Dr. Jordan B. Peterson practices what he preaches.
As a clinical psychologist in the study of the psychology of belief, including religion and mythology, as well as the assessment of personality, he has dedicated his life to attempting to understand why people do what they do.
“Virtue is of central importance,” Dr. Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, told a sold-out crowd at the 2010 Hancock Lecture, entitled “The Necessity of Virtue.” Not even the torrential rain kept students, fellow psychologists, and general supporters away from Hart House theatre on Wednesday night.
After spending hours every week for years helping people sort things out, Dr. Peterson says he has learned one core fact from all of his studies: virtue is necessary. His lecture addressed why being virtuous is, in fact, necessary for living a fulfilled life.
“People who don’t live virtuous lives or are surrounded by people who don’t live virtuous lives, live bad lives, live poor lives, live lives that don’t justify themselves,” Dr. Peterson said, speaking with a cadence to accentuate the point.
His research and observations have taught him that the best way to live a virtuous life is by way of honesty. He follows the mantra of “honesty is the best policy,” making an effort to always be honest, even if it means being offensive or hurting someone’s feelings.
“Honesty is a big part of living a virtuous life,” explained Dr. Peterson, hands in his pockets. “Honesty is difficult because a lot of things you experience and a lot of the things you think aren’t necessarily what you would like to experience or what you would like to think or what you would like to tell people.”
Throughout his many years of addressing crowds and dealing with people on a daily basis, Dr. Peterson has become a very confident public speaker. His speaking style is effective, with a loud nature and a particular poise. He knows when to pause, when to ponder, and when to play off his audience’s energy. The audience was consistently silent, anticipating Dr. Peterson’s next assessment, dissemination, or observation.
From 2005-2008, he was nominated by TVOntario as one of Ontario’s Best University Lecturers, and according to his former student, Yunjie Shi, he deserved it.
“He was the only class that I found myself looking at my watch not to see when it would end, but because it was so mind-boggling, I didn’t want it to end,” said Shi when introducing him at the lecture.
“As Dr. Peterson walked into my first lecture, setting up his laptop, my first reaction was ‘Hmmm, this guy looks a lot older than he looks on his website,’” she joked. “It didn’t really take long, however, for me to realize to overlook the fact that he neglects to update his website and to start really appreciating his lectures.”
Shi described Dr. Peterson as “really something,” adding that she had never before seen someone who had so much knowledge and passion about what they taught but also had the uncanny ability to give people the kind of treatment he thought they deserved based on who they were through their actions.
“He tells you exactly what he thinks all the time which is a great risk to take because he might offend you and make you think negatively of him,” she explained. “He’s someone whose words you can always trust, who never says things just to please you or just to put himself in a favourable light.”
Being in Dr. Peterson’s class taught Shi that she was “doing it all wrong,” giving too much to people, and therefore becoming resentful as a result of it.
“Keeping them oblivious to the true consequence of their behaviour denies people the opportunity to grow as individuals,” she said, speaking loudly and closely into the microphone.
Once Shi realized that she was actually boing people a disservice by being overly nice to them, she started to put Dr. Peterson’s recommendations regarding how to treat others in practice and immediately noticed improvements in her relationships.
“A lack of virtue makes people ill,” said Dr. Peterson, calmly and slowly at first, but quickly elevating to a booming, high-speed voice. “People feel resentful because they feel like they’ve been taken advantage of. Resentment puts you on the road to cruelty and atrocity. Misery loves company.”
Shi told the audience that Dr. Peterson’s methods challenged her thinking and transformed her life, and she has faith that he will continue to impact many more.
Dr. Peterson has also done experimental and theoretical work on self-deception, neuropsychology, aggression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and motivation for social conflict. He is the Vice-President of Examcorp.com, a neuropsychological assessment company and has written over 70 articles published in academic journals, making regular appearances on Canadian radio and television current affairs programs.
After graduating from the University of Alberta, Dr. Peterson went on to earn a PhD in psychology at McGill University in 1991. He spent his post-doctoral fellowship at McGill’s Douglas Hospital. In 1993, he became an assistant in Harvard University’s psychology department before securing a position as associate professor. He came to U of T to become a professor in 1997. Even after leaving Harvard, his work was recognized by the university with a nomination for the Levenson Teaching Prize in 1998. In 1999, he wrote Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, which was later made into a thirteen-part televised series on TVO.
Dr. Peterson is currently working on a new book that will assess brain function and the nature of experience.