Well, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren isn’t nearly as weird as Peterson, but they’re both religious and they’ve both made lists about how to improve your life and your world. Harrison’s column (click to read) is to fixing the world as a cough drop is to a cough (cough drops don’t work).
I’m starting to realize that Warren is actually not a religion columnist, though she can’t keep Jesus out of her weekly NYT columns, but rather a self-help columnist, commissioned to make people feel better about themselves and the world. She does this like a human Pez dispenser, regularly producing new bromides. There’s nothing wrong with trying to cheer people up, but crikey, can’t she think up something original?
Here’s the lead-in to her column of “solutions for a broken world”, which reminded me of Jordan Peterson’s bestselling “12 Rules for Life” (see below):
In Christian liturgical churches, today is Trinity Sunday, which kicks off a long sweep of “ordinary time.” This period — which will last till mid-November — is the longest season in the church year. Ordinary time is what we call the weeks that are not included in the major seasons of feasting or fasting in the church calendar, such as Easter and Lent.
In some circles, this span of months is referred to as “the long green growing season” because the liturgical color of the season is green, but also because it invites us to deepen our roots, to grow.
In his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Wendell Berry calls his readers to “Practice resurrection.” That’s how I think of this stretch of ordinary time. During Easter season we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, and in this next season we learn to “practice resurrection” in our everyday lives. We seek those things which bring renewal and repair.
And so, here are Warren’s “eleven small ways we can help mend the world.” (Bolding is hers.)
1.) Have more in-person conversations.
2.) Get outside.
3.) Eschew mobs — online and in real life.
4.) Read books.
5.) Give money away.
6.) Invest in institutions more than personal brands. (She means “invest time, money and energy into reforming broken institutions and sustaining healthy ones.)
7.) Invest in children.
8.) Observe the Sabbath.
9.) Make a steel man of others’ arguments. She means engage first with the best rather than the worst arguments of our opponents—advice Dan Dennett dispensed years ago.
10.) Practice patience.
11.) Pray. Her explanation, “Because prayer and work go together. And because, ultimately, true renewal requires more than we can do on our own.” I presume she means we need to communicate with God for true renewal.
Look, this isn’t bad advice, but it’s trite advice, and I, for one, don’t need to pray or observe the Sabbath. What baffles me is why the NYT continues on this hamster wheel of cerebral pabulum.
For comparison, here’s Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life as described in the Guardian:
1 Stand up straight with your shoulders straight.
2 Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
3 Befriend people who want the best for you.
4 Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not the useless person you are today.
5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.
6 Set your house in order before you criticise the world.
7 Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.
8 Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie.
9 Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t.
10 Be precise in your speech.
11 Do not bother children while they are skateboarding.
12 Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street.
Yes, some of these are also trite, like #7 and #8, but at least they make you think. And, of course. #12 itself, superb advice, trumps the totality of Warren’s rules!
Now that I’m at it, here are some Coyne Rules for Life. I’ve chosen eleven, like Warren.
1.) Pet a cat whenever you encounter one.
2.) Button your shirt from the bottom up; that way you never mis-button.
3.) If two people tell you that you’re flawed in the same way, they’re probably right.
4.) If you are writing an angry email or letter, go ahead and write it, but don’t send it for at least a day. Most likely you will have calmed down and can be more civil in your communication.
5.) Discover the joys of wine; one of the world’s greatest pleasures.
6.) Read GOOD books. Life is too short to read junk.
7.) Never show “respect” for faith unless the situation is desperate (e.g., someone touts their faith while dying).
8.) Wash your hands at the times recommended by the CDC, and in the way they recommend. (I haven’t had a cold since the pandemic started.)
9.) At the checkout counter at the grocery store, have your credit card, cash, or checkbook IN HAND so those behind you don’t have to wait. The check should be filled out as much as possible (i.e., all except the amount).
10.) If you have a lot of groceries and the person behind you has only a few, let them go ahead of you.
11.) If you are a professor and your graduate students writes a paper, do not put your name on it unless you’ve made a substantive contribution to the results (suggesting the experiment or rewriting the paper don’t count). This gratuitous co-authorship, which is spreading, takes credit away from students and gives it to them that already have (the “Matthew Effect“).
Now you know what to do. Put down one or a few of your own Rules for Life.