(The blog entry following is a combination of my own writing swirled with Jordan Petersons. Several passages are lifted directly from his book, if I found them particularly well said, poignant, or important, in order for my sharing with you here and passing them along- as I think everyone should read the main messages and meat of this book. However, much of this entry are words that are entirely my own).
The first rule of the twelve that Jordan professes is: standing up straight, with your shoulders back.
As this is a particular personal challenge of mine, I decided on writing about it for that very reason. With regards to the way I most wish to be (as well as, how I have seen, read, and believe is most effective in terms of moving through life, with regards to standing tall and speaking strong), and by spreading the word on such, to also be a means of hopeful personal growth and inspiration via my own professing such to others.
So. Regarding this first rule of life about standing tall and strong, is it that simple? What he really means (as this of course, isn't just about the actual physical process and appearance of your body) is to be strong, boundaried, and willing to take people to task when need be (even when its terrifying and incredibly hard emotionally to do so). His point is that this is absolutely crucial within in a world that is (unfortunately) full of people who will try to stronghold, stomp all over your boundaries, and hurt others.
Using lobsters as the example, he discusses their anatomy, physiology, and their instinctual process and behavior. Linking this to the hierarchical structure of human society, and why its thus, of paramount importance to be incredibly strong and self assured (aka stand up straight).
A bit further on how standing tall can change your life....
First, to lay some relevant groundwork, Jordan touches on the gross imbalance of our "winner takes all" world and society. That a tiny proportion of musicians produce almost all the commercial music recorded. How just a handful of authors sell all the books. That just 4 classical music composers wrote almost all the music played by modern orchestras. That this principal goes on and on, reverberating out further into numerous other veins.
The rich owning most of our societal resources, while the remaining are spread thin among the rest of us. This also applies to population of cities (as a very small number of cities have almost all the people), and frequency of words in language (90% of communication occurs using just 500 words- how nuts is that!?).
What exactly does this mean? That, as unfair as it is, the "top tier" if you will, are who rule the roost.
So, why is this important (and how is it connected) in terms of standing up straight?
As in the example of lobsters, (and this goes for human beings as well), it doesnt take long for these huge crustaceans (especially those stronger and higher up the ladder-though ultimately, all lobsters, as well as all people, "high" or "low," do this) to start testing each other and those around them. Learning who can be messed with, and whom should be given a wide berth. And once they have learned this, the resulting hierarchy is surprisingly stable going forth. All the victor needs to do once he has won is wiggle his antennae in a threatening manner, and a previous opponent will go scuttling for the nearest rock.
Meaning, once someone is firmly situated at the top, its pretty dang difficult to unseat them from such. Whether they deserve to be there (by intelligence, moral, or their hard won efforts) or not. Its not necessarily that those at the top should be there. Sometimes it is, however sometimes it isn't. Its that once someone is at the top, we tend to regard them as more imposing and intimidating, whether they truly are (or more importantly, should be) or not. And yes, standing up straight does play into all of this. Because when we allow ourselves to be intimidated by those "at the top," this is how we remain stuck underneath and live to far less than our full potential.
What's interesting about this dominance jockeying, both among lobsters and humans, is that the part of our beings which keep track of position in the dominance hierarchy is shockingly ancient and finely tuned. It also powerfully affects every aspect of our being, conscious and unconscious alike.
This is why when we feel as though (or are actually) defeated, we act much like lobsters who lose a fight. Our posture droops. We face the ground. We feel threatened, hurt, anxious, and weak. And if things do not improve, we can become chronically depressed. Serotonin levels in our bodies plummet.
Serotonin in low levels means lower self confidence. It means more susceptibility to stress, and costlier physical preparedness for emergency. It means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, greater incidence of illness, and a shorter lifespan. This is both among humans, and lobsters (his comparative choice in this particular chapter).
Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy (and thus, higher serotonin levels accompanying) mean less illness, misery and death. It means much more self confidence, feelings of calm and personal worth, more swagger in ones step- if you will.
The takeaway here being: the more often you are able to muster standing up to those who attempt strong holding, oppressing, or pushing you around? This releases chemicals in your body that make you feel more confident, more at ease with yourself, happier and stronger. Thus, its a cycle. If standing up for oneself regularly and when needed, one will be able to do so with greater ease regularly. However, if instead one anxiously avoids such, this results in lower levels of feel-good chemicals in ones body and thus, higher anxiety, more depression, and lesser ability to stand up for oneself going forward.
The more you stand up, the more you are able to. The less you stand up, the less you are able to. Each one feeds into itself.
