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Audio published on July 10th, 2018

Keywords: Mother, Daughter, Son, Autoimmune, Truth, Scandal, Purpose

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Pain and Suffering

A Discussion with Lewis Howes

Lewis Howes: Welcome, everyone, back to the School of Greatness Podcast. We’ve got the legendary Jordan Peterson in the house. Good to see you, sir.

Dr. Jordan Peterson: Good to see you.

LH: I’m very excited about this. You’ve got a book out called 12 Rules for Life. Make sure you guys check this out. You probably already got it. If you don’t, I’m telling you, go pick it up right now. An Antidote to Chaos. What’s been the biggest challenge in your life that you had to overcome, or the biggest suffering that took you the longest to get beyond, to improve?

JP: Oh, I think that was probably—I wrote about this in the last chapter of my book, which is called, "pet a cat when you encounter one on the street." You think, "what’s the worst thing that can happen to you?" Well, I think the worst thing is that you do something really horrible, and you screw up your life and everyone’s life around you. That’s bad.

LH: You have to live with it.

JP: Yes, yes. You have to live with knowing you did it. That’s rough, man. That’s sin.

LH: It’s worse than dying, because then you don’t remember it.

JP: Right, there are worse things than dying.

LH: Yes, there are.

JP: That’s a bad thing, but I think the hardest existential situation that I’ve been in was the situation with my daughter. She was very, very ill. She had arthritis, 40 effected joints. It started to bother her when she was two, but, really, manifested itself fully when she was six. Some of the medical treatment helped, but, when she was 14-through-16, first her hip disintegrated, and so she had that replaced, after walking around on it for like a good year. And then her ankle disintegrated on her other foot, and she had to have it replaced. And so there were two years of absolutely brutal pain for her—like brutal, daily, excruciating pain. We were really running around, trying to figure out what to do about it. The hip wasn’t too hard to replace, because surgeons are actually pretty good at hip replacements. But ankles are still touch-and-go. Watching what it was doing to her… because she was in enough pain… At one point, it just about broke her. I mean, you’ve probably been in a situation where you were in pain for a night, and you couldn’t sleep. It’s like, "yeah, fine. So multiply that by five and extend it over two years." Jesus Christ. She was on, like, huge doses of opiates. So that was sedating her, so that made her look drunk in public. She could only stay awake about six hours a day, and she had to take Ritalin to stay awake, because otherwise she was just sleeping all the time. It was a very bad autoimmune condition, and so it wasn’t only manifest in the joint deterioration and the pain, because arthritis is also very painful, and 40 joints happens to be quite a lot.

LH: Just one joint…

JP: Yeah, right. It was absolutely brutal beyond belief.

LH: As a father or parent, how do you navigate that emotionally, yourself?

JP: Yeah, well, that’s what that chapter’s about. So what do you do when things are too much? Well, one of the answers is, you narrow your timeframe. Another answer is, you look for occasions of grace and beauty where you can get them. She had a dog. That really helped. So that was something that was with her all the time. We tried to put things in her life that she could care for. She had a whole raft of pets, although she was allergic to almost everything, so most of them were lizards. It’s like, "oh, here’s a guinea pig!" "Oh, I love this guinea pig!"

LH: And then pain.

JP: And then, three hours later, she’d have a big rash, and we’d have to take the guinea pig to the pet store.

LH: Oh, God.

JP: So the dog, luckily, she could tolerate. So we had the dog for her. But one of the things you do when you’re in a situation like that, and it’s just a bloody ongoing nightmare, is that you shrink your timeframe. "What are we going to do in a year?" It’s like, "Oh, god. I can’t even think about that."

LH: But tomorrow, in a week…

JP: Yeah—a week, tomorrow, today, the next hour… Yeah, so that’s what we had to do.

LH: Really shrink your timeframe.

JP: You shrink your timeframe until you can tolerate it.

LH: So you’re not planning out in years.

JP: You can’t.

LH: Because then you’ll go crazy.

JP: Yeah, there’s too much uncertainty. You think, "OK, how can I make the next hour the least amount of awful possible?" That’s what you do at someone’s death bed. You shrink your timeframe, and that’s what you have to do.

LH: How does that play into the Self Authoring Program? If you have this vision for yourself, and you’re mapping out a year, 2, 3, 4, 5 ahead…

JP: Yeah, well, sometimes you have to…

LH: You have to re-navigate.

