Book: 12 Rules for Life. #9 – Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

The Goal of This Post

This post is a synthesis from the book 12 Rules for Life, by Jordan Peterson.
The author shares a series of powerful guidelines, virtues and rules to help take control and responsibility for your life.

If You Only Takeway One Thing

“The foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life. Period.” – Jordan Peterson

Post Outline

The main ideas we’ll explore in this post:

  1. Learn To Listen.
  2. Learn To Think.
  3. The Way Forward

About this Rule

Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

The author describes the virtue in living your life by engaging with others through meaningful conversation.

  • The main problem is that most conversations are one-sided, often with each expressing a fixed perspective.
  • The consequence is that these conversations often shelter us from new ideas, changing our minds, and learning new things.
  • The way forward is to build the empathy and courage required to engage in authentic and genuine conversation.

I. Learning to Listen.

“Stop the discussion for a moment, and institute this rule:
‘Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.’

The advantages to this golden rule:

  1. The first advantage is that I genuinely come to understand what the person is saying.
  2. The second advantage is that it aids the person in consolidation and utility of memory.
  3. The third advantage is the difficulty it poses to the careless construction of straw-man arguments.

The Courage to Listen.

“If you really understand a person in this way, if you are willing to enter his private world and see the way life appears to him, you run the risk of being changed yourself. You might see it his way, you might find yourself influenced in your attitudes or personality. This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face.”

II. Learning to Think.

(1) Think to Understand.

  • “People need to think. Otherwise they wander blindly into pits. When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things they shouldn’t do. Then they can not do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking.”

(2) Think to Dialogue.

  • “True thinking is rare—just like true listening. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult. To think, you have to be at least two people at the same time. Then you have to let those people disagree. Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world.”

(3) Think to Compromise.

  • “True thinking is complex and demanding. It requires you to be articulate speaker and careful, judicious listener, at the same time. It involves conflict. So, you have to tolerate conflict. Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts—even your perceptions of the world.”

III. Types of Conversations. (Dominant and Primitive)

(1) The Primitive Dominance Conversation
“There is the conversation, for example, where one participant is speaking merely to establish or confirm his place in the dominance hierarchy. One person begins by telling a story about some interesting occurrence, recent or past, that involved something good, bad or surprising enough to make the listening worthwhile. The other person, now concerned with his or her potentially substandard status as less-interesting individual, immediately thinks of something better, worse, or more surprising to relate.”

(2) The Asserting Point-of View Conversation
“Then there is the conversation where one participant is trying to attain victory for his point of view. This is yet another variant of the dominance-hierarchy conversation. During such a conversation, which often tends toward the ideological, the speaker endeavours to (1) denigrate or ridicule the viewpoint of anyone holding a contrary position, (2) use selective evidence while doing so and, finally, (3) impress the listeners (many of whom are already occupying the same ideological space) with the validity of his assertions. The goal is to gain support for a comprehensive, unitary, oversimplified world-view.”

(3) The Lecture
“Another conversational variant is the lecture. The lecturer speaks, but the audience communicates with him or her non-verbally. A good lecturer is not only delivering facts (which is perhaps the least important part of a lecture), but also telling stories about those facts, pitching them precisely to the level of the audience’s comprehension, gauging that by the interest they are showing. The story he or she is telling conveys to the members of the audience not only what the facts are, but why they are relevant—why it is important to know certain things about which they are currently ignorant.”

IV. Pursue Meaningful Conversation. (The Way Forward)

“The final type of conversation, akin to listening, is a form of mutual exploration. It requires true reciprocity on the part of those listening and speaking. It allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts. A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, of genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priori validity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living.

In order to have a meaningful conversation:

  1. “It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners”.
  2. “You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions”.
  3. “You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things.”


V. Final Reflection

“A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for truth itself—on the part of both participants—that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why it’s engaging, vital, interesting and meaningful… So, listen, to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom”


The book focuses on the virtues that empower an individual to take responsibility for themselves and live a more plentiful and happy life. All content credit goes to the author. I’ve shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most valuable.

Cheers ’till next time! Saludos!
Alberto

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