Interesting related aside: when a person is badly hurt at some point in their life, as in traumatized or abused, the dominance counter in their brain can transform in a manner that makes further hurt more likely, instead of less. This often happens in adults who were viciously bullied or abused during childhood or adolescence. They can become anxious and easily upset. They then shield themselves with a defensive crouch and avoid direct eye contact. This means that the damage caused by bullying/abuse (the lowering of status and confidence, the continual stomping all over ones boundaries and violating of their personhood) can continue on, even after the bullying has ended.
Just as often though, people are bullied because they wont fight back. This may or may not have anything to do with their background. Instead, this can happen to people who are more tempermentally compassionate and self sacrificing, who may struggle more with an ability to say no and stand strong.
All of the above though is going to result in a life of greater hardship. Having weak boundaries and choosing not to stand up/fight back when needed, or, succumbing to past traumas/injuries and, when unable to surmount and heal from the past damage inflicted by this, both these issues can mean someone going through far more struggle in life when it comes to standing tall and strong when needed. This will often result in more distressing relationships (because weak boundaries in any and all relationships mean more drama), and a harder time moving through life and obstacles, if one is weak in the face of such.
However. If you say no, early in the cycle of oppression, and you mean what you say (which means stating your refusal in no uncertain terms and standing behind it), then the scope for oppression on the part of the oppressor will remain bound as it should be, and thus, limited.
Forces of tyranny expand to fill the space made available for their existence.
People who refuse to muster appropriately self protective territorial response are laid open to exploitation as much as those who genuine cannot stand up for their rights.
Naïve, generally harmless people tend to guide their perceptions and actions with thoughts such as, "people are basically good," "no one really wants to hurt anyone else," and "the threat (and, certainly the use of) of force, physical or otherwise, is wrong."
Not only are these naïve beliefs untrue (there are many good people in the world, while there are also a lot of bad. There are plenty of people who do desire hurting others, emotionally or physically. And while threat of force is generally wrong (though not always. Consider in cases of self defense), there are still people who will absolutely use it), holding these beliefs as ones personal truths tend to invite being abused, preyed on, or taken advantage of by these very people.
Many bureaucracies have petty authoritarians within them, generating unnecessary rules and procedures simply to express and cement power. Such people produce powerful undercurrents of resentment around them which, if actually expressed and stood up against, would limit both the expression of pathological power as well as holding the actual tyranny at bay.
With all of that said, standing up for yourself in the face of people attempting to trample your boundaries, trying to control or manipulate you, acting cruel or tyrannical, bullying, taking advantage of you, you name it, is the only way to move through life with a sense of purpose, strength, and emotional wellbeing intact.
When you give in to those who try to push you around, you show them that their bullying/pushiness/taking advantage/cruelty works. You allow them to have the power, and to ride roughshod over you. You teach them that the way in which they are acting is not only ok and acceptable, but that you will allow it. They learn that with you, anything goes. That they can call any shots they like, and that you will jump. And you, in turn, suffer. Feeling resentment, anxiety, distress, a lack of control over your own life, etc.
A lot of people might feel skeptical. How can standing up straight change any of this? How can standing tall alter our responses to tyrannical, cruel, pushy, bad people?
Because standing up straight with your shoulders back isnt just about your body, as you are not just a body. You are a spirit.
To stand up with your shoulders back means to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality. It means withstanding the ensuing uncertainty, and establishing, in consequence, a better, more meaningful and productive order.
Think about it: we take more seriously those who are sure of themselves. Confidence is attractive, and convincing. When people are shaky and unsure, those are the ones we tend to ignore, bulldoze, dismiss. Those who are strong, stand tall, and state things with a decisive, firm air? They are the ones who make things happen, and to whom people listen.
So, watch your posture.
Quit drooping and hunching.
Speak your mind.
Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them- at least the same right as others.
Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead.
Dare to be dangerous.
Encourage the serotonin to flow through those neural pathways that are hungry for its calming influence. People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent and able (or at least they wont automatically conclude the opposite). More people will respect the boundaries you place forth, and the things you say. And at least with those who do not, with those who still try to push, control, and be cruel (and there will always be these people around. Always), you will have grown more strength, resolve, and confidence in dealing with them.
And thus, emboldened by the positive responses you receive, you will begin feeling less anxious. You will find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social clues that people exchange when communicating, as you will be watching with a smooth, self assured ease, rather than an anxious, worried gaze. Your conversations will flow better, with fewer awkward pauses. In feeling at peace with and confident in yourself, this will glow and radiate out of you.
More people than prior will take you with greater weight and seriousness. And while you will still encounter those who will try to stronghold you (this is par and parcel with life- these people will pop up everywhere you go), you will find that in standing tall, believing in yourself, in drawing those strong lines and boundaries around your self and your personal values, and in speaking your mind and daring to be dangerous, your life will start shifting in powerful ways.
Stand up straight with your shoulders back.