CSANews 114

Opinion with Michael Coren I ’m not a fan of the enormously successful Canadian author, clinical psychologist and scholar Jordan Peterson. I’ve always found his views to be surprisingly dis- appointing and sometimes downright ridiculous, even harmful. Put simply, I just couldn’t see this emperor’s new clothes. He’s also sometimes used irresponsible hyperbole, and a good number of his followers can be rude and abusive. I know, because I’ve been on the receiving end of their brutal certainty. There are many people who feel far more strongly, especially those in the trans community. They believe that his writings have caused them enormous damage. Other people, however, believe that his self-help theories have transformed, if not saved their lives. The latter I simply cannot understand, the former I certainly grasp. As I say, I’m no fan. But that isn’t the point of this column. Back in mid-February, Peterson’s daughter issued a video explaining that her father was severely ill and, in trying to withdraw from an addiction to benzodiazepine tranquilizers, had developed a paradoxical reaction, had been suicidal and was eventually placed in an induced coma. He was being treated, she said, in a Russian clinic after various hospitals in North America hadmisdiagnosed him. The background to all of this was a his- tory of depression, an autoimmune reaction to food and then, tragically, Peterson’s wife’s being diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a truly tragic story. Some years ago, my mother and father died, too young and also close together. I always regarded myself as tough, but this shook me more than I knew. I was prescribed Clonazepam, part of the group that Peterson had taken. It helped a great deal but, as I had certainly been warned by my family doctor, I became dependent. It tookme more than six hellishmonths to come off of the bloody thing. I say this as someone who has experienced agonizing rugby injuries and, while reporting from a war zone, was shot at and saw a soldier killed two feet in front of me. In other words, I know pain and I know trauma. This was far worse, and I hope never to go through anything similar again. I was on a relatively low dose yet, when I initially tried to come off cold turkey, I went into what I suppose was a form of shock. After that foolish attempt, I would cut my tablets by a quarter every three weeks and, each time I did so, there would be days of what felt like small electric jolts in my head, lack of sleep and mental turmoil. My wife and children were loving and supportive and I’m not sure how I would have coped without them. While it was a horror story, I think of it as a lesson in experience, helping me to empathize with those going through the same experience. And empathy is surely the quintes- sence of all this. We need to try to feel what others feel, and thus stand with them in emotional solidarity. That is the humane way. Goodness, that is the human way! Yet, as soon as Peterson’s condition was made public, social media was drenched in celebratory andmocking comments: Peterson deserved it, they hoped he would die, this was karma (that’s not really what it means), and so on. The ghouls were out in force, in their dark dance of schadenfreude. I understand that there is a certain inconsistency involved in all of this, in that Peterson has long emphasized strength and fortitude and I’m not suddenly saying that I support his views because, for the most part, I don’t. On the contrary, my point is that his views are irrelevant and that it’s his need and condition that should informour reaction. Howwe respond in fact says far more about us than it does about Professor Peterson, and our humanity is measured not by how angry and self-righteous we become, but by how communal and caring we grow to be. Mere self-interest makes us kind to those we consider on our side, something far deeper and revealing leads us to be generous to those we find objectionable. The first is an instinct, the second is a grace – something we must never forget. I’ve no idea if Jordan Peterson has recovered, but I certainly hope so. I’ve no idea if his attackers have thought again about their behaviour and would act differently in the future. But I certainly hope so. 14 | www. snowbirds .org