Who Are Your Friends

Post inspired by 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.

“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.” (82)

Rule 3: Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You

Out of the first three rules, if I were to recommend a must-read chapter I would recommend Rule 3. Dr. Peterson touches on friends, friendship, and poses the question of why some people chose friends who aren’t good for them.

“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?”

The question of recommending a friend is a deep, thought filled question. Personally, it struck a chord. If I wouldn’t recommend this person to hang out with someone else, why am I hanging out with them? You may think loyalty is the answer, right? Dr. Peterson tears that logic apart though - “Friendship is a reciproal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is. making the world a worse place.” “You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse” (82).

Maybe you are thinking to yourself “but I’m a good person, this person needs my help.” Take a step back and actively look at that relationship. Maybe you are a good person who wants to do the right thing for your friend. But make sure it isn’t an alternative reason. Are you sure you aren’t trying to draw attention to yourself by highlighting your “compassion and good-will”? Or are you sure you’re not trying to help someone to make you feel better about your place and character? Or are you trying to help someone “because it’s easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone utterly irresponsible”? (79)

It may look like you are making progress - long talks with your friend about the possibilities and how you both are doing everything possible. But that isn’t real progress. Instead you may be enabling the delusion which can end up being worse than you not being there at all.

So what does Dr. Peterson recommend? There are tips scattered throughout the chapter of questions to ask yourself:

  • “Are you so sure th person crying out to be saved has not decided a thousand times to accept his lot of pointless and worsening suffering, simply because it is easier than shouldering any true responsibility?” (79)
  • “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 explotation…if you buy the story that everything terrible just happened on its own, with no personal responsibility on the part of the victim, you deny that person all agency in the past.” (80)

Rule 3 makes you think about your life and your friendships. Examine them and ask yourself if you would recommend that person as a friend to others. If you wouldn’t, find out why. Dr. Peterson states “it’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you” (82). Lastly though, Dr. Peterson also states the opposite - it is selfish to use some of these justifications for leaving someone truly in need. Take some time and reflect today on those relationships in your life: maybe you think you may be “saving” someone when in fact you could be doing more harm than good, maybe there are relationships where it is not reciprocal, maybe it is time to reevaluate your position. At the end of the day, look to the rule - “make friends with people who want the best for you.”