Do You Really Know What's Best for a Person?

Published: Feb 20, 2022

I was listening to The Diary Of A CEO with Steven Bartlett and, of course, I had to listen to his interview with Jordan Peterson. The particular exchange below stung me, and made me reconsider what I mean when saying the phrase “this is for the best.”

Steven: If I’ve got a friend in my life, or, you know, partner, that I want to encourage to come out of their place of despair into a better place, how do I effectively do that without overpowering them or stifling them or making them feel inadequate, which is sometimes the consequence of trying to change someone you love?

Jordan: Well, example is good. But then, I would say, disabuse yourself of the notion that you know what is best for this person. Not only do you not know, you actually don’t want that responsibility, for two reasons: Let’s say they do what you say and something good happens to them. Well, who’s victory is that, yours or theirs? And if it’s yours, did you just steal it? And then let’s say they fail when following your advice. Well they pay the price for that and you can skip away merrily and say well yeah I should have spoken more carefully. It’s like, you don’t mess about with people’s destiny. You do not know where they’re headed.

Now, having said that, you do what you do in this interview, in this podcast. You ask people questions, real questions, you know. Like, how are you feeling? “Well, I’m not doing so good today.” Well, what’s up? What’s going on? And you can’t think, well I’m gonna ask questions to lead this person in a particular direction because that’s the same instrumental game. You have to see what it is that you want to know.

I see this when people ask me questions after my lectures, you know. Now and then during a Q&A people will get up and they’ll ask a real question, it’s part of the ongoing dialogue. Something struck them, they stand up, and they really wanna know. It’s an honest question and that goes real well. But not infrequently someone stands up with a little prepared speech that’s packaged as a question. So I get this from Christian Traditionalists fairly frequently. They get up and they ask me about my religious convictions but really what they wanna do is to corner me into admitting that I should accept Jesus Christ as my savior and join a particular, let’s say, denomination. It’s not a question. It’s just a manipulation.

And so your questions, like your statements, should be honest. If you ask people questions and you really listen, they will untangle themselves. And that’s partly why people love to be attended to, you know.