“I plan on taking my own life very soon. Why shouldn’t I?”
The room fell into a deafening silence; the audience waited with baited breath for Dr Peterson’s response. “I don’t know if I should address it,” Dr Peterson began, continuing: “but I’ll give it a shot (it’s important) because it’s very serious.”
Dr Peterson answered the question, sharing four reasons for the questioner to keep on living. I particularly found number four to shift my perspective on who I am and who owns my life. Here are Dr Peterson’s four reasons.
Number 1: “You’ll devastate the people you leave behind”
“Think about how everyone you know will react to your death: your family members, your friends, what would their life be like with you not in it?” Dr Peterson, asked. “You may just absolutely wipe them out in a way they may never recover from. You cannot fix someone’s suicide. You’re stuck with it.” He continued: “What if they blame themselves? They could go their entire lives blaming themselves for not just any death, your death; the death of someone they love dearly.
“I’ve had clients in my clinical practice that have never recovered from the suicide of a family member. Decades later they’re still torturing themselves about it. By ending your own life, you might just be ending someone else’s. You’ll simply be offloading the pain you’re experiencing to everyone you love. Is that what you want?”
Number 2: “You owe it to yourself — and to your family — to look at every possible alternative.”
The second reason is that you probably haven’t explored all possible solutions to the problems you’re facing. Imagine if you end your life, and there was a solution right around the corner. This is a possibility. “There are all sorts of treatments for depression,” Dr Peterson said. “You owe it to yourself — and to your family — to look at every possible alternative.
“Explore any possible avenue before you take a final step … explore everything you can explore to put yourself back on your feet. Talk to a psychologist. Talk to a therapist. Try antidepressants. Keep yourself busy. Adopt a puppy if you have to. Try literally anything.
“For some people, antidepressants work. They don’t work for everyone. I’m not claiming they are a panacea, but they certainly beat the hell out of suicide.”
Number 3: “Don’t underestimate your value in the world”
The third reason is you’ll put a stop to all your potential. As Dr Peterson puts it: “you have intrinsic value and you can’t just casually bring that to an end. You’ll put a hole in the fabric of being itself.” He continued: “People with depression often struggle to find meaning in their lives. They don’t think anyone needs them or cares about them. This almost always isn’t true. Don’t underestimate your value in the world,” Dr Peterson said.
“Just because you can’t see your potential, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Everyone has something to contribute, even if they don’t know it. You can always commit suicide tomorrow. Today, you have things to do. The world needs you even if you don’t need it.”
Number 4: “Don’t be so sure your life is yours to take”
The fourth and final reason I found particularly moving. He says that maybe your life doesn’t belong to you. “Don’t be so sure your life is yours to take. You don’t own yourself the way you own an object. If you’re religious, maybe your life belongs to a higher power. Or if you’re not religious, maybe it belongs to your loved ones or some greater cause.” In true Peterson fashion, he takes the religious option: “you have a moral obligation to yourself as a locus of divine value.”
Chad, the man who asked the question, later reached out to Peterson on Twitter. Here’s what he said:
Hey dr. Peterson. It’s Chad. You read my serious question tonight at the lecture. I just want you to know that you may have diverted me onto a different path. I am probably going to check myself into a hospital tomorrow night. Thank you.
— (@chadjustin98) June 16, 2018
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Many people question the integrity of Dr Peterson. We even recently published an article asking whether Dr Peterson is the philosopher of the fake news era. It must be noted, however, that Dr Peterson showed great courage and fortitude in answering Chad’s question. He provided four compelling reasons why someone who is considering suicide should choose life instead.
Personally, I found the fourth reason to be incredibly thought-provoking. “Don’t be so sure your life is yours to take,” he said. This made me think about the actions I carry out during my lifetime. As a child of Western civilization, I’ve grown up being encouraged to express my individuality and to pursue my own goals and dreams. However, embracing the idea that I don’t own my own life changes the moral justification of selfish behavior.
Perhaps I carry out my actions not just for myself, but also for my family, loved ones, community, society and even more broadly the planet itself. Perhaps I matter to the extent that I’m helping others around me to live a more meaningful life. Dr Peterson’s response clearly had an impact on the questioner who was contemplating suicide. It’s also had a huge impact on me.
I want to live the best life I possibly can for the Dr Peterson has identified: for my family, to realize my potential and to give myself to a cause greater than myself. Here’s Dr Peterson’s response in full. I hope it also has a positive impact on you.
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