Sunday 20 May 2018

Brendan O'Connor: An academic rock star is ruining my marriage

Brendan O'Connor is enthralled by a new book by Jordan Peterson

Brendan O'Connor
Brendan O'Connor
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

My family don't like it when I get some time on my hands to read some books. I have no proof, but I know they talk about me behind my back. "Oh God, here we go again. He's reading a book. One of those self-betterment things. We'll have all his crazy new ideas to put up with for the next while now until he gets bored of it."

We had a week away recently and they were all clearly doing their best to keep me from my books. "Come in the pool; let's go for a walk: let's have a drink."

They had particular reason to worry on this trip. I had decided along with sun, sea and sangria to have a journey into meaning, and I was reading three pop psychological tomes, culminating in Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

It started, as it always does, with me reading out pointed titbits from the books to my wife. Nothing aimed specifically at her, at least not obviously so, just general good bits that I was randomly reading out. If she chose to take them as being pointed at her in some way, then I can't help that.

That kind of low-level aggression she is well able for. She will just generally pretend she didn't pick up any of my implicit criticisms.

Stage 2 is a little bit more annoying, that is where I counter every story or tidbit of information she tells me about anyone or anything with some of my new-found wisdom from my book. They say for a man with a hammer every problem is a nail, and I truly am a man with a hammer when I'm reading a book. So while I was reading Johann Hari's book about how depression and anxiety are not really chemical imbalances but actually to do with the lack of meaning and connection in our lives, anything she told me about anyone, I would point out that the answer to that person's problem was a lack of connectedness, a lack of meaning in their work, or whatever chapter I was on at the time.

Stage 3 happened once I got onto Jordan Peterson and I was having my mind blown. And suddenly everything was changing. There was a new sheriff in town and he was gone biblical on our asses. And I mean literally biblical. While Peterson's Rules can seem quite flip, they are actually underpinned by a heavy amount of Old Testament analysis and references to everything from Paradise Lost and The Brothers Karamazov. I'm not joking when I tell you that I was actually quoting Genesis to my wife and children at the buffet. And not the Phil Collins Genesis. The Judgemental God book Genesis.

Worse again was when I got to the chapter on child rearing. Peterson is actually good on child rearing. Bizarrely he seems to have worked in childcare before he became a controversial rock star of academia. I took to lecturing my wife and children on how children should be reared. Me, who does about 10pc of the child rearing. She told me later it was the very definition of mansplaining.

I would step into any little grievances that arose and explain how, for example, sharing is a critical skill for children to learn because that will make you good at the implicit contracts on which friendship is based.

I actually think they were all a bit relieved when the holiday was over and they didn't have to put up with any more of my close-quarters pontificating.

But the journey isn't over for me. I'm currently struggling through the chapter about pursuing what is meaningful and not what is expedient.

The bad news for you people is you might have to listen to more about this over the next few weeks.

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