Specialization and Evolution: Life Through the Lens of Pokémon

In the world of Pokémon, there’s a species named Ditto. It stands at a foot high, and is a pinkish blob of cells, ready to transform into any physical object or Pokémon it sees. It levels up fast, and can breed with any other Pokémon to produce eggs of the other species. But no serious Pokémon trainer wants a Ditto. When Ditto transforms into another Pokémon, it’s not as strong as the real thing, and it always transforms back to the normal-type blob of cells after a while. Ditto has so much potential but never ends up reaching it.

Serious Pokémon trainers would rather have a diverse team of different types. Ash Ketchum, the main character in the Pokémon TV series, had Pikachu, a chubby, loyal rodent that could electrocute enemies, the fully-evolved Dragonite, and the ghost-type Pokémon Gengar. Although they all had weaknesses, their specialization and strengths outweighed them.

In the discipline of biology, stem cells are the category of cells that have pure potential and can differentiate into any other type of specialized cell – a red blood cell, gut epithelial cell, or even a brain neuron. But if the stem cells never differentiate, the specialized cells cannot grow and develop and you’re just left with a Ditto-esque bundle of cells.

On more of a macro-scale, the same is true in human beings. Childhood is where we are introduced to as many new experiences as possible, and as we grow into adults our identity begins to harden and our potential decreases. In Pokémon, a Charmander evolves into a Charmeleon at level 16, and then into the fully-formed beast Charizard at level 36. Ditto never evolves. Evolving is a scary, unknown process, and once evolution occurs you can’t go back. That’s what induces the fear in us as humans, because we’re scared of making the wrong decisions in life. We’re in a generation petrified of commitment in relationships and in our careers.

But in the end, we get to choose. So what are you going to choose to be? A full-fledged, powerful and respected Charizard; or the archetypal Peter Pan-style Ditto?

“Those who do not choose a direction are lost. It is far better to become something than to remain anything but become nothing.”

Jordan Peterson, Beyond Order

When Is It Okay to Break the Rules?

The purpose of having rules is to keep order in the entropic nature of a world always threatening to revert to chaos. Rules are generally written in a spirit of benevolence, and they usually represent a given set of virtues in order to aim for a higher good.

But there can come a point where the rules themselves end up undermining the very spirit and virtue the rule was made to exemplify in the first place. The rules of football were made in the spirit of fair play, but now it can be argued that the referees’ implementation of the rules is so pedantic and rigid that the ethos of the game is being lost.

Rule-breakers have also stood up against repressive laws in the name of morality. Rosa Parks inspired the civil rights movement in the US when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a crowded bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. She was tired of giving in to the demands of a system that was so demonstrably unfair, that she resorted to disobedience.

Jordan Peterson, in his book Beyond Order, recommends to follow the rules first and understand the spirit in which the rule was originally made. It is only then that we can ethically break the rule – by managing to combine the necessity to conform to the rules humbly as others do, but to use judgement and a guiding conscience to do what is right, even when the rules suggest otherwise.

Here’s a rule: Follow the rules, but shoulder the responsibility to make an exception to serve a higher good.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street

When I first read through the list of the 12 rules, this one was the most startling. What is the significance of this? Also, at the time I don’t think I had ever petted a cat I’d encountered on a street before. I preferred dogs.

In my line of work as a door-to-door salesman I encounter many cats on the street. The street is my office. I actually wanted to be a bin-man (refuse collector) when I was a very small child. My rationale: I liked the color of their green trucks. Seems like I’ve settled for second-best and as I work in the streets as a salesman instead. I apologize, I’ve digressed.

While at work, cats seem to want to approach me and rub up against my legs as I knock on doors, waiting for homeowners to answer so I can begin explaining why I’m there. Some cats annoyingly follow me around for a while, but by the time they get distracted and go elsewhere, the annoyance is replaced with the feeling that I have lost a trusty companion.

This twelfth and final rule is more of a metaphor than it is instructive. It signifies taking time out of your busy day, even if just fifteen seconds, to stop and appreciate the simple and seemingly insignificant things in life. At best it is an extra thing to brighten up the day. At worst it is a few moments of respite in the ineradicable suffering of Being.

Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 11: Don’t Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding

As someone that grew up skateboarding, I know exactly what it felt like when my friends and I were interrupted while skateboarding. “Can’t you go somewhere else? Where do you live? Why aren’t you wearing a helmet?” The interrogation begins. No we can’t go somewhere else, the tarmac is smoothest here. We live just down the road. And no I don’t have a helmet. Even if I did have a helmet I wouldn’t wear one. Helmets are for vert skaters, not street skaters. Skateboarders that wear helmets always seem to be the ones that were driven to the skate park by their mother as they watched like hawks in case they fell.

