I’m a cowardly person by nature and I’m not afraid to say it. Given the choice, I would rather avoid conflict than engage directly in it. When it comes it things I’m afraid of, such as standing out to bullies or admitting to lies I’ve told, I run away and retreat into a protective bubble rather than summoning the courage to voluntarily face them. So when a self-described “intersectional feminist” countered some remark I made on social media and proceeded to accuse me of being a bigot and a misogynist, I caved in and eventually deleted my whole account. I had no real tools for standing up for myself and, to put in bluntly, I was “owned” by this especially aggressive individual.
Around the same time as this incident occurred, a Canadian professor of psychology whom I’d never heard of called Jordan Peterson was courting huge controversy for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns. Certain radical sections of the social justice movement retaliated and accused Peterson of transphobia and bigotry for refusing the compelled usage of what he considers to be the linguistic constructs of a radical hard-left fringe who are especially active on university campuses. While I didn’t especially like the tone in which the professor expressed his ideas, I couldn’t help but be enamoured of his courage. I thought to myself: “I want to be more like that guy.”
I became more interested in Dr. Peterson as a person and began watching the vast number of lectures he’s uploaded to his YouTube channel which is now incredibly popular. In these lectures he discusses human psychology with a strong emphasis on religious themes and archetypes. This excited me as I have a strong interest in the philosophy of Buddhism and Daoism, as well as the more mystical strands in my native Christianity. Jordan Peterson had a way of bringing life to ancient stories and mythology that many modern people simply dismiss as superstition and frequently refers to the Jungian concept of archetypes which I found absolutely fascinating. His way of expressing ideas also reminded me that I was by conditioning and culture still a Westerner and still, in many ways I wasn’t even consciously aware of, still a Christian, albeit not a religious one. The virtue of courage in Christianity is one that I’d often neglected, preferring to cultivate love and compassion without realising the necessity of standing up for oneself by uttering the truth. The courage to tell the truth and the courage to not give in to negative emotions that weaken oneself such as self-pity, despair and anger and the courage to voluntarily face one’s suffering directly are such essential features of Christianity and, I was soon to realise, also Buddhism.
The Buddha himself is similar to Christ in his emphasis on enlightened courage. He didn’t retreat into the safe space of his father’s luxurious palace, but instead chose to voluntarily confront the deplorable poverty and starvation outside of his palace walls. Only in voluntarily facing that suffering was he able to transcend it. It was upon realising this fact that if I were to truly follow the Buddha dharma, the path I felt offered me a way to properly orient myself the world, I would have to cultivate the sort of courage evinced by Christ and Buddha by facing my enemies.
Professor Peterson often expounds the Christian concept of the Logos which can essentially be boiled down to true speech. In articulating truth as best we can as individuals, we can work out difficulties, reconcile differences and make peace without recourse to violence. Truth, he says, “snaps everything into perfect synchrony” and this telling of the truth also includes not omitting important details or avoid dealing with inconvenient facts that may contradict one’s worldview. It’s not an easy or comfortable habit initially, but once you practice it, it becomes second nature and you feel much stronger as a person. In fact, you may even feel physiological changes in your body as you do so. In my case, I am still practicing this habit of telling the truth and not capitulating to people’s attempts to browbeat or bully me, which unfortunately happens quite regularly as many still see me as a bit of a pushover. However, I’ve noticed that confronting those that are fanatical in their beliefs and who engage in ad hominem attacks with cold, truthful logic and facts and then standing firm invariably works. The sword of truth is penetrating and it is my greatest weapon against those who, like the person I mentioned earlier, are so deeply convinced of their own moral rectitude. As a result of Peterson’s emphasis on courage and truthfulness as core Western Judeo-Christian virtues that must become a part of someone if they to stand up to pernicious ideologies in the world, I feel calmer, more at peace, stronger and even able to sleep better. I don’t ruminate on the negative and am able to put all the bad things at bay knowing that the truth nested in the abounding love that Christ and Buddha spoke of is something I can rely on without fear.
Thank you, Professor.