Jordan Peterson isn’t only for lost, white men

A few weeks after Christmas, I went to visit my mother in Toronto and she shared with me a recent dream she had that didn’t make much sense to her. It involved her father, who died more than 35 years ago, my father who died six years back, her brothers, nephews and nieces. I listened patiently before offering up my analysis.

I had recently read Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, the last piece of written work undertaken by the influential psychoanalyst. Jung is also one of Jordan Peterson’s favourite psychiatrists, and quotes Jung often in his talks and lectures. Much of Jung’s writing is listed on Peterson’s list of Great Books; a list I am currently working through.

After my mother finished recounting her dream to me, I attempted to analyze it for her based on what I had read about dream analysis and interpretation in Jung’s book. My mother’s eyes grew wider and her ears perked up as my explanations went on. There was a particular aspect of her dream that I couldn’t decipher, but then I remembered a relevant YouTube clip I had seen of Peterson recently which seemed to unlock what the dream was trying to communicate.

My mother and I grabbed our cups of chai and sat in front of the TV. I pulled up the YouTube app on her Apple TV and searched for a short clip from a talk Peterson had given as part of his Biblical Series lectures. Before playing it, I turned to my 53-year-old, Muslim Pakistani mother and said, “Don’t take the stories from the Bible literally. He’s interpreting what the stories say about human behaviour and are very, very old stories. Much older than the Bible itself.”

She nodded, and we watched the 13-minute clip in silence. Afterwards, Mom sat back in the sofa and finished her chai, then went to bed. The next morning at breakfast, she asked me, “That book you read about dreams, was it written by Jordan Peterson?”

“No,” I replied, “it’s written by Carl Jung, but I read it because Dr. Peterson recommended reading Jung’s work to better understand one’s self.”

A few moments passed in silence.

“I’d like to read that book too,” she finally said.

“Sure, I’ll bring it with me next time I visit.”

I didn’t need my mother to tell me how she felt listening to Peterson’s talk the previous evening. I could ascertain from the look in her eyes that what he said had profoundly affected her. I know because the first time I listened to a talk by Jordan Peterson, it seemed as though he was talking directly to me; that he had somehow peered into my mind and seen the inner workings of my consciousness.

Like many people, I first came across Dr. Peterson in 2016 when he rose to fame in Canada because of his outspoken criticism of Bill C-16 on the use of gender identity pronouns. After reading about him in a few news outlets, I googled him and found his YouTube channel. Scrolling through, I came across a video titled ‘Tragedy versus Evil’ and decided to give it a watch. What I heard and experienced in the next 45 minutes shook me to my very core.

I had been in the midst of a depression ever since my father’s death a few years prior. I had lost faith in my religion, Islam, and battled with questions of meaning, purpose, free will, and fate. I had fallen down the rabbit hole of nihilism, and without a God to save me, I couldn’t pull myself back out.

That evening as I sat at home listening to Peterson discuss the evils of Nazism, I felt for the first time that someone knew what it was I was dealing with regarding questions of existence. The way he acknowledged the unknown reality of free will, and elaborated on the inescapable nature of tragedy sent goosebumps down my spine. Time seemed to stop, and the only real thing in that moment was his voice speaking directly into my soul.

When my husband came home from work, I rushed to meet him at the door and unleashed a rapid-fire assault on his ears about Jordan Peterson. My husband had no idea who this professor from Toronto was, but I showed him some of Peterson’s talks that I had devoured over the previous hours, like a person stranded in the desert for an eternity would drink water after stumbling upon an oasis.

Not surprisingly, Peterson’s unique style of distilling complicated, philosophical concepts and applying them to everyday life instantly clicked with my husband. Over the following years, my atheist, ex-Hindu husband and I became members of the Jordan Peterson fan club. We subscribed to his YouTube Channel and watched his talks every evening before going to bed, almost religiously. We pre-ordered ‘12 Rules for Life’ on Amazon and attended one of his lectures in Toronto, part of a global tour promoting the book and its ideas.

It baffles me when people describe Peterson as rightwing, or religious. I can confidently say, after logging in hundreds of hours watching his talks, that he is neither of those things. Nor is he dangerous for women or an upholder of the patriarchy. I know it’s not popular to say so in this time of #MeToo and fourth-wave feminism, but a lot of what he says about female behaviour is true. Does that mean we should all go back to the way life was in the 50s? Of course not, and nor is he advocating that.

For me personally, what I’ve found most helpful are his talks on how to live a meaningful life. My husband is more drawn to his Bible lectures and social commentary. Recently, Peterson has become known almost exclusively for his political leanings and opinions, which is somewhat of a shame because he has so much more to offer. He’s been a big reason why I was able to course correct and find my way out of the nihilistic life I was building for myself.

Even though my husband and I watch and discuss much of what we hear in Peterson’s Biblical lectures, we both still consider ourselves religiously unaffiliated. We haven’t turned to Christianity to fill the voids left behind by our former religions. And as seen from the example of my mother, one doesn’t need to be a Christian to find value in Peterson’s work. His analysis of human behaviour might be rooted in stories from the Bible, but their interpretations are humanist in nature and apply to all cultures, races, and genders.

My husband and I are attending Dr. Peterson’s debate with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek in Toronto on April 19th. It’ll be the second, live Jordan Peterson event we’ll be attending in two years. I jokingly said to my husband that going to a Peterson lecture was like our annual pilgrimage. Maybe someday, my mother will make her own pilgrimage to a Jordan Peterson talk on her journey of self-discovery.

Pakistani Canadian Freelance Writer