12 Rules for Protecting Life (Part Two)
This is Part Two of "12 Rules for Protecting Life: An Antidote to Abortion"—which applies Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life to the issue of abortion.
Rule #3: Make friends with people who want the best for you
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about friendship. So does Jordan Peterson. “If you’re going to take responsibility for your own life,” Peterson told one of his Canadian audiences, “then one thing you do is you surround yourself with people who are unhappy when you do things for yourself that aren’t good.” That’s something worth thinking about. There is a category of things you can do for yourself that are not good. The question to ask then is this. Do your friends love you enough to get upset when you do one of those things, or do they just cheer you along towards any end? Love is a tricky thing, you see, and it bears little resemblance to its pop culture depiction.
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Love is discerning. Love is judgmental. Love is intolerant. When it sees the object of its affection heading for a cliff—be it literal or metaphorical—it intervenes. Love may bear all things and hope all things, but love does not rejoice at wrongdoing. It rejoices only in what is true (I Corinthians 13). A true friend loves at all times. That means they don’t desert you in a time of trial, but it also means that they don’t affirm the behavior that may have led to the trial in the first place. “Before you help someone,” Peterson writes, “you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation. It’s the most unlikely explanation, not the most probable.” When you strip someone of their moral agency—by denying their guilt or complicity—you render them incapable of actually making their life better. That is not helpful.
The reason it can be difficult to find a good friend is that being a bad friend is so much easier. It’s the pathway of least resistance. Bad friends can come and go. Bad friends can laugh at your calamity and envy your success. Bad friends can live for the moment and use you for their own ends. Bad friends can mock your virtue and celebrate your folly. Bad friends can do all this because they don’t care about you for your own sake. They’ll say whatever needs to be said to avoid conflict and keep the train rolling, but they have little concern where the train winds up—even if it derails entirely.
The woman from Massachusetts whose story we heard in Rule 1 was surrounded by “friends” who pressured her to abort, but she had one friend who assured her she was capable of doing the right thing. That one friend carried the day, by refusing to capitulate to convention or expedience. Abortion—more than anything else I can think of—is an example of “doing something for yourself” that is not good. What is needed most emphatically during a crisis pregnancy is a friend who will take you to task for pursuing a course of action that is ignoble and unbecoming. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,” Proverbs tells us, but “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Proverbs 14 offers the following warnings and promises. Think about them in the context of abortion:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.
A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
A good friend values purity of heart (22:11); bad friends value ease and expedience, as evidenced by the testimony below from a 20-year-old Michigan woman:
My boyfriend told me we couldn't [support a baby]; there was no way. And my friend told me the same thing. They both told me I should get an abortion. I love kids. All I ever wanted my whole life was to be a mommy. I've always been extremely against abortion, so I couldn't believe I was even considering it… In my mind, everything would work out for itself, and I would be able to figure it out—but nobody else thought that… I saw [my boyfriend] a few days after [the abortion] and he was all happy and already wanted to start having sex again… All I wanted was my baby back… Eventually he broke up with me because he said I depressed him and because I didn't enjoy having sex anymore. I've been so alone in this… I was supposed to protect my baby, but I just let everyone talk me into getting rid of my sweet innocent baby.
Good friends make you a better version of yourself; bad friends make you worse—and there are all sorts of ways they can do this. It might be through moral corruption, but it can also be through isolation, manipulation, and guilt. Well-meaning souls often hang on to bad friends for too long on the conviction that they can help them. That is almost never the case. You won’t help them, but they will hurt you. Jordan Peterson warns:
Christ himself, you might object, befriended tax-collectors and prostitutes. How dare I cast aspersions on the motives of those who are trying to help? But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you’re you. How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them—or you—further down? Imagine the case of someone supervising an exceptional team of workers, all of them striving towards a collectively held goal; imagine them hard-working, brilliant, creative and unified. But the person supervising is also responsible for someone troubled, who is performing poorly, elsewhere. In a fit of inspiration, the well-meaning manager moves that problematic person into the midst of his stellar team, hoping to improve him by example. What happens?—and the psychological literature is clear on this point. Does the errant interloper immediately straighten up and fly right? No. Instead, the entire team degenerates… The same thing happens when well-meaning counselors place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up.
One quality friend can mitigate a myriad of evils, but better still is a host of quality friends. No one is perfect, after all. Even a wise friend may occasionally lead you astray. A multitude of wise friends probably won’t. “Surround yourself,” Peterson recommends, and Solomon does too. In “an abundance of (wise) counselors,” there is safety (11:14) and victory (24:6). If you make friends with people who truly want the best for you—physically, emotionally and spiritually—your likelihood of winding up in a crisis pregnancy decreases significantly, and your likelihood of having an abortion all but vanishes. Friends don’t let friends kill their unborn children.
Rule #4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
Comparing yourself to other people has never been easier, but it’s extremely misleading. That’s because we’re not really comparing ourselves to other people; we’re comparing ourselves to their carefully curated personas. Who someone is and who someone appears to be—particularly on social media—are two entirely different things. We would do well to remember that. The actual problem, of course, runs deeper. Modern technology simply magnifies it. The reason it’s not helpful to compare yourself to other people is because there is literally no one else in the world who can serve as your proxy. Jordan Peterson puts it this way:
Your life isn’t like anyone else’s life. [When] you see someone who’s doing better than you, you’re only seeing one dimension at one slice of time, so it’s not reasonable. You don’t have the whole picture. And so you get down on yourself, and take the spirit out of yourself, and you get bitter and resentful. There’s nothing good about that.