JP: That’s right. You have to re-navigate, because even the best laid plans of mice and men go astray. That’s part of being alive. And so you have your map, but, you know, if you get a flat tire along the way, you still have to stop and fix your car. Maybe the bloody thing bursts into flames, and you have to get a new car. Your ascent towards your goals can be punctuated by unexpected catastrophe. Well, then, hopefully, you’ve made yourself into a resilient person at that point, and the catastrophe is no worse than it has to be, and you’re not making it worse.

JP: One of the things we were fortunate about is that, by the time she got really ill, my relationship with my wife was pretty well put-together, and my relationship with my son, who’s younger than her, was also well put-together. And so he was an absolute trooper, man. For a lot of his teenaged life, in particular, there was a huge amount of focus on the suffering of his sister. And we were like right up to here with that. It was enough. And he conducted himself admirably. If he caused trouble, we didn’t know about it. He kept it to himself. I don’t mean he was hiding. I mean he dealt with it, and he spent a lot of time at home, and he didn’t do any unnecessary stupid things, and he put up with his sister and his parents, who were on edge a lot, without adding additional catastrophe and misery and grief to it. And when she was a little bit crazy and was leaning on him too hard or bothering him, he was there to support her, and it was massively helpful. My wife and I weren’t any more crazy towards each other than we had to be, and so there wasn’t any additional stress during those periods of time. It would have sunk us.

LH: Any extra would have been, like, "I’m done."

JP: That’s right. That’s right.

LH: How were you able to compartmentalize or just focus on your career at that time—lecturing or writing or whatever it may be at the time?

JP: Well, that’s also part of the vision of hell. It’s like, "well, what’s the alternative? You let things go, and you make them worse?"

LH: Yeah, not showing up makes it worse.

JP: No, there’s no excuse for that.

LH: Was there a compartmentalizing of, like, "OK, it’s 9 o’clock or 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m going to work…"

JP: Yeah, well, we made rules, and we talked about some of them. Some of the rules were—we didn’t talk about my daughter’s illness after 8 o’clock at night. That was a rule. It’s like, "no."

LH: For your sanity.

JP: Well, it’s a war. You wear yourself out in a week, you’re dead, and everyone suffers a lot. So you got to keep going through, however long it’s going to be. What do you have to do? Well, you have to sleep. You have to sleep, or things are going to go badly.

LH: Stop talking and sleep.

JP: That’s right. Stop talking and go to sleep. Yeah, so you have to.

LH: Time to cut off.

JP: Yeah, and I had learned some of that, because I’d been a clinical psychologist for a long time, and so I’d been dealing with people’s problems. You think, "well, how can you go home when you have all those problems to contend with?" It’s like, "they’re not ‘your’ problems."

LH: And they’re not going away right now.

JP: No, and they’re not going away. Having them bring you down is not helping the person who has the problem—the same with my daughter. Had my wife and I deteriorated as consequence of her condition, that would have been horrible for her, because then she would have had to bear the weight of watching her illness destroy her family, right?

LH: And have that guilt.

JP: Oh, Christ, yes. That’s one of the terrible things about having a very bad illness, is that, not only does it do you in, but you can see it taking its toll on the people around you. I think that might even be worse. I mean, this is gradations of hell, but still… So you also can’t allow that to happen. If you have a loved person around you and they’re ill, you have the moral obligation not to let it tear you down, because then it’s on them. That’s no good. And you think, "well, how can you remain healthy and strong in the face of the terrible suffering of someone who’s close to you?"

LH: "Well, do you want us both to suffer?"

JP: That’s it. The alternative is worse.

LH: "Do you want me to get sick and overweight, and not be able to take care of you or me?"

JP: Right, and then we both drown faster. Not helpful.

LH: Did she ever go through a place… I guess some people do this, where kids would have some type of autoimmune or some type of disease or whatever it may be… They were born with it or it happened somehow. It’s not like they ate something themselves… They weren’t necessarily responsible. Was she responsible for causing all the pain in her body, or was it just something that happened?

JP: Well, that’s what we told her: "it’s life, kid. It’s not you." We also told her very, very many times, and we were very careful about this: "do not use your illness as an excuse. As soon as you do that, you can’t tell the difference between the illness and your character. So don’t let it turn you into a victim, even though it’s obviously a catastrophe." We were very clear about that, and that it wasn’t her fault—but that she still had to bear up under it as well as possible, and to do everything she could, and not use it as an excuse. We talked to her about that a lot, and were clear about it. I’ve seen this—this is one of the things I really dislike about what the universities are doing with disability. It’s like, "everybody gets a disability!" And no wonder, because people have hard lives. It’s very rare to find someone who isn’t suffering under an undo load of some sort—there’s something wrong with them…

LH: Oh, yeah. Depression, anxiety, whatever.

