Interviewing the provocative Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson this week, and hearing him speak to a packed town hall, I was so struck by how exposed he is to the suffering of men. Young men especially.
He cried four times, in that town hall meeting. In the interview he told me what his life was like, meeting men all the time who are so grateful that he has helped them turn away from the horrors of suicide and addiction, and helped them rebuild their family lives.
"I'm hurt by it," he said. "I'm upset." What upset him was how little, in his experience, it took to set men who are lost back on a valuable path. It hurt him because he could not see that many others were even trying to help.
Men, in his view, have been "actively discouraged" from participating in social life right from when they were little boys.
He talked about this at length in the interview, and it would be absurd to doubt that his words resonate very widely. The hope he offers is one of the big reasons he's so popular.
It's tempting to think this work – helping men build purpose and self-worth into their lives – is distinct from the things he's possibly more famous for, which are his political views, especially about women.
Peterson himself probably wouldn't say that. I think he'd argue they're all part of a larger whole, although in his town hall presentation he did not talk about the politics at all – except in answer to a question at the end.
He says the reason so many young men feel alienated is directly related to the rise of radical feminism, which he believes is destroying Western society.
Is it true? And if you don't think so, is it possible to take the personal advice Peterson offers while rejecting the political world view?
Take Rule 9: "Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't." Can you apply that to a civilised discourse with a radical feminist? (Assuming you're not one already.)
There's so much to dig into. I interviewed him for over half an hour and came away feeling I was still scratching the surface, although I do think we covered a lot of ground. There's a short clip from that interview with this story: it's largely about his views on "the patriarchy", which he says does not exist. Neither of us used the word, but the meaning is clear enough.
Simon Wilson's full interview with Jordan Peterson will be online on Saturday morning, and his feature article on Peterson's town hall meeting this week will be in the Weekend Herald that same day.