Jordan Peterson on why you need to clean your room

Sometimes the basics really matter.

  • Jordan Peterson believes that only by taking care of your immediate environment can you then move onto bigger challenges.
  • The idea stems from millennials who want to change capitalist economic structures though can be applied broadly.
  • In a distracted age, our inability to pay attention to our environment is leading to increased rates of anxiety and depression.

Recently, an Equinox member tried to walk out of the club carrying a stack of towels. When management stopped him, he thought they were offering to help carry the towels to his car. He was baffled upon learning that you're not actually allowed to steal club property. He had assumed, as a paying client, they were rightfully his.

In some ways this is an upgrade from how many members treat towels. I'm always amazed by how many men leave them strewn across the floor and benches even though they have to, by design, walk by a bin on the way out of the locker room. Not just towels: shaving cream and hair in sinks; treating benches like drying racks for sweaty clothing; hangars and plastic and energy drink containers and…

I feel like I'm in nursery school again, only back then my peers generally had better manners. While I can't speak for the women's changing room, I've been told it's not much better.

I was introduced to Jordan Peterson's work thanks to his "Clean Up Your Room" tangent on the Joe Rogan podcast. Rather than offense—the most common response when pointing out men can't clean up after themselves—this rant was a breath of fresh air.

The context is different, though the general idea remains intact. The idea stems from a lecture on millennials trying to change economic systems—a talk, he admits, that's a "bit pretentious." The Canadian professor believes that 18-year-olds cannot possibly know anything about economic structures. Beyond the specifics of his argument, generality is summated in one sentence:

"If you can't even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?"

Fleshing out the idea, he continues:

"My sense is that if you want to change the world, you start with yourself and work outward because you build your competence that way. I don't know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can't keep your room organized."

Jordan Peterson on Cleaning Your Room - The Joe Rogan Experience

Peterson suggests displaying your own competence locally, managing what you can actually control, before championing larger causes predominantly out of reach. It's humbling, he continues, because you're not "exceeding your domain of competence."

Self-competence is a foundational theory in his last book, 12 Rules For Life. For example, Rule #2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping, another way of expressing the biblical maxim about doing unto others and so on. Not taking care of yourself "with attention and skill," he writes, paves the road to "self-disgust, self-contempt, shame, and self-consciousness."

A whole lot of selves, which is part of the problem. The intensive focus on the individual is a motivating factor behind the rise in populism: pockets of communities, and pockets within pockets, disenfranchised and disempowered, refusing reason to scream "what about me." Community building and participation are powerful methods for alleviating the anxiety and depression that become emotionally taxing when you feel isolated. Problem is, our mediums for expression, namely social media, merely echo. Cleaning up your Twitter feed might be another necessary step in this process.

Just as carelessness online is common, a similar scenario unfolds walking through a gym locker room. Consumed as we are by the device in our hands, we lose spatial awareness. Someone else will clean up that towel or wipe away the shaving cream (or pick up those fingernail clippings—yeah, that too). How many times has someone almost (or fully) walked into you because their attention was consumed? How many times have you walked into someone?

When you can't orient yourself spatially your ignorance of others is guaranteed. One basic example I can't even believe I have to write, but having lived through it dozens of times, is worth a mention.

There are no shoes in yoga studios. A number of members wear flip-flops around the gym (or around life, being Los Angeles). Instead of depositing their sandals in the shoe rack, they simply step out and leave them in the doorway, forcing other members to step (or trip) over them while entering the room. The rack is less than four feet away. Whether it's privilege or lack of self-awareness (or both, as the two go hand-in-hand) is open for discussion. The result is always a messy room.

(Photo by Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Otti Logan, 16, gets a folding lesson from Zen tidiness guru Marie Kondo.

Peterson's argument stems from teenagers and economic systems, but here's another glaring example: climate change. Humans are the most wasteful species in the history of the planet. Our ability to manipulate natural resources into plastics, chemistry, and tons of useless products now floating around oceans is a major underlying cause of carbon emissions. Instead of waking up to clean our room, we bury our heads in our phones.

"Kondo" might be a buzzword (and annoying Instagram hashtag), but the underlying Shinto principles are worth exploring. Westerners would do well studying more Japanese culture, especially the focus on collectivism and philosophy of bowing—basically, the de-emphasizing of "me".

Kondo's platform is rooted in simplicity and elegance: Treat everything as if it's sacred. Place your attention in the environment and not only does your environment improve, so do you. In an overworked and overstressed culture like America, more emphasis on objects directly in front of our eyes would do our collective nervous system wonders. Which is a hard message to get across in the land of fragmented awareness.

Explaining why he wrote 12 Rule For Life in the book's introduction, Peterson offers an overview for our collective success:

We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It's asking a lot. It's asking for everything.

Do we have the will for "everything"? The notion that "someone else will do it" cuts across economic classes, ethnicities, and genders. While I don't agree with Peterson that millennials know nothing about economics—they're inheriting the future we're creating and should be allowed a voice in the matter—he's right about the most basic principle imaginable: Clean up your room and you clean up yourself.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

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A map of America’s most famous – and infamous

The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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