Rule Four of Jordan Peterson’s new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life is: “Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.”
In this chapter, Peterson discusses how choosing to take responsibility is fundamental to being useful and leading a meaningful life. As usual, he weaves a range of sources together from the Hebrew Bible, to Egyptian myths, to Pinocchio and Peter Pan.
The section of this chapter that especially interested me is about conscience. Since conscience is a word that does not have a great deal of resonance in our contemporary culture, Peterson patiently expounds upon what conscience is and how it works.
Here is the relevant excerpt:
If you attend to your conscience, you will begin to determine that some of the things you are doing are wrong. More precisely: if you are alerted to the possibility of your own wrongdoing by your conscience, and you then begin to engage in a true dialogue with that same agent, you will begin to develop a clear picture of what is wrong–and, by implication–what is right. […] You act and betray yourself, and you feel bad about that. You do not know exactly why. You try to avoid thinking about it, because it is less painful and easier in the short term not to think about it. You try with all your might to ignore it, but all that does is increase your sense of betrayal and further divide you against yourself.
So, you reconsider, perhaps, and you confront your discomfort. You note your disunity and the chaos that comes with it. You ask yourself–you pray to discover–what you did wrong. And the answer arrives. And it is not what you want. And part of you must therefore die, so that you can change.”
That last sentence is so succinct.
It seems it is as taboo as death itself that a part of us must die in order for us to change.
It is unlikely that anyone would have the conceit to declare aloud, “There is nothing inside me that needs to die.”
And yet, how much obstinance in our identities and our ideologies is tantamount to making just such a declaration?
If part of us must die in order to change, then what are the proper rituals for undergoing this death?
Attending to conscience demands knowing how and where to bury the part of us that must die in order for us to change.