Book: 12 Rules for Life. #10 – Be precise in your speech

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

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech.

The author describes the virtue in using speech and precise language to gain clarity and structure in our lives.

  • The main problem is that our understanding of the world is limited by our ability to perceive and interperet.
  • The consequence is that chaos emerges in complex situations, disrupting our sense of order and peace.
  • The way forward is to think and express ourselves with careful and precise language.

I. The Problem with Perception. (Comfort)

(1) Reduced Simplification.

  • “When we look at the world, we perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by. What we inhabit, then, is this “enough.” That is a radical, functional, unconscious simplification of the world—and it’s almost impossible for us not to mistake it for the world itself.”

(2) Hidden Complexity.

  • “The limitations of all our perceptions of things and selves manifest themselves when something we can usually depend on in our simplified world breaks down. Then the more complex world that was always there, invisible and conveniently ignored, makes its presence known.”

II. The Problem with Avoidance. (Chaos)

(1) Failure in Households.

  • “Chaos emerges in a household, bit by bit. Mutual unhappiness and resentment pile up. Everything untidy is swept under the rug, where the dragon feasts on the crumbs. But no one says anything, as the shared society and negotiated order of the household reveals itself as inadequate, or disintegrates, in the face of the unexpected and threatening. Everybody whistles in the dark, instead. Communication would require admission of terrible emotions: resentment, terror, loneliness, despair, jealousy, frustration, hatred, boredom. Moment by moment, it’s easier to keep the peace.”

(2) Failure in Marriage.

  • “Here’s the terrible truth about such matters: every single voluntarily unprocessed and uncomprehended and ignored reason for marital failure will compound and conspire and will then plague that betrayed and self-betrayed woman for the rest of her life. The same goes for her husband. All she—he—they—or we—must do to ensure such an outcome is nothing: don’t notice, don’t react, don’t attend, don’t discuss, don’t consider, don’t work for peace, don’t take responsibility. Don’t confront the chaos and turn it into order—just wait, anything but naïve and innocent, for the chaos to rise up and engulf you instead.”

(3) Failure to Specify.

  • “Why avoid, when avoidance necessarily and inevitably poisons the future?”
  • “Why remain vague, when it renders life stagnant and murky?”
  • “Why refuse to investigate, when knowledge of reality enables mastery of reality?”
  • “Why refuse to specify, when specifying the problem would enable its solution?”

III. The Way Forward

Speak for Structure (Order).
“When things fall apart, and chaos re-emerges, we can give structure to it, and re-establish order, through our speech. If we speak carefully and precisely, we can sort things out, and put them in their proper place, and set a new goal, and navigate to it—often communally, if we negotiate; if we reach consensus. If we speak carelessly and imprecisely, however, things remain vague. The destination remains unproclaimed. The fog of uncertainty does not lift, and there is no negotiating through the world.”

Speak for Precision.
“Precision specifies. When something terrible happens, it is precision that separates the unique terrible thing that has actually happened from all the other, equally terrible things that might have happened—but did not.”

Speak for Correctness.
“Be careful with what you tell yourself and others about what you have done, what you are doing, and where you are going. Search for the correct words. Organize those words into the correct sentences, and those sentences into the correct paragraphs. The past can be redeemed, when reduced by precise language to its essence. The present can flow by without robbing the future if its realities are spoken out clearly.”

Speak for Simplicity.
“If you identify things, with careful attention and language, you bring them forward as viable, obedient objects, detaching them from their underlying near-universal interconnectedness. You simplify them. You make them specific and useful, and reduce their complexity. You make it possible to live with them and use them without dying from that complexity, with its attendant uncertainty and anxiety.”


Final Reflection

“Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life.”


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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