JP: Or there’s something wrong in their family that’s serious, or they have terrible economic pressure. There’s something wrong. It’s like, "OK, we should make allowances for you." "Oh, yeah? What allowances? What exactly does that entitle me to?" Well, I tell you, man, that is a murky place you do not want to go, because then you don’t know anymore. It’s like, "well, what’s my responsibility? I have this undo burden to bear. Well, how does that mitigate my responsibility?" The answer is, "as little as possible. You don’t go there, because you get confused, and as soon as you get confused, the illness has not only got you physiologically, it’s got you psychologically. And then you’re in deep trouble." To her great credit, as far as I can tell… I wouldn’t say she never used her illness as an excuse, because "never" is a lot, or "never" is an extreme. But she certainly withstood the temptation to do it habitually, and to warp her character as a consequence.

She did figure out what was wrong with her, and fixed it. And so now she doesn’t have any of these—she’s healthy now. Well, she still has some residual damage from everything that happened. I just found out yesterday—she went to Chicago to have her ankle checked out, because it isn’t working very well. They told her she had to have the old replacement taken out and the new one put in. But, in her realm of catastrophe, that actually constitutes news that’s not as bad as it could be, strangely enough. So it’s not like she’s out of the woods, but…

LH: You taught her from an early age that, even though she had a physical disability, she wasn’t as able-bodied, physically, as a majority of people. You told her, "never allow that to give you special privileges."

JP: Well, no, it wasn’t that, exactly. It was, "never use that as an excuse to not do something you could do."

LH: That’s the challenge.

JP: Yes, because there’s a deception element, there. It’s like, "I don’t want to do that, and I have this illness…"

LH: "So I can get away with it."

JP: That’s right. Don’t use your illness as a means of getting away with something, because you’ll blur the line.

LH: You’ll constantly use that, for the rest of your life.

JP: Right. If you do that 100 times, you’ll be so confused about what’s illness and what’s not that you’ll not know. You won’t know anymore, and maybe you won’t be able to figure it out again. And then you’re in a very bad place. There were some things that she had to have done that were allowances. When she was doing exams, she had to type, because she couldn’t write, and she couldn’t sit on the floor crosslegged, so she had to sit in a chair. So things she actually couldn’t do.

LH: But she still did the work. She didn’t say, "oh, I can’t take the test. I can’t do the exam, at all." She was able to do it with different circumstances.

JP: Yes, right. And the consequence of that was, once she figured out that most of what was bothering—all of it, by the look of it—was a consequence of a set of extreme sensitivities to almost every sort of food. So she hardly eats anything now. The only thing she eats is beef. Beef, salt, water. That’s it. Nothing else. And she’s been eating that way for—well, mostly for almost three years, but almost completely for a year.

LH: And she feels fine?

JP: She’s 100 per cent. She has no symptoms.

LH: No vegetables, no supplements?

JP: No, that’s it: beef, salt. I’m serious. She never cheats. Never.

LH: Wow—because she doesn’t want to feel pain and suffering.

JP: Well, if she eats the wrong thing, she has a catastrophic emotional and physical reaction for a month.

LH: Wow. She essentially limited all food and tried one thing at a time until…

JP: Yes. It took about three years to figure it out. So, yes: "wow" is right. It’s absolutely beyond comprehension. It’s a diet that I follow almost entirely now.

LH: Just beef, salt, and water.

JP: Yes. I’ve been eating that way for about three months, and I’ve been on an extremely low carb diet for about two and a half years. Something like that. Both my wife and I have autoimmune symptoms, and she got all of them.

LH: Your daughter. She got the worst of both, magnified by a thousand.

JP: That’s right. But when she sorted out what was wrong, she convinced me to also try what she was doing. It’s been extraordinarily helpful for me, too. Who would have guessed it? So, anyways, what you do when things are too much for you, is you narrow your timeframe—also in chapter 12, there’s a fair bit of discussion in there about fragility and vulnerability, which is really what you confront when you have a sick kid. It’s like, "oh, my God. How can the world be constituted so that a child can unfairly suffer in this manner?" It’s like, "OK, here’s a way of thinking about it: take away everything from your child that makes them vulnerable." Let’s say I have a three year old. Well, three year olds are kind of cute. They run around, they’re little, and they’re vulnerable, obviously. But that makes them cute and attractive and lovable: all of the vulnerability that’s built into that. Well, you remove that one by one. Well, they’re 8 feet tall now, and they’re made out of steel, and their parts are replaceable, and they have an artificial intelligence brain. You replace them—obviously this is hypothetical—with a superhuman robot that doesn’t die. It’s like, "fine, but where’s the three year old?"

