Jordan Peterson Rule #3
Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You
We get a picture of Jordan Peterson’s youth in the freezing, northern prairie of Canada. He describes some friends who never got it together with an affinity to marijuana that didn’t seem to help them. He describes parties that didn’t seem like parties. He describes a nihilism that has somehow taken ahold of lives. It sounded bleak.
The youths were divided between those who were going to stay and those who were going to go. He and his adventurous sister were in the “go” camp. He described a trip with his friends during high school to the big city and his disappointment in that all they did was score some dope and smoke it in a hotel room, basically doing what they could have done at home.
He ended high school with a couple of friends who were going to go to college. One of them went to the same college he did. Their enthusiasm rubbed off on him. He describes a college time that was filled with dynamic friends squeezing everything they could get out of the college experience. He describes a visit to his apartment from his high school buddy that showed how far a person can fall.
He quotes his friend: “I had friends…Before. Anyone with enough self-contempt that they could forgive me mine.”
“What was it that made Chris and Carl and Ed unable (or, worse, perhaps, unwilling) to move or to change their friendships and improve the circumstances of their lives? Was it inevitable—a consequence of their own limitations, nascent illnesses and traumas of the past?”
“Sometimes, when people have a low opinion of their own worth—or, perhaps when they refuse responsibility for their lives—they choose a new acquaintance, of precisely the type who proved troublesome in the past. Such people don’t believe that they deserve any better—so they don’t go looking for it. Or, perhaps, they don’t want the trouble of better.”
He describes these things with a questioning approach: “People create their worlds with the tools they have directly at hand. Faulty tools produce faulty results. Repeated use of the same faulty tools produces the same faulty results. It is in this manner that those who fail to learn from the past doom themselves to repeat it. It’s partly fate. It’s partly inability. It’s partly…unwillingness to learn? Refusal to learn? Motivated refusal to learn?”
He has a section entitled “Rescuing the Damned” which almost seems as a rebuke to the Christian do gooders of this world.
We choose downtrodden friends because we want to rescue them. “But not everyone who is failing is a victim, and not everyone at the bottom wishes to rise, although many do, and many manage it. Nonetheless, people will often accept or even amplify their own suffering, as well as that of others, if they can brandish it as evidence of the worlds injustice.”
I thought this described many of my Christian missions to redeem someone and I’m sure most Christians can relate: “Imagine someone not doing well. He needs help. He might even want it. But it is not easy to distinguish between someone truly wanting and needing help and someone who is merely exploiting a willing helper. The distinction is difficult even for the person who is wanting and needing and possible exploiting. The person who tries and fails, and is forgiven, and then tries again and fails, and is forgiven, is also too often the person who wants everyone to believe in the authenticity of all that trying.”
He seems to have a bit of animus about trying to help people. Maybe it is just the competition between the clinical psychologists of the world and the church. We are both trying to help people.
“When it’s not just naivete, the attempt to rescue someone is often fueled by vanity and narcissism.”
He shares a disturbing portrait from Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground”. One miserable man tries to help a downward moving woman only to pummel her with his wickedness.
Is this how he sees efforts to help people?
“But Christ himself, you might object, befriended tax-collectors and prostitutes. How dare I cast aspersions on the motives of those who are trying to help? But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you’re you. How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them—or you—further down?”
He uses some studies that show the downer guy tends to bring down the accomplished when forced to work together. “The same thing happens when well-meaning counsellors place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized pers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up.”
He questions the motivations of the do gooder as well as the delusional examination of the results. I can relate.
He inserts this in between this assault on the do gooder: “You’re associating with people who are bad for you not because it’s better for anyone, but because it’s easier. You know it. Your friends know it. You’re all bound by an implicit contract—one aimed at nihilism, and failure, and suffering of the stupidest sort. You all decided to sacrifice the future to the present.”
“Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation.”
“It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty…But consider this: failure is easy to understand. No explanation for its existence is required. In the same manner, fear, hatred, addiction, promiscuity, betrayal and deception require no explanation…Vice is easy. Failure is easy, too. It’s easier not to shoulder a burden…It’s easier to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today and drown the upcoming months and years in today’s cheap pleasures.”
He describes the game: “How do I know that your suffering is not the demand of martyrdom for my resources…Maybe my help won’t rectify anything…maybe your misery is a demand placed on me so that I fail too…How do I know that you would refuse to play such a game? How do I know that I am not myself merely pretending to be responsible, while pointlessly “helping” you, so that I don’t have to do something truly difficult–and genuinely possible?”
He is on a roll: “Maybe your misery is the weapon you brandish in your hatred for those who rose upward while you waited and sank. Maybe your misery is your attempt to prove the world’s injustice, instead of the evidence of your own sin, your own missing of the mark, your conscious refusal to strive and to live.”
So, we end this thrashing of the downtrodden: “How exactly should I befriend you when you’re in such a place? How exactly could I?”
“Success: that’s the mystery. Virtue: that’s what’s inexplicable. To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits. You just have to bide your time. And once someone has spent enough time cultivating bad habits and biding their time, they are much diminished…Things fall apart, of their own accord, but the sins of men speed their degeneration. And then comes the flood.”
I see a need to justify: “I am not saying that there is no hope of redemption. But it is much harder to extract someone from a chasm than to lift him from a ditch. And some chasms are very deep. And there’s not much left of the body at the bottom.”
