Rule 12: Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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In 12 Rules for Life, Rule #12 is “Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street.” What does Jordan Peterson even mean here?

Like most of Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules, this is more of a metaphor for how to live life. In summary, life is tough. It hurts at times. This pain gives life meaning. Take time to enjoy the little pleasures in life. Pet a cat when you see one on the street.

We’ll cover Rule 12 in Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life in much more detail.

Overview of Jordan Peterson’s Rule 12

Suffering in life is guaranteed. This idea is present in every major religion, and it’s obvious from everyday life. Outcomes are unequal. People are born with different abilities. Some people get worse treatment than others.

Peterson’s daughter suffered from unexplained juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for decades, enduring years of chronic pain and risking amputation. According to Jordan Peterson, there is little more to question the sanity and justice of the world than having an ill child. What kind of god would allow this to happen?

One response to this, as stated above, is to hate your god or the universe for these outcomes. Stretched to its extreme, this becomes hatred of existence, and the desire to destroy existence itself. According to Jordan Peterson’s Rule 12, when practiced, this leads to genocide and mass murders. Clearly this is evil, causing suffering in the name of suffering, and not the right response.

Pain Gives Life Meaning

Another response, which only partially mitigates the suffering, is to acknowledge that limitation is critical to making existence meaningful. When Superman was created as a comic book character, he had infinite powers and could overcome any situation. This became boring. There was nothing for him to struggle against, so he couldn’t be admirable; no lesson for him to learn, so he couldn’t grow. In response, the writers had to make him weak to kryptonite to make his stories interesting.

Peterson could have wished for her daughter to have an indestructible metal skeleton, or an inhumanly high threshold to pain. But then her daughter would be changed to a different person, even a monster. What can be loved about a person can’t be separated from their limitations. 

How to Deal With Life’s Pain

There are also coping mechanisms for dealing with suffering. Promise yourself that you’ll only worry about a problem at a specific time of day (not at night, or else you can’t sleep) then promise not to think about the problem outside these scheduled times. This conserves your strength and allows you to deal with the rest of life, which doesn’t care what problems you’re facing.

Finally, notice little bits of goodness that make existence tolerable, even justifiable. See the girl splash happily into a puddle with her rain boots. Enjoy a particularly good coffee or book or conversation. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

Rule 12: Pet A Cat When You Encounter One On The Street

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  • Why standing up straight will make people treat you differently
  • How to find meaning in your life and work
  • Why you're lying to yourself without realizing it

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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