Not that long ago, I had a conversation with a person from the gym while we were on the treadmill, and the loose nature of the conversation led the person I was talking with to mention how they thought of themselves as somewhat of a “pushover”, how they disliked “letting people walk all over them”, and how they wanted to become better at fighting. The way that they had described the situation, it seemed to have traces of Jordan Peterson and his controversial idea about young males needing to become “controlled dangerous men”. However, I wanted to be sure, so I asked them if they had ever watched Peterson’s talk about being a “controlled dangerous man”, and they confirmed that they had.
After I found this out, I knew how I would counter this idea, since most of Peterson’s talks are rooted in pessimism and cynicism. I remember asking this person a few more probing questions before deciding to reframe their own words in an entirely different manner. I suggested to them that anyone who considered themselves a “pushover” should also consider themselves as someone who is in control of their emotions and as someone who did not allow others to elicit reactions out of them. Not going around and trying to fight people over meaningless things like “respect” and “honor” was a good problem to have, since it was actually a strength, and it was a great starting point when trying to better oneself. Something seemed to click, and their response to my suggestion was, “Well, I’ve never thought about it like that. You’re right and it definitely changes things.” To me, it was not about being right but rather exposing a toxic idea for what it was: a bunch of nonsense.
That same night I decided to jump on YouTube and listen over that infamous talk by Peterson, and it reaffirmed my position that Peterson was leading his listeners to believe that they were somehow weak and that there was something wrong with them. It was quite confusing to hear Peterson talk in the manner that he did, given how educated and experienced he was, but the message behind many of his newer talks seemed to incorporate a level of toxicity, and that toxicity seemed to be growing with each passing year. After listening to Peterson’s talks, it becomes quite clear to see how his message could leave listeners with the wrong impression and lead them to try and ‘overcompensate’ for wrongly perceived shortcomings.
The reality is that there is nothing positive about being dangerous, and it is often to one’s own detriment. One quote I have heard get referenced by proponents of this idea was that of a famous army general, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Now, the reality of this quote is that context matters, and we have not been trained to operate in warzones that are full of enemy insurgents. This idea also takes me back to a dinner chat that I had with a holocaust survivor and how his message was one of positivity, and how he told me that if he had allowed himself to be overwhelmed with toxicity that he would not have lived this long. Heck, even Liam Neeson has acknowledged the impact that toxicity had on him and how it led him to wanting to have a violent confrontation with every random person who resembled the image that he had in his head of an assailant that had assaulted his female friend. So, negative emotions should be avoided whenever possible.
In my opinion, Peterson would be better off repurposing this talk to focus on identifying the things that are worth fighting for and how this idea of a person being a “pushover” has nothing to do with weakness and everything to do with that person’s environment and how they were socialized. Peterson’s famous example of how it is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war should be swapped out for an example that better illustrates the biopsychosocial model, if his goal is to help his audience better understand themselves.
Since almost all of Peterson’s talks have to do with human development, health and disease, and even conflict, it makes sense for him to focus on the biopsychosocial model. The biopsychosocial model is a multi-lens approach to viewing the connection between biology, psychology, and socio-environmental factors. Biological factors focus on things like genetics, psychological factors focus on things like personality and behavior, and social factors focus on things like culture and socioeconomics. What this theory attempts to explain is how different factors need to be involved in order to trigger certain outcomes and responses.
Leading thinkers should not be romanticizing the idea of being dangerous, but rather romanticizing ways that people could become more productive members of society, which could also include having self-defence skills and being able to stick up for others. However, I find more value in a twenty-second snippet from the 1994 movie The Lion King, where Mufasa helps Simba understand the true meaning of “bravery”, than I do in Peterson’s talk about this topic. And if the choice is between Peterson’s talk or The Lion King, I am recommending The Lion King on each and every occasion.