Carl Rogers: the impossibility of helping someone who did not want to improve.
He is not in to toxic relationships.
“If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself?”
“Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you. It’s appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve.”
“If you surround yourself with people who support your upward aim, they will not tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness. They will instead encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and punish you carefully when you do not.”
“When you dare aspire upward, you reveal the inadequacy of the present and the promise of the future. Then you disturb others, in the depths of their souls, where they understand that their cynicism and immobility are unjustifiable. You play Abel to their Cain. You remind them that they ceased caring not because of life’s horrors, which are undeniable, but because they do not want to lift the world up on to their shoulders, where it belongs.”
“Don’t think that it is easier to surround yourself with good healthy people than with bad unhealthy people. It’s not. A good, healthy person is an ideal. It requires strength and daring to stand up near such a person.”
“Make friends with people who want the best for you.”
The chapter did not read like I had expected. I could relate to high school and friends. College was a bit like high school until I dropped out and returned and finished on my terms. I would change my major to get the course I wanted and then change back. My professors all worked with me and I enjoyed taking the courses I wanted to take. I was let go from my job at a newspaper (they were combining departments) and I was an expendable college student. I applied for unemployment and was denied because as a student I was not available for work 24 hours a day. Each of my professors signed a statement that I could change the time of my classes to match with any hours I needed to work. The friends I made were built around my landscaping, a band with a band house and socialized business ideas. All with drugs and madness still going on. Friends or just having fun together; I don’t know.
Then salvation came my way as I was traveling across America to sell a house for a traveling partner and go to Europe. The friends of salvation were many; but 35 years later the many have moved on and the faithful of the Wickenburg church are still my family. Only one man who got saved with me is still my friend; Jim Bardin. I have ties of friendship with pastors that center around my time as pastor in Seattle, a missionary and evangelist. They vary in depth; but it is that common experience that binds us together. The people I have pastored over the years who are still in contact with me I count as friends. I enjoy the Sparta church as friends and enjoy identifying with them. I have enjoyed the friendship of Pastor Overson and more so Pastor Robinson. Pastor Mitchell has always treated me well and while I was an evangelist took the time to share thoughts with me.
I do my best to “show myself friendly” and enjoy my daughters and my son in laws immensely. Easy to say my best friend is my wife and my bestest friend is my invisible friend who “will never leave me nor forsake me”.
There is a sense of blood covenant friendship that we have with God through the blood of Jesus that we could, would or should have among ourselves as brothers in Christ; but it is hard to fit it into the reality of our separate lives; especially when we are constantly confronted by those who turn back to the world and away from that very covenant relationship with God and us.
So, let’s make a sermon.
Text: 1 Sam 18:1-4…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul… 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.
I. The Ideal
Covenant – a thing cut, they made a blood covenant with each other.
Jonathon had already shown himself to be a man of war as well as a man of God. He is the future king as son of Saul. He had the loyalty of his armor bearer: 1 Sam 14:7 So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”
David, the shepherd boy, the secretly anointed king, the musician, slayer of Goliath and hero of Saul’s army stands ready to make a covenant with Jonathon.
Jonathon would eventually disobey his father over his covenant with David.
Jonathon would come to understand that David would be King; but hoped to serve at his side. They confirmed their covenant as Saul hunted David. Jonathon and Saul would die in battle.
Years later David would say: 2 Sam 9:3 Then the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” And Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan who is lame in his feet.”
Mephibosheth is his name.
In Trumbull’s book on blood covenants through history he describes the Viking commitment. The two pierce and clasp their hands and lay beneath the sod that covers and then uncovers them. They lay down two separate people they come out united in a blood covenant. Each will do everything in their power to rescue each other from the battlefield or prison.
This is a friendship that is capable of being carried through until the end. Once again applying this standard to our lives is difficult. The backslidden friend presents all kinds of problems for this idea of blood covenant commitment. It seems to only work if the commitment to the Lord is strong and vibrant in both parties.
Here today and gone tomorrow is more relevant to my pastoral relationships than this picture of blood covenant commitment to each other.
Trumbell describes the blood covenant as something sought out from the best of the best. Peterson would understand this as healthy. Join in friendship with the together person.
The ideal, maybe a bridge too far, verses the reality of snatching pieces of friendship during our journey on this earth.
II. Not the Ideal, but more achievable
Let’s look at a few friendship verses.
1 Cor 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
Gal 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Prov 13:20 He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
Heb 12:14-15 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
Jude 20-23 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
2 Cor 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
Gal 5:13-15 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
Prov 14:20 The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor, But the rich has many friends.
Prov 18:24 A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
John 15:13-15 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
III. The blood of the everlasting covenant
This idea of a blood covenant has touched all cultures through history. The idea of touching God through a vicarious blood sacrifice has also been part of history. It is certainly biblical.
Why would God stoop to have a blood covenant relationship with us?
1 Cor 1:26-31 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Heb 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Cor 11:25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Zech 9:11 “As for you also, Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Isa 55:1-3 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you
Ps 25:12-15 Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses. 13 He himself shall dwell in prosperity, And his descendants shall inherit the earth. 14 The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant. 15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord, For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.
John 13:35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I like to use Peck’s definition of love: anytime you help someone grow physically, spiritually, emotionally or mentally.
The church should be a place filled with people who will love you and help you become a better person. Church is the perfect place to “make friends with people who want the best for you”.