Peterson’s point is not that you should simply accept yourself as you are. That’s antithetical to everything he believes. “You need to improve,” Peterson insists, “but it’s not because you’re worse than other people. It’s because you’re not everything you should be.” Who, then, should you be measuring yourself up against? Well, that’s easy. The only person you can reasonably compare yourself to is you—because you share the same talents and resources, the same successes and failures, the same upbringing, the same biological predispositions, the same education, and the same position in life. “There is [always] something you can do today that will make you slightly better the next day. Always.” That’s who you’re competing against—the person you were yesterday.
Here’s how it plays out in the context of abortion. If you are pregnant, or your wife is pregnant, or your girlfriend is pregnant, or a girl you had sex with is pregnant by you, then you are the parent of an unborn child. Nothing can change that. Your future self will either be the parent of a living child or the parent of a dead child. So the question is, will ending the life of your tiny unborn baby make you a better person or a worse person? Will abortion ennoble your inner self or cripple it? Will abortion make you feel proud of yourself or ashamed? Though these questions largely answer themselves, these post-abortion testimonies will help clarify the matter further:
"My boyfriend and I broke up within a couple months (of the abortion), but I carried the guilt and shame with me for decades."
"I never told anyone about (my abortion) because it is my greatest shame, my greatest regret, and the biggest mistake of my life."
"I had an abortion two years ago. Now I'm filled with complete shame and guilt. Sometimes I just feel like giving up completely."
"My shame kept me silent. My heartbreak spilled out and threatened to capsize me anytime I even thought about sharing this horrific secret."
"I willingly went through the (abortion) and when I awoke, a major piece of me died along with my baby. I slept for the rest of the day, broken, ashamed, and guilty."
"I walked (out of that clinic) with a guilt that would reside in me forever with no one to tell, and the shame to never speak about what happens behind those clinic doors."
"I have rarely met a woman who hasn’t been touched by abortion in some way... I had often listened to other stories of abortion over the years, swallowed deep, and pretended I didn't know such hurt and shame."
"I had really truly just killed my baby. All I wanted and wished for was to undo what I had just done. To take it all back and have a do over. Impossible! This was my choice. And, now I have to live with it. I was so terrified, ashamed and angry. I felt there was no hope for me."
"I am still not ready to make my abortion story public. Largely because my family and husband—he was my boyfriend at the time of the abortions—are not ready. Still soooo much shame. I keep telling them the only way to annihilate the shame is to speak truth and be vulnerable. Abortion is NOT freedom! "
"In the immediate aftermath (of my abortion), I concentrated on getting married and having a replacement baby. I did everything I could do to forget about what had happened—to stomp down my feelings of total worthlessness, shame and guilt. Over 30 years of my life I have lived with post traumatic stress, went through two divorces and nearly self-destructed."
"The decision I made to have an abortion still haunts me at age 59. I can't believe it's a choice I made, and yet I did. The older I got, the more appalled I was with myself for this decision. I would do anything to go back and tell my younger self to have that baby. I wish I could tell my younger self that the guilt, shame, and pain that I would carry for the rest of my life was going to be crippling at times."
“I would do anything to go back and tell my younger self to have that baby.” That’s a common refrain in the abortion stories we receive, but it’s not possible. We can’t go back and warn our past selves to choose a different course—which is why Rule 4 is so important. Each of us has a past, a present, and a future. The only way to make our future self a better person than our past self is to make good and noble choices in the present. C.S. Lewis explains it this way:
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.
Peterson and Lewis both emphasize the profound potential of incremental change over time, but it’s also true that we are sometimes presented with choices whose ramifications far exceed the everyday. These are the red-letter days, so to speak, and the choices we make on these days have a disproportionate influence on the rest of our lives. The discovery of pregnancy marks just such a day—and though abortion posits itself as a means of preserving the status quo, that ship has already sailed. There’s no going back. The only question is whether you will act in harmony with God and creation—or go to war with Being itself. Jordan Peterson observes the following:
[When] you decide to act as if existence might be justified by its goodness—if only you behaved properly. [Then] it is that decision, that declaration of existential faith, that allows you to overcome nihilism, and resentment, and arrogance. It is that declaration of faith that keeps hatred of Being, with all its attendant evils, at bay. And, as for such faith: it is not at all the will to believe things that you know perfectly well to be false. Faith is not the childish belief in magic. That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being.
No one ever says, “I was scared, so I had a baby.” It always runs the other way. “I was scared, so I had an abortion.” Abortion is rooted in fear. Having one will not make you a better person, but it will saddle your future self with a burden of unspeakable weight—whether you realize it or not. Abort73’s most recent abortion story came from a California woman who didn’t start regretting her abortion for almost a decade. “Many people will say that [abortion is] no big deal,” she writes, “but here I am 10 years later and I'm still affected by it. It's like this dirty, dark secret that will never ever go away.” If you want to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday, don’t allow someone to kill your innocent, helpless, and utterly dependent child.
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