One of the things I thought about when I was writing was, when you love someone—well, especially when you love someone, you love them not only despite their fragility, but also because of it. And so then that’s the price you pay for it. It’s like, "well, they wouldn’t be who they were if they weren’t fragile and limited in their particular way, and the fact that you like to have them around." You think, "oh, well, I guess you think that fragility and vulnerability is justifiable: then you can’t allow that existence to make you bitter, because you can’t have it both ways: you can’t have them being vulnerable and cute and interesting and small and needing care but striving to develop and grow—you can’t have that without them also being prone to pain and destruction and vulnerability. Take your choice." And then what do you do? Teach them to be strong. That’s what you do. You don’t get rid of the vulnerability. You teach them to be strong. That’s also a theme that runs through the book, in many many ways. You don’t protect your children. In fact, you do the opposite. You expose them to the world as much as you possibly can, and you make them strong. That’s the best antidote to their vulnerability—not to protect them. There’s no protecting people. We already established that. Life’s a fatal game. There’s no protecting people. But you can definitely make them strong, and maybe you can make them strong enough to transcend that. That’s the goal, man.

LH: Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently with your daughter or your son that you didn’t do?

JP: Not of any great significance. I mean, I have wishes, I suppose, from time to time, that things could have been different. I spent less time on the positive aspects of my son and my daughter, because we were contending with catastrophe so frequently. Both my kids have a variety of interesting talents, and it would have been better, perhaps, to have had the time to develop those more thoroughly, but… My son, he… Well, I wouldn’t say he didn’t get as much attention as he needed. He didn’t get as much attention as I would have liked to have paid him. But, by the same token, it isn’t obvious that it’s been bad for him, because it required him from a very early age to grow the hell up.

We relied on him right from the time he was a young kid to make intelligent decisions. We assumed he would make intelligent decisions. He was consulted with regards to decisions. It also made him into someone who is very self-sufficient and capable of taking care of himself. It might have been nicer for me, I suppose, to have spent more time with him, but he lives down the street from me now, and I spend time with him, and we have a great relationship, and he has a very good relationship with his sister. And so it turned out as well as it could have. But that didn’t mean that those years in there… They were brutal. There were some brutal times, man. One night in particular, she was in absolutely agony, and I couldn’t get it under control, and I could see—because I am a clinician, I thought, "god damn it. I’m going to end up taking her to CAMH"—that’s the psychiatric hospital—"because it looks like it’s going to break her. God damn it."

LH: Wow.

JP: I couldn’t see a way to resolve it. It pushed her right to the brink, but not over. And there was another episode after she had her hip replaced. She was put in a rehab home hospital for a while, and she was the youngest person in it by like 60 years, and they treated her terribly. It was a terrible place—mean, blind nurses, and very badly run. They traumatized her. The hospital was a worse experience than the damn surgery. And so that took her quite a while to recovery from, but she did recover from it.

LH: Do you ever think, now, since you’re a clinical psychologist and you’ve done all this research and work and study—do you believe that your daughter was meant to experience this, for you to kind of test your ability to be with her? Do you think she would have been able to grow in the way she is now, as someone who didn’t have the practice that you had?

JP: Well, I think it was fortunate for all of us that—well, my wife, too. My wife had worked in palliative care as a volunteer, and she was a massage therapist for a long time. And my wife has a real—she’s a really tough person, and if you don’t need help and you want it, she’ll cut you into ribbons. But if you need help, she will really help you. So she’s really good at differentiating between people who actually need help—in which case she is right there—and people who could stand up on their own. And if you could stand up on your own and you aren’t, you don’t want to be around her, because she will put you in your place. It was so funny, because our kids used to bring their friends over all the time, when they were teenagers, which we actually quite liked. But we had a rule for the teenagers, which was, "we’re really happy you’re here, but if you do something stupid and you never get to come back? That’s actually OK with us." And so they knew that, and it was no joke, because we were happy they were there, and they were welcome. But we were perfectly happy to dispense with them, if they misbehaved. But what was really funny was that the teenagers would come over, and they were pretty afraid of me, to begin with. But after being around for a couple of weeks, they were way more afraid of my wife.

LH: Really? Hah.

