Wednesday, June 20, 2018

profound words

I find myself frequently overcome and amazed by the ability of people to befriend each other, to love their intimate partners and parents and children, and to do what they must do to keep the machinery of the world running. I knew a man, injured and disabled by a car accident, who was employed by a local utility. For years after the crash he worked side by side with another man, who for his part suffered with a degenerative neurological disease. They cooperated while repairing the lines, each making up for the other’s inadequacy. This sort of everyday heroism is the rule, I believe, rather than the exception. Most individuals are dealing with one or more serious health problems while going productively and uncomplainingly about their business. If anyone is fortunate enough to be in a rare period of grace and health, personally, then he or she typically has at least one close family member in crisis. Yet people prevail and continue to do difficult and effortful tasks to hold themselves and their families and society together. To me this is miraculous—so much so that a dumbfounded gratitude is the only appropriate response. There are so many ways that things can fall apart, or fail to work altogether, and it is always wounded people who are holding it together. They deserve some genuine and heartfelt admiration for that. It’s an ongoing miracle of fortitude and perseverance.

—Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, "Rule 2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping"

It's not so much a "God helps those who help themselves" kind of chapter as it is a "God has already helped those who help themselves" chapter, which is more consistent with the traditional Christian notion of grace, a thing that is unearned and unearnable. And while Peterson is a big fan of Carl Jung, who is evoked pretty much every other page (I exaggerate, but Jung is evoked frequently), the above passage has more than a whiff of the optimism of Mencius, who also saw people as generally showing their innate goodness, especially in times of stress or crisis (see Mencius' "child at the edge of the well" example). The character Mark Watney, in the novel The Martian, makes a similar, Mencius-like observation as he observes how Earth has pulled together in a massive effort to get him home. When they want to be, when they put their minds and hearts to it, people can be very good. To be sure, Peterson, consistent with the biblical tone of his book, acknowledges the "fallen" nature of humanity, but this isn't to say that humanity contains no innate capacity for good.

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