David R. Henderson  

Compassionate Jordan Peterson

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I've watched the whole 30-minute interview of Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson by the BBC's Cathy Newman twice. Like many people, I was impressed by his ability to handle her questions and keep his cool. But when I showed it to a friend in Miami last week who knew nothing about him, we stopped after the 3-minute point because we found it so profound. Particularly moving were his words at the 1:57 point, when he says that many young men have heard almost no words of encouragement. My friend and I, who both went to the same therapist in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles, and who both went to a few of Nathaniel Branden's weekend-long intensives in the late 1970s and early 1980s, appreciated that thought. Although it's not true that I never heard words of encouragement, they were few and far between.

Listening to this part the third time led me to think that Jordan Peterson is an incredibly compassionate man, especially toward younger men.

I came to the same conclusion about Nathaniel Branden after going, at great expense and despite much skepticism, to my first Nathaniel Branden intensive in New York City in February 1978. In this audio, where I introduced Branden for a speech he gave at the Libertarian Party National Convention in Los Angeles in 1979, I talk about the moment during the weekend when I came to that conclusion. My intro goes from the 0 minute point to about 3:20. (The person in the audience who pleasantly heckles me is my good friend the late Roy A. Childs, Jr.)

I'm particularly interested in hearing from men about any memories you have of encouragement.
I'll lead with mine: it might sound trivial but it made me feel appreciated. Every few years at my cottage in Canada, we would overlap for a few days with my uncle from Texas and his family. In the summer of 1962, when I was 11, my uncle Elmer heard my brother Paul's pet name for me: Henry. I don't recall how he came up with it except that it was a shortened version of his longer name for me, Henry Can Holly. Uncle Elmer heard that and started calling me Patrick Henry. Then he shortened it to Patrick. There was a lot of affection in his use of that name.

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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Tom West writes:

> he says that many young men have heard almost no words of encouragement

Is this a class or culture thing?

While I don't remember a lot of explicit verbal encouragement, I think me and my peers had a rock-solid belief in the affection and support of our parents, to the extent that verbal encouragement would have simply been embarrassing.

This from someone growing up WASP in the 60's and 70's.

I'll admit that as a parent I'm a little more demonstrative in my affection. I'm not sure my sons appreciate it :-).

Mike Leahy writes:

As a youngster, I only heard my father's criticism (although I suspect he also encouraged me). But the most profound moment of encouragement I recall came when he was talking to a friend of his after I had just had a conversation with the two of them and my dad thought I had left the area. His friend said something to the effect that my ideas and arguments were the product of being a "crazy young kid". I was so surprised when my dad no only did not disagree with him, but told him that although he disagreed with me, he believed my arguments were well reasoned and supported by facts ... a that he was so proud to have a son that "gave a damn" and "thought before he spoke". Wow. That was the beginning of a friendship with my father that lasted until the day he died and I am still so proud to be his son.

RPLong writes:

Thinking back to the encouragement I got as I was growing up, what strikes me is that every moment that stands out to me was a very small, very brief, perhaps insignificant event. It's not as if anyone sat me down and gave me a big, encouraging talk. I remember teachers and coaches placing their hands on my back and just checking in.

I think in the absence of explicit verbal encouragement, sometimes people find a way to provide it non-verbally, be it a hand on the shoulder, a deliberate look, a slap on the back. I don't think it's enough, but looking back I'm really grateful for what I received.

David S writes:

Peterson had given a number of interviews/appearances in which the topic of young men has been brought up and he gets very emotional each time. I'm always surprised and discouraged by the backlash he receives for this. For one thing, most of his message isn't tailored specifically to young men. But even if it were, I'm not sure what's wrong with that. It's not as if saying something positive to one group of people takes away from any other.

I suppose one could argue that he's speaking to the "privileged" (white men), but I don't think even that is true. His self authoring program had the largest positive impact on the worst performing students in an intervention he did in the Netherlands (I think that's the correct country). The worst performering group before the intervention comprised minority immigrant males, not exactly the Kings of the privilege hierarchy.

john hare writes:

I don't remember much verbal encouragement from people. I do remember encouragement from situations. I was about 13 and we were working carnivals games in an area that had very little money and it was getting hungry. I figured out a way to drum up more business in one town and my dad set up a game around it when we hit the next town. Made enough money to leave the area. Though little was said, actions spoke.

