Notes Psychology

Rule 9: Assume that the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t (12 Rules for Life)

Peterson recalls an encounter with a client who claimed to be raped five times.  She was confused and traumatized, but something was deeply wrong with the way she operated in the world. Of course, there are many legitimate reasons (such as undesirable familial circumstances) that would have confirmed her role as victim. Had Peterson only acknowledged that part of the story, he would have helped her make peace with the past, but that’s not what she needed to hear.

When Peterson listened carefully to his client, he realized how little she knew about herself, other people, and the world, and that she was a walking disaster. He explained to her that while it was true she was a victim, there was a lot she could control. She actively put herself in easily avoidable high-risk situations. The solution was not to bury her head in the sand and blame the world, but to take responsibility and use preventative measures in the future.

The client came out of this conversational experience more confused than reassured, but it was better than allowing herself to continually be fooled by self-serving dogma.

To Think Means to Simulate the World

To think means to simulate the world and plan your actions within it. Humans are unique in their capability to do this. We make avatars of ourselves and place them in fictional worlds and observe what happens. If our avatar thrives, then we act out that mode of behavior. And if it fails, we avoid it. We let our avatar die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to die in the real world.

Thinking is the opposite of constructing and attacking straw men arguments – a form not of thinking, but rather, of rationalizing or propagandizing. Real thinking is demanding. It’s complicated. It requires you to be an articulate, competent speaker and a careful listener simultaneously. This involves conflict, so you need to be good at tolerating chaos and good at negotiation and compromise. And it may require the defeat of one of your internal avatars that does not like to be defeated.

If you listen, you can tune into the sounding board of the crowd. People will react to you and inform you when you’re wrong. You can choose to get upset and rebel against them, but it’s not wise to make that your default mode of action. You gain nothing from doing so.

In general, it’s best to listen to public opinion because others are more likely to be right than you are. Of course, it’s not always the case. Sometimes public opinion is wrong and needs to be updated. But unless you have very good reasons to defy the social consensus, you should give people the benefit of the doubt. If they are drawing on tradition for their insight, know that they are drawing from a source that is a much deeper well of wisdom. Relying on tradition is wiser than relying on than your own individually constructed, fickle understanding of the world.

“You perch on one of its(culture) branches. If the branch breaks, it’s a long way down—farther, perhaps, than you think. If you’re reading this book, there’s a strong probability that you’re a privileged person. You can read. You have time to read. You’re perched high in the clouds. It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order.”


Peterson then takes us through several forms of speaking, before making the case for the highest form of communication: mutual exploration. Here, you are not lecturing the listener, but are engaged in a dynamic and active process of exploration together with them. You learn and respond to what they say, and they do the same. There is no agenda. This type of conversation can lead to mutual transformation.


“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.”

Both you and the listener have decided that the unknown is more worthwhile than the known. Neither of you are trying to win an argument. Be like Socrates, assume you know nothing. If you carry that attitude with you, then you will benefit from the knowledge of others. You gain nothing by convincing others of your own dogma. You have many blind spots, and you need people to tell you where they are.

Always assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Read 12 Rules For Life

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.