped this reader understand the twists and turns this book flailed through. All one needs to do is peruse the table of contents to know this is no typical read. Peterson’s own surprise at the notoriety his thought is producing, both positive and negative, is notable. From attending “conservative Protestant services during childhood” to living out the “rules that made up the Christian game,” to using a little of everything in antiquity to explain meaning, the author, psychologist and professor has become an interesting figure.
At the end of my observation and reflection I was left with this thought, “The mechanisms of science are not answering the larger than life questions that seem to loom over us as a species.” Sitting with a dying mother and grieving parents over their son all in one week, continues to simplify all of this for me. It has come through the love experienced in the room while sometimes sitting in silence, sometimes lamenting the deep loss, laughing when recalling stories, anxiousness when mom’s breathing is labored, weeping when childhood photos are on the screen, and acknowledging gratitude for an ever present God to walk us through the valley of the shadow of death for the young and the old.
Meaning making is clarified through new mindsets and openness to possibilities instead of boxed in certainties. In her book, Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley states,
Whatever your personal beliefs and experiences, I invite you to consider that we need a new worldview to navigate this chaotic time. We cannot hope to make sense using our old maps. It won’t help to dust them off or reprint them in bold colors. The more we rely on them, the more disoriented we become. They cause us to focus on the wrong things and blind us to what’s significant. Using them, we will journey only to greater chaos…It was only when scientists were willing to accept their confusion instead of fleeing from it and only when they changed the questions they were asking, only then could they discover the insights and formulations that gave them great new capacity. Once this new worldview came into focus, scientists reengaged with their work with new energy. Wonder, curiosity and the delight of discovery replaced their fatigue and frustration.
Though Peterson uses antiquity and myth, creation and a hint of gospel to draw his map, I prefer Wheatley’s exhortation. A new worldview of possibility comes with letting go of past answers and allowing “wonder, curiosity and the delight of discovery” to become the map. Old maps with brighter colors will not take us into the unknown future or even make sense of the present. It is only through trusting the One who created the worlds we are trying to make sense of and relying on His goodness to carry us through the questions that we find the true map of meaning.
 Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999), xi.
 Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2006), 209, 223.