Responsibility and Peter Pan Syndrome

Somebody linked me to a video that Dr. Jordan Peterson made years ago. It’s one of many Jordan Peterson videos that I get on a regular basis. “Have you seen this?!” a reader will ask. Yeah, I probably have. Several times. I get the popularity of Jordan’s videos. He’s extremely intelligent, well-read, and an incredibly persuasive speaker. Whatever you may feel about his politics, one thing is for certain: The man is very good at what he does and he has really tapped into something powerful. It would seem that his message of “getting your shit together” has come at just the right time.
Dr. Peterson will often talk about the importance of responsibility. Take on the world’s problems. Put them on your back. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all strived to be THE guy (or gal) who doesn’t crumble at the first sign of chaos? We must learn to cope, persevere, and rise above the noise and distractions all around us. We must buckle down and do what’s right and what is difficult… because that’s just what you need to do, otherwise the whole planet erupts into chaos.

The message seems to have really struck a nerve with Jordan’s audience, the vast majority of which are youngish males. “Yes… responsibility. Take the bull by the horns. Be a man. I like this…” Is there a problem with this? Not at all. Great. If it takes some random paternal Canadian professor to get young men to wake up and take action, then God bless Jordan Peterson. I wish there were a million more of him. But, here’s where I think Dr. Peterson and many of his generation miss the mark.

We have a lot of young (and not-so-young) men out there that are stuck in what we call “Peter Pan Syndrome”. They don’t want to grow up. They play video games. A lot. They have a so-so job. They have no desire for promotions or upward advancement. They’re perfectly fine the way they are. They just want to be left alone. For many, this scenario garners a reply of, “So what? Just leave them be”. For many of the people like Jordan Peterson, they see this as an existential crisis. It’s the next fall of Rome.

Let’s face it. For MANY men, their internal drive for self-improvement comes from one place: Their role as a provider within their relationship. They have a wife and kids. That’s why they work hard for that promotion. The wife wants to move into a bigger house. The kids will soon be teens and will want cars of their own. College after that. Would these men like to play games and goof off on a regular basis? Yeah, sure. Every now and then they may attempt to do so… but their wife and social circle will be pretty quick to shame them for it. How many men relaxing and watching football have heard something like,“You know Debby’s husband got a promotion last week and they’re going to the Bahamas to celebrate. Did you ever talk to your boss like you said you would about that promotion?” The message: “You have responsibility. Don’t you forget it. I need to see more ambition out of you.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing the part of the Provider. Somebody has to provide the fuel to keep the family/responsibility machine going, after all. The problem is this: There has to be some kind of reward associated with all of the hard work. Duh. Why else would you put in all of the time and effort? You may be a religious person and feel that your reward comes in the form of eternal salvation, or you may simply want the reward of love, devotion and partnership as you go through life. Regardless of what your belief system may be, human nature dictates there also needs to be an absence of severe negative consequences for taking on the responsibility. In other words, if I were to try and sell the concept of providership and responsibility within a relationship to a group of young men, and I tell them, “You have about 50% chance that it won’t work out with your parter. In the end, you may end up with no wife, less money, less self-esteem, less freedom, and a world of a headaches. Or… it may work out. There’s no way to know, really.” Well, that’s doesn’t sound like a very good sales pitch.

This is PRECISELY the sales pitch that many of our young men have been getting for YEARS.

These young men see their beaten-down dad starting over after divorcing their mom. They see mom struggle with money. They see dad struggle with being alone. They see parents working 50+ hours per week just to keep the lights on and food on the table. They see dad driving his kids around to eight different sports games and practices, only to come home and answer work emails for an hour… and then pass out on the couch. Then he wakes up at 6:00am and does it all over again.

We, as a society, have done a REALLY REALLY shitty job of keeping this Provider/responsibility machine running as intended. We really dropped the ball. Big time. OF COURSE our young men are stuck in Peter Pan mode. It’s not laziness. It’s the result of years of observation. They sat back, took it all in, and noped right the hell out of there. “Nah, that’s cool. I’ll stick with video games.”

That’s where Jordan Peterson and his ilk miss the mark. They feel the “family” is the main source of all of the responsibility for a young man. They contend that having children and a partner gives you a sense of completeness, fulfillment, and joy that you just can’t experience alone. They have a point. Without the concept of the family, many of our young men are absolutely directionless in life. There’s no fuel for the machine. There’s no fire under their butt. “Why aren’t you taking responsibility and starting a family?!” they are asked. “Why the hell would I do that?” they quickly answer back. Both sides have a point. The argument usually ends there.

What certainly doesn’t help the situation is that for those lucky few guys at the top of the proverbial dude pyramid (the good-looking and charming ones), getting their physical needs met has never been easier. Start up app, swipe right, exchange messages, setup date for later in the week, have sex. Move on to the next one. Now ask THAT guy why he hasn’t yet settled down with one special girl and started a family. He will probably laugh in your face.
So, what’s the solution here? Do we even NEED a solution? Hell if I know. I have a wife and kids. I’m still able to maintain my independence and personal responsibility at the same time. I don’t feel I have LOST myself to this marriage and to the grand responsibility machine. I’ve been cheated on and divorced and came out pretty good on the other end. But… I wouldn’t feel horrible if my sons both told me that they planned on living the bachelor life. I would probably just tell them, “Yeah, I get that.”

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