JP: Yes, so that was very funny, because she’s quite a pleasant person, and she’s only 5 foot 2—although, she’s imposing enough, because she’s in good physical shape. I’m actually kind of softhearted, and she’s not softhearted—although, she can really take care of people who need to be taken care of. So I think Mikhaila had a fortunate circumstance in that sense, because both of us had a lot of experience dealing with catastrophe. When it came along, we were overwhelmed by it, but it wasn’t because we didn’t know what we were doing. We knew what we were doing; but even though we did know what we were doing, as much as might be possible, that doesn’t mean that we could deal with it, because, well, it took us… What… Seven or eight months to arrange the ankle surgery, and there was a waiting list in Canada, at that point, I think, of three years. Actually, they wanted to fuse her foot, which is a really bad thing for someone young. And so we looked in India, we looked in… Well, Christ, we looked all over the world for ankle surgery—really, everywhere. The government in Canada was actually quite helpful. We found a private clinic in Vancouver that did the surgery, and the Ministry of Health in Ontario was quite helpful to us, at that point. But we were scrambling to… Well, "what should we do? Should we have her ankle replaced? Well, what kind of replacement? Who do we talk to? What about this waiting list? Three years? No; she can’t live, man."

LH: Did you ever doubt yourself in terms of your ability and your research and your studies? Did you every say to yourself, "man, if I can’t figure this out, then all of my work is for nothing?"

JP: Well, no. I never thought it was for nothing, but I certainly doubted whether or not we were going to be able to figure this out.

LH: Really? You’re extremely educated, researched, you’d seen a lot. Did that give you a fear? like, "if I can’t figure this out, no one can?"

JP: Of course, of course. Well, her prognosis was multiple early joint replacements, and that was the good news. The bad news was, "well, how many? and how many can you stand? and when does that kill you?" Her real prognosis was, "plenty of pain with an early death."

LH: Oh, my God.

JP: Well, even now, the surgeon who talked to her yesterday said—he talked to her about the risk of amputation in the future. Well, this is the second joint revision. Maybe this one will last 15 years. We don’t know what the hell’s going to happen. Well, so our response to that is, "that’s 15 years from now."

LH: Deal with it then.

JP: Well, things are better now for how people understand how to replace an ankle than they were—it was 10 years ago that she had this one replaced, and it helped. It wasn’t perfect. Her hip was perfect. The ankle has always been trouble, but way less trouble than it was. And so, well, you struggle forward the best you can. I suppose she could adapt to an amputation that was necessary, but at the moment, that isn’t necessary. But multiple amputations is not really something to be looking forward to when you’re 16. And they were going to put her on corticosteroids to control her inflammation. That would have produced Cushing’s disease, so that makes your face all puffy. It makes you gain weight, and it’s very physically disfiguring, so we decided to not go down that route.

LH: Wow.

JP: Yeah, well, it’s worked out. Thank God. It’s quite the miracle. She had a baby a year ago, and we were never sure that was going to happen.

LH: Wow. Congrats—congrats to you.

JP: Thank you, yes. That’s for sure. So now we have this respite, where she’s healthy. The last time I saw her, she was looking great. She was just glowing. She’s so healthy. I can’t believe it. It’s just beyond belief.

LH: Well, congrats on all the hard work you’ve done to make it a possibility.

JP: Yeah, well, we avoided the worst excesses of hell during the catastrophe, so that’s something. And it did allow her the space to figure out—and my wife had always thought that diet had a relationship to it. We investigated that. There’s a good literature that shows, if you have arthritic symptoms and you stop eating, you fast, they go away. So that’s interesting. It’s like, "well, food must be causing it." "Well, yeah, but once you start eating again, what you eat comes back." It turns out, "no, not ‘no matter what.’" Almost no matter what, because she’s sensitive to virtually everything, but she isn’t sensitive to meat. And so it turns out that, if you eat meat, you can live. So that’s a big difference between being sensitive to everything and not being sensitive to one thing. It’s a harsh diet. It’s made travelling difficult, although I can eat in restaurants, because most restaurants can cook a steak with nothing on it, and that’s made things much easier while I’m travelling. But whatever, it’s working. So thank God for that.

LH: Amazing. Do you think, hypothetically, if your daughter was healthy and never had any of these complications, that you would be the man you are, impacting people, the success, the attention you’ve been getting… Do you think you’d have as much impact?

JP: Well, I wouldn’t have written the 12th chapter. That’s for sure.

LH: Do you think, in general, you’d still be able to have the ideals, belief, the fortitude that you have to reach people and really impact people?

