Rule 6: Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World

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 #6 is “Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World.” What does this mean? Why would you need to care about your own affairs before you lash out at the world?

In essence, the idea is that you need to take responsibility over your own misfortunes. Don’t blame the world. Always look first at what you can fix. Care about fixing that to the very best of your power.

Overview of Jordan Peterson’s Rule 6

There is inevitable suffering in life. People are born unequal in ability and attributes. Disaster strikes unpredictably – cancer, a car accident, a mass layoff. You never get quite exactly what you want. Life seems like an unfair joke.

One response to this is anger at the universe, or if you’re religious, at your god. More extremely, this becomes misanthropic thinking, or hating humankind. Then some convert this into the action of vengeance, to express their outrage and spite the universe/god. Peterson argues this underlay the beliefs of the Columbine killers, who sought to punish those who had wronged them. 

But according to 12 Rules for Life Rule 6, there is still potential for redemption, to learn from misfortune and do good despite it. Many people who suffered child abuse by their parents perpetuate the evil and abuse their own children; but most choose not to. Despite the suffering you bear, you have the potential to overturn it and make the world better.

Before blaming the universe for your misfortunes, first consider – what personal responsibility did you have in your misfortune? Did you do everything within your power to improve your situation, or did you passively sabotage yourself by letting bad things happen to you?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn served as a Russian soldier in WWII. He was then arrested and imprisoned by his own people. He got cancer. His misfortunes seemed out of his control. Then he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, at great risk to himself, to expose Soviet prison camps and the flaws of Lenin’s thinking. He realized his unquestioning support of the Communist Party contributed directly to his misery, and he decided to correct his mistake.

Look at it this way – if your suffering is your own fault, then you can actually do something about it. If in contrast it’s entirely the universe’s fault, then reality itself is flawed, and you are perpetually doomed, and you have absolutely no ability to change that. Which worldview would you rather have?

Prepare for Disaster

According to Jordan Peterson’s Rule 6, disasters could often have been prevented with the right mindset. Peterson argues lack of preparation is a sin. When times are good, we get complacent and forget our commitments and responsibilities. Then when disaster strikes, we omit our personal responsibility in causing it. We may learn our lesson temporarily and make empty promises to improve, but inevitably we forget, and so the cycle repeats.

The New Orleans flood, Peterson argues, could have been prevented with legislation passed in 1965. By Katrina in 2005, only 60% of the work had been done. In contrast, the Netherlands protects its borders with dams built to withstand a once-in-10,000-year storm.

Do Everything In Your Power, First

Before blaming the universe, or a political faction, or an enemy, put your own house in order. Have you taken full advantage of every opportunity available to you? Are you working hard at your career? Your relationships? Outside of work to improve yourself?

Are you doing anything you know is wrong? Stop it today. Stop when you feel when an inkling that you should stop. Stop saying things that make you feel ashamed and cowardly; start saying things that make you feel strong. Do only those things about which you would speak with honor.

A nice quote from 12 Rules for Life: “If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”

As you continue following Jordan Peterson’s Rule 6, you will continue discovering further wrongs that you can right. Your life will become simpler and more honorable. You’ll stop filling your head with lies and resentment. Then you might see existence as naturally good and worth maintaining. You’ll become resistant to the trials and misfortunes that do appear. And imagine if all people did this – how magnificent would the world be then?

Rule 6: Set Your House In Perfect Order Before You Criticize The World

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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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