In his new book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” Jordan Person, a University of Toronto psychology professor, provides some useful advice, which I will share with you in upcoming columns. I was attracted to the book after reading a Wall Street Journal review that described his approach as that of a conscientious parent. He provides guidance in a world in which ethical relativism, intolerance of “unsafe” or different ideas, nihilism, victimhood and ideological radicalism are on the ascent.
In other words, it is a guide through chaos. The foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life. Period.
His writing is practical and deeply grounded in the wisdoms of tradition, science, religions and symbolic mythology. His essays are like those of my favorite classical authors and thinkers, Aristotle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carl Jung, William James, Viktor Frankl, Joseph Campbell and Teilhard de Chardin.
If you truly seek to live a life that is meaningful, genuine, heroic and contributes to our collective flourishing, I recommend you read the “12 Rules of Life.” If you prefer, Dr. Peterson has recorded his lectures on a series of highly popular YouTube videos.
Some time ago, I dealt with the theme of his Rule 1 — stand up straight with your shoulders back. My tennis coach noted I’d let my racket head and physical head drop between points, generating a state of unreadiness and at times signaling a sense of defeat. This was often understandable given my on-court performance! Keeping both head and shoulders up generated a better attitude and game readiness for the next point.
More recently, I experienced a healing touch therapy session in which the skilled practitioner gently guided my forward-leaning head and shoulders into a more upright and dignified posture. Not only did it increase how easily I could breathe in the aftermath of a flu, but improved my sense of peace, poise and presence.
The Rule 1 chapter explores posture from the point of view of animal biology, starting with the life and history of lobsters. Posture affects the relative status of a lobster in their society, which has been ingrained by something like 350 million years of history, prior even to the dinosaurs. It turns out that serotonin, the same chemical that influences our moods as humans, flows abundantly in the dominant lobster in his group and is diminished in his weaker counterparts.
His upright posture in the presence of others announces he is all in, ready to win, and to mate.
Dr. Jordan points out that something similar happens in we humans, as well. As we slump and drop our shoulders, we mirror a posture of defeat or discouragement, of lowered social expectation and status, and a corresponding drop in serotonin. This posture symbolizes protecting ourselves from an attack from behind. Unconsciously or deliberately, others see us as less than we are and treat us as lower in status, perpetuating our negative self-image.
So I recommend you post a note: “Stand up Straight with your Shoulders Back.” Put it on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, desk, computer, phone, car dash, to remind you to tend your posture. You may notice almost immediately that how you feel about yourself and how others treat you takes a turn for the better. Head and neck pain may also improve as an additional benefit.