JP: Yeah, I think so. But I know what you’re saying. Your question is, "to what degree is adversity character building?" The answer to that is, "plenty." But I was already—and it was the same with my wife. We weren’t naive people. Because I had an extensive clinical practice, I was dealing with heavy-level adversity, always, 25-hours a week.

LH: It wasn’t your daughter.

JP: No, no. But there were other problems in my family and so forth that I dealt with, as well. We’d already, I think, garnered most of what we could from confronting adverse situations. Now, did that add a different level to it… It probably brought our family closer together, all things considered. I saw the same thing happen when my wife’s mother died. She died of prefrontal dementia. She developed it quite young. It started to really manifest itself in her early 50s, and she died when she was 70. She fell apart over 18 years, and she was very physically healthy. Her husband, who was quite the man about town when he was a young guy—a real extrovert; he was a real character in our home town. He took care of her so well it was absolutely jaw-dropping. Every time she slipped, he’d step up to the plate. He took care of her until he couldn’t lift her out of her chair anymore, and he was getting old, too. So she wasn’t in an old age home for very long. And then we were around when she died, over the couple of days just before her death. Her family—her sister is a palliative care nurse, her other sister is a pharmacist, and Tammy’s had the experiences that I already described, and then her father really stepped up to the plate. So the whole family really gathered around for that, and they acted impeccably throughout it, I would say.

They took care of their mother very carefully while she was dying. They pulled together, and one of the consequences of that, which was so interesting, was that, although their mother died and that was a terrible loss, their bonds that connected them—all of them strengthened, to the point where I would say that was almost compensation for the loss of their mother. So that was really interesting: to see what happens even in a dire circumstance, if people do what they can. Now, I’m not saying that that’s going to work for every situation, because I know people get cut off at the knees, and sometimes you hit a tragedy that, well, it’s fatal. You cannot rectify; it’s a real catastrophe. But it was very interesting, watching that, because they were alert and awake around the deathbed, and they weren’t fighting with each other at all. There was no familial squabbling, because you can imagine that that would happen, because everyone’s stressed. And then you can just imagine how terrible that would make something that’s already awful. There was none of that. They focused their attention on her. They gave her water when she needed it. They washed her, and they made this terrible thing the least amount of awful it could be, and it definitely pulled them together. That whole family, including me, is closer because of what they went through, and also how they went through it. It’s probably the case… Well, I would say it definitely advanced the maturity of my son, because he was—and I told him, "look, kid, you can’t add anything to this. We’re up to here. You have to conduct yourself properly, because otherwise, everything’s going to shake and fall. We can’t have more of this. You can’t bring anything unnecessary into this."

LH: Kid was an all-star, a champion.

JP: It was remarkable. He was only in grade 10 when most of this happened, and your friends are pretty damn important when you’re in grade 10; and he stuck around a lot, to be helpful. So, yeah. It was really good for him, man.

LH: A champion son.

JP: Yeah, he’s a good character. He’s quite something, and he was very helpful to his sister. They had their fights, obviously. She was often unreasonable, and no bloody wonder. Well, when you’re strung out…

LH: You can’t feel anything but pain…

JP: God, she went through so much. Even watching her withdraw from the opiates—because she was on them for a year and a half. She just quit. As soon as she was done her surgery: "I’m not taking these anymore." She had formication, which is the sensation of ants crawling under your skin.

LH: Oh, my God.

JP: She had that for like a month. Oh, God… Unbelievable. She just sailed through it. Like, "I’m done with these."

LH: Wow.

JP: Yeah.

LH: You guys have been through a lot.

JP: Yeah, it was a lot, man.

LH: What’s your biggest fear now, going forward, in your own life?

JP: Oh, making a mistake, at the moment. I’ve been the subject of so much public attention in the last two years, and I’ve been in this situation where, well, even things I didn’t say have also, almost, been fatal, because people take them out of context. But my biggest fear has been that I do something careless, and that there are serious cascading consequences to it.

LH: Do you feel like you’ve done something careless?

JP: Well, everyone’s done something careless. But I’ve been pretty careful. I was fortunate—so, when this political scandal blew up around me in Canada, when I opposed legislation that I thought was reprehensibly constructed, the radicals on the left, in particular, came after me hard. But I was fortunate because—they called me every name under the book and went after my character. And, you know, I suppose there was some degree of… That was understandable, to some degree, because if you stand up against the radical right, well, maybe you’re a communist. Probably not, because you don’t have to be a communist to not like the radical right. But if you stand up against he radical left, well, maybe you’re a Nazi. Probably not, but you might be. So it’s certainly in the interest of the people who are proponents of the philosophy of the radical left to assume that you’re a Nazi, because then they don’t have to deal with you. And so that’s what happens: you throw yourself into the fray, people try to localize you, and they do that by saying, "maybe you’re this! Maybe you’re this! Maybe you’re this!" It’s like, "well, yeah—maybe not, too."

