On the face of it, this rule makes a lot of sense. But why does this need to be said in the first place? Shouldn’t we already be doing this as a result of human nature, and the nature of life itself? How could we have become the dominant species on Earth without treating ourselves like people we are responsible for helping? But there are plenty of examples of where we may not treat ourselves in this manner.
When I read in the chapter that humans are better at administering prescription medication to their pets than they are to themselves, I was unsurprised. Humans really love their pets, more than they love themselves. But why?
We live in a reality and a society where human beings self-harm, commit suicide, fill themselves up with drugs and alcohol, and engage in criminal activity. We all know it’s not for the betterment of ourselves, so why do we do it? Why do we deliberately act in a way to sabotage ourselves? Why is it that we say we are going to do something that would be good for ourselves but we don’t end up doing it?
One major difference between human beings and other animals is that we possess self-consciousness. Peterson goes on to describe the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible, where an evil serpent cons Eve into eating an apple from a tree in which God forbade. When the “original sin” was committed, Adam and Eve became suddenly self-conscious for the first time- they realized they were naked! They ran away and hid and Adam didn’t come as he usually did that evening on his daily walk with God.
Animals who are not self-conscious just act by their nature, which is to survive, reproduce and so on. Because humans are self-conscious, we question what the meaning of life is, we second-guess ourselves and we are far from perfect. To say that someone “is human” means to say someone being capable of making mistakes.
Because humans are self-conscious, we become only so aware of the darkness of the ourselves, of things that we have thought, said and done in the past. It is in this way that humans lose respect for their individual selves and therefore cannot commit to care for themselves in the same way that they would care for their innocent pet. We know that we are not innocent, so we don’t believe we deserve our own love and care.
But humans have also done good. The self-consciousness that leads to self-loathing can also lead to self-love if we notice the times we have helped others, or acted altruistically. If we started to respect ourselves, we could then behave with virtue and then take care of ourselves properly. We would be able to walk with God once again, instead of hiding in the bushes when he calls out our name.
Peterson has worded this rule very carefully. To treat ourselves like someone we are responsible for helping is to consider what is best for us. The best for us isn’t always what we want in the moment (chicken wings). It’s also not the same as what would make us happy (chicken wings).
One might argue that we would rather focus on helping other people than helping ourselves. But if we aren’t allowing ourselves to be in the right mental or physical condition, then how difficult would it be to take care of others before we eventually derailed? There’s a reason why airlines tell us to put our own breathing apparatus on before helping others in a sudden loss of cabin pressure.
Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.