Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos said, in an interview with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Radio 4 recently (these words come from the beginning and the end of the programme):
We’ve been fed a diet of happiness and rights for two or three generations [but] it’s thin gruel … . If you think the purpose of your life is to be happy then, during those times that you’re not happy, you’re bereft and that’s not helpful … . Life is very difficult. It’s much better to let people know that it’s meaning that sustains life and not happiness. And that meaning is to be found in large part as a consequence of responsibility.
The world has lots of problems and they’re deep and worse than you think. But you’re more than you think you are. If you put your own house in order, if you take the trouble to find out who you are, then you will discover what you can do globally, locally and for your family … . You’ll be able to help other people avoid terrible things.
That’s your destiny. Not happiness … but shouldering as much responsibility as you can, without breaking.
Responsibility bestows meaning and meaning brings happiness, fulfilment and purpose. Meaning is the right counterpoint to happiness; responsibility is the right counterpoint to rights. And importantly for us, particularly the young among us who may feel aimless, depressed, anxious or prematurely cynical, the thing to say is, ‘Yes, our world is a troubled and difficult place, but each one of us has enormous potential’. If you can find compassion and empathy within yourself, and if you can resist nonsense whenever and however it appears; if you can be true to yourself and above all speak out against the prevailing attitude or opinion, especially if you think it nonsensical (often groupthink, whether racial, religious, political, gender or any other group makes it difficult to say, ‘Yes I am this, but I’m also that,’) that’s the most useful thing you can do (and the thing that will mean the most).
Young people from all walks of life who marched for saner gun control resisted nonsense in America earlier this year. Some corporations responded by promising to curb gun sales and the gun control movement is mobilising for America’s midterm elections, this November.
Separately, and in a parallel universe where all things are possible and time is infinite, this is the thing I’d like to have said. But, being a woman, I couldn’t. So here’s William Golding, one of my all-time favourite writers (The Inheritors is a favourite and of course Lord of the Flies) saying it: