Jordan Peterson is a psychologist and prominent public figure who often speaks on young men’s issues. Whether you agree with his politics, his psychological advice is based on years of research and practice. We will consider a piece of his psychological based advice here.
“A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very, very dangerous man who has it under voluntary control… And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”Jordan Peterson, via Twitter
Let’s break the quote down and analyze it in three parts.
Why is a Harmless Man Not a Good Man?
By harmless, Peterson means a man who isn’t capable of asserting himself. Specifically, harmless should be taken in the sense that the man isn’t capable of inciting change in his environment. The man might appear to show the traits of “goodness,” as he is kind and accommodating, but this is really just because he is afraid and powerless. Inside he is seething, resentful, and bitter.
Peterson takes a Kantian-esq approach to the notion of “good.” He says it is defined less by the results of the action, and more by the intentions. Thus a weak man might be outwardly accommodating but inwardly his intention is just one of fear. Fear is not a morally good intention. In contrast, a good man is one who could do harm but chooses to be kind and helpful because he wants to help. He bears no resentment for his actions after the fact.
Peterson often speaks about the perils of high levels of agreeableness. He himself admits to being high on this trait. Those who are agreeable are more likely to be taken advantage of, as they tend to compromise and avoid conflict.
In a sense, a person who is very agreeable and not willing to take steps to learn to protect themselves, is harmless and not good. They just compromise to whatever force comes their way.
A Good Man is Dangerous
In this context, dangerous means capable. A good man in dangerous in the sense that he can bring about any result he desires. Thus, the good man is capable of bringing about good or bad, but chooses to bring about good.
Peterson believes one of the foremost ways to be dangerous is to be verbally skilled. He has mentioned that there were incentives to “take him down” in the past, but he was able to counter these attempts because of his verbal skill.
Nothing More Dangerous than a Weak Man
Weak men who cannot get their way become resentful. Resentment snowballs into bitterness and violent outbursts against those who are weak. In a sense, weakness leads to more predatory behavior.
Danger has a slightly different meaning here. Dangerous means capable of bringing about change, but in a morally undesirable way. Nothing is more dangerous to society than a weak man, as they can take violent actions that destabilize everything in an unhelpful way.
Examples of this are modern school shootings. Weak men don’t feel valued by society. They don’t feel they have a purpose. Once “rejected,” instead of changing and adapting they seek revenge. They seek attention, in what they perceive to be the last available way.
Characteristics of a Weak Man
- Desire to play the victim and blame others. Not willing to focus on taking up responsibility.
- An unwillingness to assert oneself in a situation.
- Lack of competence at desirable tasks.
- Lacking verbal skills like the ability to debate or persuade.
- Cowardice, usually manifesting in fearful behavior or excuses.
How to Stop Being a Weak Man
- Take responsibility. People choose to focus on how the world hurt them or how they could have been better. The essence of taking responsibility is choosing to focus on how you could have made a situation better, even if the action would have been minor. It might not have changed the outcome but taking back your power begins with accepting your own inadequacies. If you find yourself getting resentful, ask “what could I have done better in this situation?”
- Dare to look inward. To improve you must be aware of your inadequacies. Think about the people or characters you idolize. Those individuals embody some value you have or want. List the traits of those you look up to. Do you have those traits? Choose one and focus on developing it.
- Develop those traits you value, but don’t have. If you don’t know which ones to start with, consider developing the ability to debate, argue, and persuade. Figure out how to start conversations and network.
Shadow Integration. How to develop your personal power by understanding the parts of yourself you don’t like.