Roger Barnett writes:

Words of encouragement? Who needed them? I was poor, white, son of uneducated (no high school diplomas anywhere) parents, who attended an all-male PUBLIC high school. Very tough academic curriculum: two years Latin, two years French, two years German; four years English; four years math through differential calculus; physics, biology, and chemistry; two years history. Sports and work filled the days and weekends. No TV on weeknights: STUDY. No distractions from opposite sex in school; nobody ever heard of gay, or drugs, or booze. Full scholarship to Ivy University (NROTC) graduated in four years, debt free. Who needs stinking’ encouragement? My parents said: life is tough pilgrim, it’s even tougher if you’re stupid. (After John Wayne) My teachers said: you can do it if you work really hard. Today: long-retired career Naval officer and academic, PhD, three kids, seven grands, travel to >80 countries with wife of 57 years. Encouragement? Hah! Given nothing. (High school motto: “Palmam qui meruit ferat: Let him who has earned the palm wear it.”)
Pretty fine life motto also.

Various writes:

Well that is a very good question I think. I experienced perhaps an unusual mix of encouragement and criticism. After the age of about 6, I would say that I received a mix of about 80%/20 encouragement/criticism from my father, which upon reflection I think was a pretty good mix. His words of encouragement really stuck with me, and I think more importantly allowed me to make myself more open to what he had to say. In other words, his encouragement made me amenable to learning from him. The roughly 20% of input that was critical was very tolerable, because I knew his heart was in the right place. So I learned a lot from his criticisms also and took them in stride. By contrast, my mother was highly critical of me, and as a consequence I stopped paying much attention to what she had to say. The mix of critical vs. encouragement was too lopsided for me to endure, so I just tuned out. Anyway, very interesting subject you bring up.

Thomas Lee writes:

I had coffee with a male friend today. The topic was world affairs. He announced that the problem is "males". Nowadays in polite conversation, I don't think anyone would say that the problem is "females", but men are still easy targets.

Nice write up on Jordan Peterson. I've watched many of his psychology lectures, and he's always kind to all who have questions. No one is turned into an object. Even those who obviously have major problems are given well-thought-out suggestions.

Brandon and Peterson have something in common. Both believe that you should invest in self-growth before overdoing it as an activist. Peterson focuses on young members of the radical left. Brandon speaks about libertarians.

Tom West writes:

Roger Barnett:

(High school motto: “Palmam qui meruit ferat: Let him who has earned the palm wear it.”)

That was my high school's motto as well! I guess there's only so many good ones to choose from.

Now I'm curious about high-school mottos. Has some sociology PhD done a comparison between the mottos of boys-only schools vs. mixed and girls-only schools?

David R Henderson writes:

@Roger Barnett,
Words of encouragement? Who needed them?
I did.

Jason Brown writes:

I don't recall any words of encouragement from my parents. If I brought a test home with a score of 100%, the only comment I could expect from my dad was "couldn't you do better?" Sarcasm is a pretty effective way of stopping dialog, and to this day I don't talk about much other than the weather with him.

I do recall getting at least implicit encouragement from my teachers.

By the way, David, greetings from a fellow former (rural) Manitoban.

Tom West writes:

To add to David, I don't know whether explicit words of encouragement are always necessary, but what those words produce, the feeling that someone absolutely believes in you, were essential for me, and, I suspect, all but the most self-reliant of men (or women).

David R Henderson writes:

@Jason Brown,
Thanks. And greetings also. Where do you live now?
@Tom West,
To add to David, I don't know whether explicit words of encouragement are always necessary, but what those words produce, the feeling that someone absolutely believes in you, were essential for me, and, I suspect, all but the most self-reliant of men (or women).
Yes. Exactly.

Jason Brown writes:

@David, I live in Denmark now.

I remember almost no words of encouragement. It does not seem to me that I wanted or needed encouragement. But I most definitely felt protected, loved, and trusted to set my own path.

I was always a mediocre student, bringing home grades of B and C. But my parents never complained about that or even seemed to notice.

Well, now I remember these two incidents:

  • around my age of adolescence, my closest uncle, when talking about career choices, told me that I "could do anything I wanted to do."
  • after I had graduated from high school, I remember only the end of a conversation between my mother and me. We must have been talking about what I was doing with my life, because I remember what she blurted out at me in frustration as I was walking away:“You’ve got an IQ of 150.” That was probably something she had heard from one of my school counselors. I had not heard it elsewhere.
In both of those incidents I took the statements as matter of fact. In neither incident did I feel a particular boost of encouragement, since they were saying something I already felt or knew.

Perhaps I have always evinced adequate self confidence to elders who might otherwise have offered me encouragement. But of course I don't know for sure since I don't know what would have happened with more encouragement.

I have learned for sure that I can be over confident – arrogant.


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