I already had 250 hours of lectures up on YouTube at that point; so people could actually go and see what I had said, because virtually every word I’d ever said to students in a professional capacity—not every word, because I didn’t tape every lecture. But I taped multiple years of lectures, and so people went over those with a fine-toothed comb, trying to find out if there’s anything I’d ever said that—and they couldn’t find anything, and that was because I’d been very careful with what I said. Ever since I was about 25, I started paying attention to what I was saying, and trying very hard not to say things that something in me objected to. And, well, that seems to have provided me with a buffer. People came to my website, because they were interested in—well, before the political stuff blew up, I had a million views on YouTube, which isn’t nothing. A million of anything is a lot. But then, when the political scandal started to break, people came for them but stayed for the content. And that’s been really useful.

LH: And fell in love.

JP: Yeah, and it’s not that surprising. Well, you know, because of what you do: there’s a great hunger for information that is practical and useful, and that helps people find meaning in their lives and orient themselves. There’s a great hunger for that. Most of my lectures were derived from solid psychology, some of it experimental, some of it biological, some of it from the domains of neuroscience, a lot of it from great clinicians. It’s not surprising that people find it helpful, because great clinicians were great because they were really helpful. And so to distill that and offer it to people in a digestible form, to have that have a good effect on them, well, that’s what you’d expect. That’s what the whole discipline is about. That’s been great. These public lectures that I’ve been doing—I think I’ve done 50 of them in about 45 different cities, now, in about three months. The average theater size is between 2,500 and 3,000 people, and they’re unbelievably positive events.

People come there, and we talk mostly about the political spectrum, and why there’s room for voices on the left and why there’s room for voices on the right, and where the parameters of that should be—because both of those can descend into extremism, and that’s not good—and the role of individual responsibility and individual sovereignty, and the necessity for people to develop a vision—the sorts of things that we already talked about. Virtually everyone that’s coming there, they’re not coming for political reasons, even though that’s the story you hear from the more ideologically possessed journalist types: because they see the world that way, they couldn’t imagine anything else could possibly be happening. But the people who are coming to these lectures are coming because they’re doing everything they possibly can to make their lives better, and it’s lovely to talk to people like that.

LH: It’s amazing.

JP: It is. It’s great. It’s literally great.

LH: The School of Greatness, baby.

JP: Right, exactly! Exactly.

LH: I’ve got six minutes. To be mindful of your time and your schedule, and I want to ask you three final questions, if that’s OK.

JP: Yeah, you bet.

LH: As much as I would love for you to go on for another few hours with some of these answers, so I can get to the last question…

JP: I’ll do my best to be brief.

LH: I wish I could go on longer, so we’ll have to have you back the next time you’re in L.A. The first one is, what is your purpose now, moving forward? Through everything you’ve had in your life, what’s your purpose moving forward?

JP: Well, I’m… What’s my purpose… What am I aiming at… Well, I did a series of biblical lectures last year. I did 15 lectures on Genesis. I’m going to continue doing that. In November, I’m going to start with the Exodus stories. What I’d like to do over the next 15 years is make my way through the whole corpus of biblical writings, so that’s one major goal. I want to write another book. I’ve written half of it already, which will be a followup to 12 Rules, because I had actually laid out on a site called Quora 40 rules. And so I’ll do that, and write another couple of books, I suspect, over the next few years. The touring, I’m going to continue. I have 10 cities coming up in Canada, and another 20 in the US, and then 12 in Europe. I’m going to go to Australia in February, and then back to Europe, I think, in April. So there’s lots of touring on the horizon.

It’s for the reasons I’ve already described. The lectures differ every night, although there’s themes that constantly emerge; and I’m using those as an opportunity to have a detailed and engaged discussion with the audience about how we might proceed forward, individually and collectively, so that we can make things consciously better, and why that’s associated with necessary meaning, and why that’s a moral obligation. So it’s a dialog about responsibilities, and not rights. Rights are only important insofar as they set up the space for you to shoulder your proper responsibility. As a sovereign citizen, you have the responsibility for the integrity of the state resting on your shoulders. It’s something that, if you don’t take seriously, then the state shakes, and that’s not good. So I’m trying to convey that to people. It’s like, "there’s actually something that you need to do. You need to take care of yourself; you need to take care of your family; you need to take care of your community; and, if you don’t do that, there will be hell to pay; and it’s on each of us."

