For the second time in as many visits, Canadian intellectual Jordan Peterson packed the Mahaffey Theater Feb. 2. The appearance was in support of his latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. In each city, Peterson selects one rule from the book to explore. His stream-of-consciousness presentation flows with a mix of previous analysis and fresh new ideas that emerge in real time. For this lecture he selected rule #3: “Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.”
The fog, for purposes of the rule, represents the unspoken, unattended aspects of our lives that form the base for many of our habitual behaviors. Peterson used marriage to help articulate the concept. He put forth a scenario of a spouse returning from work after a long day, coming home to the homemaker who had been tending to the children and domestic duties during that same day. Both have emotional needs for rest, love, appreciation and all the things that a long-term relationship promises.
As has happened to many couples over time, the perceived imbalances of contribution or affection, or any number of factors, cause resentment. At the heart of the resentment lies a potential truth that given no barriers to exit, one would be out the door. But for most people there are significant barriers to fleeing such as children, finances and the emotional pain of a breakup. And so that resentment gets processed into the fog.
In the fog the couple rolls through daily habitual interactions that keep the resentment at bay. Better to mutually obscure the topic than to shine a light on it and reveal a painful truth that neither is willing to deal with on a tired evening after a long day.
This phenomena is repeated in many areas of our lives and ultimately, Peterson espoused, it is our life. A life in the fog.
Clearing the fog is a simple but difficult endeavor. It’s straightforward to study habitual interactions and gauge their fogginess. The real work begins in the fog because there is a lot more than just spousal discord waiting.
Peterson draws on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s shadow concept. The shadow is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts and shortcomings.
The shadow aspects of ourselves are very likely to be processed into the fog, and for good reason. Unleashing some of them could lead to anything from social rejection to incarceration.
What also inhabits our shadow, Peterson reminds us, is desire, impulse and similar character traits that inspire passion and creativity. These unique characteristics are often labeled “dark” by society. That’s because society as a whole is safer and more efficient if all such traits are buried in the fog. But here, society and the individual are not aligned. Where the public persona is muted to serve the world, the private self thrives with deep immersion into unjudged feelings.
Peterson encouraged the audience to live authentically and explore all of the fog, as it’s the only way to know ourselves to a sufficient degree to architect our best life. It could be that as the spouses mentioned above explore the fog together, they discover that neither wants to leave, they just need to be OK with yelling, or have weirder sex, or get something pierced. Often it’s these specific desires that attracted the couple to each other in the first place – they just need to be rescued from the fog.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to the Mahaffey’s Tom Gribbin for hosting the Catalyst and facilitating this interview with Dr. Peterson.