Before the semester started I had an essential conversation with my best friend. It was the first time I had seen him in a few months. A few weeks earlier I wrote to him about many of the concerns I was having in my life. While I would say confidently we were very close friends in high school –
we didn’t have many deep personal conversations. That’s something I regret, but am working at fixing. This conversation helped me with that.
He’s a bright kid who always finished near the top of the class in the sciences and is currently a second-year engineering student at the University of Saskatchewan. More than getting an education, more than starting a working life or enjoying a half-learning, half-debauchery filled college experience, he told me something surprising.
“I can’t wait to start suffering,” he said.
My best friend is a strong Catholic, which makes his statement less surprising. But in the current social climate, with all the distractions that media and technology allow, this kind of message rarely bleeds into the mainstream. However, the sentiment he was expressing is similar to one currently growing in the online community.
In the past year, University of Toronto professor of psychology, Dr. Jordan Peterson, has gained massive popularity online through lectures which he posts on YouTube. Occasionally, he posts videos for his listeners separate from the lectures, which also have a specific focus. His most touted video was the Clean Your Room message he gave to millennials on how to change the world. Essentially, his message is you shouldn’t criticize people who have responsibility, if the space you maintain the most intimately (your room) is a mess. It’s purposeful hyperbole. Sort out your life and begin where you can.
Peterson’s lectures include many thoughts like these. While doing a series on personality and ideology, his Maps of Meaning talks (also the title of the book he published in 1999) discusses the origins of story and its relation to religion. Through this series, making connections through the writings of Carl Jung, an analysis of classic stories like Pinocchio in contrast to old mythological stories, and an analysis of the behaviour of human beings – Peterson peppers his lectures with the sustenance that feeds my best friend’s statement.
I lived a solitary summer, moving to Red Deer, a city I’d never lived before. I didn’t know anyone in the city besides my girlfriend and since we operated in completely opposite work schedules, I had a lot of free time to myself. It was my first taste of the touted real world: a 40-hour work week in a shitty, minimum-wage job. I spent most of my day watching my co-workers complain.
My best friend continued later that night: “I want to start a family as soon as possible and struggle to make it work.”
I don’t think he’s that much different from those seeking out Jordan Peterson’s lectures online or me who ruminates on these ideas for long stretches of time. Children used to have to be hauled inside, now they need to be reminded not to watch awful Youtube videos they don’t even enjoy for more than half a day. It’s this prolonged lethargy that I think feeds into his “suffering” statement. For the first time in a couple of generations, young people leaving high school and moving onto college are seeking personal responsibility and, with responsibility, comes suffering.
In one of Peterson’s most profound lectures he tells his students they don’t have the option to sacrifice or not, but can choose what the sacrifice will be. It’s the choice of accepting responsibility and suffering because it’s good, or instead taking up no responsibility until it’s too late because you were pleasuring yourself. This warning was one of the reasons I needed to talk to my best friend.
Over a fire at a mutual friend’s birthday we sat and talked about suffering and how we should act in our lives. Regardless, finding someone to tell the truth to on subjects like this makes everything much better. As Peterson would say: “Truth is the antidote to suffering.”
– Michael Menzies, Senior Editor