It’s hard for people to grasp that. Well, they don’t want to, first of all—maybe because they don’t want the responsibility. Then they don’t get any meaning, then they suffer, then they get bitter. That’s not good. So it’s like, "which of these are you going to pick?" But it’s also salutary to people, because it’s useful for everyone to know that, if you don’t live up to your potential, you leave a hole in the fabric of Being, and it’s filled by something approximating hell. And, unless that’s what you want, then you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s perfectly possible to have a serious discussion with 3,000 people about this, and they are right on board with it, all the way. That’s really something amazing to behold. One of the things I’ve realized is, although these new technologies—the technologies you’re using—enable these long-form discussions, it turns out people are smarter than we thought. TV narrowed it. It’s like, "30 seconds! Say your complicated thing in 30 seconds." But you can’t. So we were viewing the population through this narrow window, and everyone looked kind of stupid. It’s like, "now the window’s fully open." It’s like, "oh, look at that! You people like 40-hour Netflix specials that are incredibly complex, and you like 3-hour Joe Rogan discussions that are complicated. You’ll follow the whole thing." It’s like, "oh, good. We’re smarter than we thought. Thank God for that, because we’d better be." So that’s where I’m aiming at in the future.

LH: That’s the purpose. God, I love it. OK, question number two. This is called 12 Rules for Life. Make sure you guys, again, go pick it up. Get it right now. What’s the link…

JP: Oh!, and I put up a code, which is "GREATNESS". You get 20 per cent off the full suite—two for one, so you can give the suite to your friends, too.


JP: Yup. I would say to everyone, if you’re going to try this exercise, which I would recommend, do it over a few days, and don’t do it perfectly. Just do it. Get it done. Do a bad first draft, which is an important principle in life: a bad first draft is a great thing to have.

LH: That’s good. You’re also on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, so we’ll link all that stuff up, as well. What’s your main website?


LH: Perfect. OK, so make sure you guys get the book, subscribe to everything, get the Self Authoring…

JP: For you university students out there, the Future Authoring Program decreases your probability of dropout—if you’re in a college program, university program—by somewhere between 25 and 50 per cent, especially if you’re kind of aimless. If you’ve already got a plan and you’re implementing it, and you’ve got a good direction, it’s not as helpful, because you’re already halfway there. But if you’re kind of lost, and you do this, it will help you not only establish your goals but stick with them. It really helps. We’ve done three very detailed, published, peer-reviewed studies showing that this really works. And it doesn’t hurt you, either. That’s the other thing.

LH: That’s great. You’ve got the 12 Rules for Life. I’ve got something called the three truths. It’s a question I ask everyone at the end. So we’re going to try to boil this down to three truths for you. Imagine this is your last day. You get to choose the day when you die, as many years away as you want it to be, and you’ve achieved your purpose. Everything you set out, you aimed for—you hit the target. And then you pass away. It’s the last day, it’s a celebration. But, for whatever reason, there’s no more videos of you up online. There’s no more lectures, no more podcasts, no more books. For whatever reason, you have to take them with you. So no one has access to your information, but you get a piece of paper, and you get to write down three things that you know to be true about your life, that you would pass on.

JP: Don’t say things that make you weak. Lift your eyes above the horizon and aim at the highest star that you can contemplate. What’s the third one… Put your family in order. Yeah.

LH: Powerful. Before I ask the final question, I want to acknowledge you for a moment, Jordan, for your incredible wisdom and vulnerability with me. We just met, but I feel very connected to you and your mission and your purpose, and I just appreciate everything you’ve been through as a father and as a husband, for your daughter, for your son, for your wife, to continue to move on in your own dreams, in your pursuit of bettering humanity, while going through all that you’ve gone through. So I really acknowledge everything you’ve been doing, everything that you stand for, and your ability to use your words carefully, to try to make the best impact on people who are listening. So I want to acknowledge you for all that. I hope we get you to come back, sometime, when you’re in L.A., because we could go for another hour or two. The final question is, what’s your definition of greatness?

JP: Well, greatness is what reveals itself when you attempt to carefully articulate and live out what you believe to be true. It just happens, because there isn’t anything more powerful than truth. That’s the antidote to suffering: truth. It’s a strange thing, because you think, "well, yeah. It produces a lot of suffering, too." It’s like, "yeah, in the short term."

LH: Awesome, Jordan. Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

JP: You bet. Thanks for the invitation and the opportunity. Very nice to meet you.

LH: Good to meet you. Thank you.