In the last few pages of Jordan Peterson’s excellent book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos“,
the clinical psychologist shares the questions that led him to write the book. In considering how to live his life, he started with this one:
“What is the greatest good I can do in the least amount of time?”
Then he extrapolated to ask, “What is the greatest good I can do TODay?” then “What is the greatest good I can do this year?” and finally “What is the greatest good I can do in my life?”
An hour isn’t much time. But if we thought, “What is the greatest good we can do in an hour?”
First, I think the greatest good is usually something we do for another, not for ourselves. But that’s not often the case: sometimes, the greatest good we can do for the world is to educate ourselves, or calm ourselves down, or arm ourselves to protect another. But the key to self-action in the name of “greatest good” is usually to consider the impact of our actions in this hour on everyone around us.
Second, I think the “greatest good” we can do for others is to create opportunity: to give them the strength, the education, the inspiration and motivation to do great things for more people. It’s a trickle-down effect: we live a healthy life, and that allows us to carry others. We live a wealthy life, and that allows us to support others when they’re financially weak. We live a happy life, and that allows us to buoy those who need it when they’re unhappy.
But that goodness is magnified when we help other people live a healthy life, a wealthy life or a happy life. This is the service necessary for self-actualization: the act, by us, that makes other people healthy, wealthy or happy. Maybe even two out of three.
Third, the knowledge of what will make others healthy, wealthy or happy is extremely rare and precious. That rarity is what makes it valuable. And the willingness to use that knowledge for good–instead of twisting “science” to fool others for our sole benefit–makes it a miracle.
If I gave you my attention for one hour, and said, “Make me healthier, wealthier or happier!” what would you have me do?
I bet you’d ask me to work out with you.
You’d probably say, “I’ll tell you exactly what to do. Just follow me.”
You’d probably do it with me, smile at the end, tell me “you did a great job” and either hug me or high-five me.
And if–miracle x miracle–you’re in the position to pay someone ELSE to bestow this gift, that’s true power. That’s transcendence. And that’s what it means to own a gym.
Think of one other path in life that can bestow a greater good in less time. Go ahead.
To a person in severe crisis, it might be a doctor saving their life. But that salvation is short-lived; surviving a heart attack doesn’t make you less likely to have future heart attacks. Surviving a heart attack makes you relieved, but not happy: there’s misery ahead, and pain, and remorse and guilt.
Finding the cure for cancer might be the “greatest good possible”, but can’t be done in an hour, and you’re not going to do it at 8pm on Tuesday night.
Saving a person from themselves–from addiction, or self-abuse, or depression–might be greater. But what are the tools you’ll use? Bright spots, physical exercise, and hugs. The same as you’ll use tomorrow morning at 6am.
Tomorrow at six, you will have one hour of ultimate power. You’ll have the opportunity to do the greatest good in the least amount of time. And–miraculously–you’ll have the same opportunity at seven, and at nine, and every hour you spend with a client.
Better get some sleep tonight.