Of course it was dangerous. Danger was the point. We wanted to triumph over danger. Each summer’s day we would traipse across our local town in search of higher things to jump off, and bigger stairs to try to jump down. We would conquer four-stairs and immediately search for a set of five. Those who overcame the fear of the five-stair would be eyeing up a six. We weren’t just blindly pursuing fear, we were pursuing competence. Fear was just a hurdle that we had to jump through to get to the other side.

Human beings are hard-wired for a level of risk. That’s why we seek out adrenaline, whether it be drag racing, bungee jumping or eating a packet of Doritos Roulette. Without risk, life is dull. We get careless. Inevitably, when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity rears its head, we fail. When we take risk, we feel alive. Adrenaline pumps around our bloodstream, and our hearts beat that little bit faster. We’re living on the edge.

This chapter of Peterson’s book is one of my favorite to read. It goes on to outline some interesting differences between genders, and puts forward some fascinating topics to ponder over. I highly recommend it.

From a personal perspective, the biggest takeaway from this chapter is that there is a lack of competent, tough, strong men in the world today. More now than ever we see men shirking responsibility, and not taking the righteous (albeit more difficult) path. Men in today’s society are masters of expedience. We take the easy route almost every time. As a result we are seeing women who are searching for competent men to contend and grapple with, someone that will challenge them intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. But it’s a struggle, because these types of men – intelligent, confident, mature – are simply not as common among us anymore.

“And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”

Jordan Peterson

So how does this relate to skateboarding? Let children build up the toughness and competence they need to be independent, as heartbreaking as it is for a mother to eventually see her child leave in the quest for lush new pastures.

Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech

This chapter was mostly about a hypothetical situation where a woman finds out her husband has been having an affair. Peterson hypothesizes how this could have occurred and what could have been done about it. One of the most important things (I assume) that makes a good relationship is communication. But the communication needs to be a particular way. It cannot be vague, it needs to be precise. It needs to be specified what is bothering the person, and what they want instead. Brushed under the carpet and it’s a long and torturous marriage, no matter how little the annoyance. From that breeds resentment and bitterness.

The dangers of avoiding conflict is put forth thought-provokingly in an example by Nassim Taleb in the book Antifragile. He surprisingly describes that the frequency of military conflict occurring in his native Lebanon is in fact healthy. He explains that as a consequence conflicts occur as small skirmishes as opposed to a less frequent but devastating all-out nuclear war. In the same way this is why forests should be allowed to burn periodically to clear out deadwood and return nutrients to the soil. If forest fires are artificially suppressed, the deadwood accumulates. When a fire eventually starts, the whole forest burns and gets destroyed.

In a marriage, conflicts that should occur that are suppressed can eventually lead to divorce. The wife and/or husband did not have enough courage to bring up issues that would eventually snowball to the point of no return.

I did a personality test recently that deemed a weakness of mine was that I was romantically clueless. I would love to dispute this but I don’t think I have enough evidence to make a case! Therefore this chapter was quite revealing to me in what can make or break a marriage.

Be precise in your speech.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 9: Assume that the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t

My first response to this rule was “Of course! Every single person on the planet will know something I don’t, this makes a lot of sense.” So why have I found myself listening to people as if they don’t? Stay humble.

I am the type of person that can easily block out people and focus on the task I am currently doing instead. I understand numbers and words easier than I understand people.

Once I started working in the door-to-door sales industry, I instantly found out that I wasn’t understanding people because I wasn’t paying attention to them. After all these years I finally started looking at people’s faces, their eyes, and their feet. I could actually tell what people were thinking because I was concentrating on them and attentive to their tone of voice, volume and syntax.

Even so, you don’t have to make it so complicated if you just listen with curiosity. The more you listen to the other person, the more the other person is willing to share.

If you’re the one doing the talking all the time, you don’t end up learning anything. Everything in the conversation is something you already know! So shut your mouth, let the other person talk, and see what you can learn from them.

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life Rule 8: Tell the Truth, or at Least Don’t Lie

“If your life is not what it could be, try telling the truth. If you cling desperately to an ideology, or wallow in nihilism, try telling the truth. If you feel weak and rejected, and desperate, and confused, try telling the truth.”

Jordan Peterson

It’s the human default to manipulate the world into delivering what you want – to act politically. We all too often see people who are trying to “get ahead” in life. They trample over others, they take credit for others’ work, they want to look competent and be right all the time.

We can also see the same trait in the people-pleaser, always saying yes to the requests that are thrown their way by their boss, family and friends. They cannot say no, and they cannot communicate authentically. So they suffer. But what if they could tell the truth? What if they declined their boss’ request for them to work overtime that evening? Maybe they would feel a little lighter. Maybe they would be living a life that is actually true to themselves. Maybe they could share their problems and concerns and find a happy resolution. Maybe they could have the power to say no to all the other things they don’t want to do anymore.

