If You Can’t Clean Your Room, Don’t Try to Change the World

“If you can’t clean your room, don’t try to change the world.” This quote is from the amazing Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and teacher of psychology at University of Toronto.

This quote comes from the idea that if you want to change the world, you have to start from yourself and work outward. It sounds airy and high-level, but it has examples in the real world. For example, many people try to solve problems that they know nothing about, unaware or not admitting that they can’t sort out their own shit and then trying to fix the world as an escape.

2017-05-27 Lake

I’m not suggesting that people should hold their thoughts inside and not talk about relevant issues, not at all. What I am saying however is that people should do two things: find ways to make the necessary changes within themselves, and be aware of what they know and understand.

Making the necessary changes within themselves implies being aware of their thoughts, opinions, and problems and where they stem from. It also implies trying to understand why they have such thoughts and opinions and trying to justify them, while trying to rectify problems so that they can influence people outside themselves in an epistemological way.

Being aware of what people know and understand is equally important in trying to enact change. I agree with Dr. Peterson when he says that an 18 year old with a half-finished college education in life sciences shouldn’t be trying to change the entire economic system (not verbatim). Furthermore, the way this seems to take place (especially in universities nowadays) is with picket signs, denial of free speech (in Peterson’s case), and unfounded pent-up hate for authority, which doesn’t help their cause in my opinion. I can’t say I have an academic source for this, but I rely on my experience and the knowledge of people smarter than me in saying: Many of the young people who are the most intense activists and try to “fix up other people” are the ones with the gravest internal problems and least clear ideologies, and this is something we (and they) should be aware of.

2017-05-27 Protest

A smart man that you may have heard of, Mahatma Gandhi, said something that I think can be interpreted similarly: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This implies that you must change yourself in order to influence the world around you. Peterson also references an old quote, this one from the bible (Matthew 7:3). Whether or not you’re a religious person, this idea has clearly been around for a while and is something that we should consider:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?

On a more personal level, what I realized this does is that it calls into question your own beliefs, and forces you to think about them and justify them, if only to yourself. Why do you think the way you do? Why do you act in a way contrary to what you consider your moral belief system, and why do you try to convince people of things you might not even know to be true? I won’t claim that I’m a perfect person or that every single thing I say is 100% proven to be true, but being aware of these things can go a long way toward getting there (or close, because really no one can ever be perfect).

2017-05-27 Problems

This could go on and on about accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions, determining your moral compass, learning and sharing information, etc. etc. but you’ll all fall asleep before it’s over, so I’ll stop this here. I don’t need to be “teaching a lesson” in this blog, but if you wanted something to take from it, I’d suggest this: figure out your own shit before you tell people how to live their lives or view the world.