Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Learn well your grammar,
And never stammer,
Write well and neatly,
And sing most sweetly,
Be enterprising,
Love early rising,
Go walk of six miles,
Have ready quick smiles,
With lightsome laughter,
Soft flowing after.
Drink tea, not coffee;
Never eat toffy.
Eat bread with butter.
Once more, don’t stutter…
Moral: Behave – Lewis Carroll



What are the rules for life? In the poem above, Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice
in Wonderland, presents a bunch of rules that you should follow and ends with
the advice: behave. On a much more serious note, Judaism prescribes many rules
that we follow that involve both moral and religious codes.

Are there any other rules we should follow that would make our lives better? In a newly published book, 12 Rules For Life, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a former Harvard professor and clinical psychologist, provides the reader with wisdom and scientific reason on what he believes are the twelve rules everyone should follow in their lifetimes.

Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

We have discussed Amy Cuddy and her research on the way we stand and how that affects our brain. Essentially, how you move can influence your neural circuits – both positively and negatively. Therefore, stand tall with your shoulders back. Act like you are in charge and a winner. Your brain will follow your cues and produces neurotransmitters that will in turn give your confidence and poise.

Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Peterson asks you to think about the people in your life that you are responsible for helping – your children, your parents, or your friends. When you think about helping them, do you think about what they want or what would be good for them? Likely, you think about what would be good for them. Your children need to brush their teeth and your friends need to exercise more to stay healthy. In that sense, we need to treat ourselves as someone we are responsible for, and make choices based on what is good for us rather than what we would like.

Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you.

This one should be self-explanatory. Spend time with people who want you to be the best you that you can be. Unfortunately, sometimes we are held back by low self-esteem and choose people who might not be the best for us. Other times, we want to help and rescue others and in that way choose friends who might not have our best interests at heart. We should, instead, choose friends who we can care for and who will care for us as well.

Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Seek to improve daily. And it doesn’t need to be a larger thing. In fact, it can be very small. Peterson writes:

Thus, you set the following goal: by the end of the day, I want things in my life to be a tiny bit better than they were this morning. Then you ask yourself, “What could I do, that I would do, that would accomplish that, and what small thing would I like as a reward?” Then you do what you have decided to do, even if you do it badly. Then you give yourself that… coffee, in triumph. Maybe you feel a bit stupid about it, but you do it anyway. And you do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And, with each day, your baseline of comparison gets a little higher, and that’s magic. That’s compound interest. Do that for three years, and your life will be entirely different.

Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

This rule applies specifically to parents, but can be generalized to any interactions you have with people around you in which you sanction behaviors that are uncomfortable for you. Don’t let people around you (who you love and spend a lot of time with) do things that make you dislike them. Speak up in a kind and firm way. This way, you will be making that person (and ultimately the world) a better place in the process.

Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

For me, this is the most intuitive rule in the book, yet likely the most difficult to implement. In order to be a critic, you have to be self-aware; you have to know your flaws. Then, you need to work on fixing those flaws. Once you have put your house in order, you can feel free to help fix those outside of your house.

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

The idea behind this rule is that you should think about the long-term and not the short-term. In other words, something that is meaningful is something that will have a lasting effect. Choose to work on the long-term even if that means making small sacrifices in the short term.

Rule 8: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.

There are lies we tell other people, and there are lies that we tell ourselves. In his book, Peterson encourages us to view the world (and ourselves) with our eyes wide open. When we are honest with ourselves, we will be more likely to overcome barriers and achieve the goals we set out to accomplish.

Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

A little bit of humility never hurt anyone. When we understand that other people have something to offer us and that truly listening to them might improve us and our lives, we are more likely to grow and succeed. An added benefit is that you will gain more true friends when you listen and learn from those around you!

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech.

I have to admit that I am not sure I completely agree with the importance of this rule. Peterson argues that when you are precise in your speech you are able to explain exactly what happened (be it a tragedy or triumph), and distinguish it from other possible tragedies or triumphs. While this is essential to getting rid of the chaos in your life, I am not sure how much it adds to your quality of life.

Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.

Peterson uses the rule above as a metaphor to allow children to test limits. Children who skateboard are experimenting with danger, and if we stop them, we are only asking them to experiment with danger in another way. Instead, allow them to skateboard. Ultimately that’s safest and they will learn how to avoid danger on their own.

Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

For rule 12, Peterson again uses a metaphor to teach the rule of “stopping to smell the roses.” In other words, take a moment to appreciate the beauty (and sometimes chaos) around you. Be grateful for that beauty and then return to your day. I should say that this rule should never be applied in Jerusalem or you’ll be stopped all day!


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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at