Look inward before you judge the world

Photo courtesy of The Wisdom Daily

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a massive fan of hard rock and heavy metal. Maybe it’s the epic lyrics or maybe it’s the primal sound, but that kind of music has always pulled at my soul. Recently, I heard the song “Do You Really Want It?” by the band Nothing More. Its refrain goes “Everyone wants to change the world, but one thing’s clear, no one ever wants to change themselves.”

There are scant few phrases that could describe our modern world better than that. People always see issues with the society and structures around them but fail to look within themselves with the same critical eye. We’re all guilty of this; after all, it’s so much easier to see flaws in others than in ourselves.

That isn’t exactly an uncommon view, neither is the natural follow-up of “set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” It’s a variant of the common idea of looking inward before outward, but from an academic source: Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Canadian psychologist, professor and author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The above-mentioned phrase is actually the sixth rule of those 12, and I think it may be one of his most important arguments.

Now I know it’s quite a common argument that we should look at ourselves before we criticize the world. In fact, I know of many people who have used it to dismiss criticisms of society and themselves. This poor usage I find to be disingenuous to the purpose of the phrase as well as insulting if the criticism was offered in good faith. There is wisdom in this concept, but only if you’re willing to actually look into yourself.

I thought for the longest time that I didn’t need to examine myself with a critical eye. Maybe that was my naïveté talking, or maybe I was scared of what I was going to find. Looking back on it, I think I was more scared than naïve. I was worried that I would find that most of the problems in my life were my own fault.

In spite of that, I decided to forge ahead and critically examine myself with the eye that I used on others and society as a whole. I turned the judgmental viewpoint that I aimed at the world inward. What I found, I didn’t like.

It was about what I imagined. A far greater portion of my problems were my own fault than I had imagined. That hurt. Many of the problems that I traced back to my own poor decision-making, bad actions and failures were ones that I had originally blamed on others or society. I felt awful.

Yet, there was another piece of information from Peterson’s sixth rule that enlightened me as to why what I found was a good thing. Yes, I had caused a lot of the problems and suffering I had found when I critically examined myself, but that meant that I could fix it myself, too. There was hope after all.

So I took responsibility for my actions and choices that caused problems for others and myself. Then I started working on myself, to reach the standards I had set. It’s been hard work, but it’s been worth it every step.

Thinking on the flaws that I found when I did my own critical self-examination, I realized that I really couldn’t enact any changes in the world until I resolved the issues that I’d found. If I didn’t I would keep making the same mistakes, save that the scale and damage they caused would be increased as I rose in my career and community. That’s something that I couldn’t tolerate for myself.

So, take a look inside yourself, dear reader. Find the root of your problems and suffering, then work on the world’s problems.

Colin Lang is a junior History and Philosophy, Politics and the Public double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Westlake, Ohio.