To live a truthful life is not perfect, but it is far better than living a dishonest life. Instead of thinking of the answer that you think the other person wants to hear, why not just say the first answer that comes to your head? But if they don’t agree with you they might not want to be friends with you anymore. Well, do you want to be friends with someone that doesn’t like your true character anyway?

What’s more, the ones that do like you when you are being truthful like the REAL version of you. What could be more fulfilling, meaningful and authentic than that?

I’ve seen plenty of assholes that are relatively well-liked because they embrace their assholery, while the ones that are assholes but pretend they’re not assholes end up with fake, superficial bonds with their peers (at best). At worst they’re ostracized. People are generally very good and quick at judging the authenticity of others. If something doesn’t sit right with them, they tend to keep them at arm’s length.

Unless you are a clinical psychopath, your body will tell you exactly when you are breaching this rule.

Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 7: Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient)

Expedient: (of an action) convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral.

Now that we know what expedience is, how do we stay away from it? Expedience is our default. Expedience is usually what is instantly gratifying. Think chocolate, comfort, and drugs. What’s instantly gratifying takes away from our future selves. Take too much instant gratification over an extended period of time, and you will be in big trouble.

Delayed gratification is the same as bargaining with the future. If we put in some work now, or seek some form of discomfort whether it be exercise, cold showers, fasting, or apologizing to someone we have wronged, we will be better off in the future. It’s the equivalent of investing or saving money for a later date.

The secret to success is the successful sacrifice. A Queen’s Gambit of sorts.

Success is letting go of who you are in the search for who you might become.

So how do we figure out what is meaningful? Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning – a book accounting life in the Nazi concentration camps in World War II – says that meaning can come in various shapes and forms. It could come in the shape of life’s work that is yet to be completed, a mission of sorts. Or it could come in the form of the love for another like a spouse or child.

Peterson states that meaning is something that comes upon you, of its own accord. It cannot be produced as an act of will. To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want, because you may not know what you want, or truly need it either.

Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 6: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World

“Before I leave this worthless place, I will kill whoever I deem unfit for anything, especially life. If you pissed me off in the past, you will die if I see you. You might be able to piss off others, and have it eventually all blow over, but not me. I don’t forget people who wronged me.”

A member of the Columbine High School killers

And you never pissed anyone else off in your life? You’re telling me that you’re a saint? Not only are you not a saint, you’re probably a maggot.

It is of course tragic whenever we hear of the seemingly daily mass shootings over in the US. People grow up with hate and resentment toward their fellow human beings. What has this world come to?

I’m not saying there won’t be times where people question the meaning of existence at all. Family members get sick, children die, natural disasters occur in increasing frequency. There is suffering everywhere we look.

But we always have a choice. Will we choose bitterness and resentment or will we choose to be the change that we wish to see in the world? Will we choose love and compassion, and authentic communication? Will we stop doing things we know to be wrong?

For we cannot rule a city without first bringing peace to our household.

There is one thing that helps in preventing an epidemic of criticism and nihilism.

That is to set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them

My first response to this was “How could any parent dislike their child?”, followed by “Wouldn’t it be awful to dislike your child?” Peterson has a decent point with this rule here. How sad an existence would be if you did not like your own child. But fortunately, the outcome of this is fully within your control.

As someone who isn’t a parent but would like to become one, this chapter was fascinating and was more practical than it was intellectual. It is in this sense that I would recommend this chapter as one of the most enjoyable and interesting.

Peterson described two-year-olds act in the way that they do – kicking, screaming, violent beyond measure, stealing, impulsive and angry – to test the true limits of permissible behavior. Infants are seeking to discover the invisible boundary of what is okay, and what is not okay. Of course, it is the parent’s job to enforce that.

Most infants will at some point cry not because of sadness or fear, but cry because of anger. This anger-crying does not look or sound the same as sadness-or-fear-crying, and is mostly an act of dominance. The infant wants to see if he can dominate his parent, and this should be dealt with as such.

If a child has not been taught how to behave properly by the age of four, it will forever difficult for him or her to make friends. No pressure.

Children can be taught through reward (to positively-reinforce good behavior), and punishment (to negatively-reinforce bad behavior). Peterson has two maxims. Firstly to limit the rules, and secondly to use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.

The most important takeaway of this chapter is that parents have the capacity to resent and dislike their children. A clear example is a pair of “nice and patient” parents who have failed to prevent a public tantrum at a supermarket, giving their toddler the cold shoulder fifteen minutes after when he comes running up to his parents after his latest accomplishment. Not only is this confusing for the child, it is quite tragic.

Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.